Review: Neighbours & Tourists by Ewa Mazierska

Neighbours & Tourists by Ewa Mazierska is a unique literary gem. In the first part, ‘Neighbours’ her precise and economic descriptions construct and resurrect the world of rural Poland. This is a world which has witnessed, during Mazierska’s life, radical changes and transitions, from war-torn Poland to Communist Poland and then to post-Communist, neo-liberal Poland. Her non-sentimental and precise language beautifully captures this world and gives to the people that inhabit it their humanity and dignity. Despite the smallness of this almost mythical Polish village the diversity of the types, archetypes and individuals is refreshing and, sometimes, even surprising. For example, the author’s second cousin Ryszard, a grumpy and bitter man is hilariously depicted as ‘the hunter of negativity,’ who indulges in seeing flaws in others, while seeing himself as a pure victim. In another story ‘The House with a Mezzanine,’ Mazierska describes Iza, a childhood friend ‘a natural social conservative’ who after discovering the ‘pleasures of travelling,’ also discovers the pleasures of her childhood home in the village and learns to appreciate its ‘authenticity’ (including its delightful plums).

The second part ‘Tourists,’ subtly but analytically, investigates and reclaims the dignity and humanity of the ‘others’ of Western Europe, be they Cretans, Kashmiris or Caribbeans, through encounters between tourists and ‘natives.’ Mazierska’s short stories are conscious of the North/South divide and the asymmetry of power relationships existing between white middle class westerners and the post-colonial subjects who serve and ‘host’ them. Yet, they are never dry or didactic but, to the contrary, full of humour, irony, and introspection. Such is, for example, the encounter with Carlos in the story ‘Carlos and Us’, which, sensitively, describes the encounter between Mazierska’s white middle class family from the ‘West,’ with the ‘indigenous’ (?) Carlos whose ambivalent ethnicity (he has ‘Caucasian features and brown skin, but not exactly Caucasian and not exactly brown’) triggers the narrator’s curiosity. Mazierska, leaves it open, whether Carlos is a ‘native’ trying to exploit the privileges accorded to the westerners in the tourists only resort, or whether he is ‘just’ seeking their company. One way or another, she is fully conscious of the neo-colonial role enacted by western tourists in the peripheral zones of the developing world.

And then, there are the love stories (or the stories of unlove) from which a strong (but also vulnerable) female writer emerges to regain her femininity, womanhood and motherhood. In one of her more moving stories, ‘What is Love,’ Mazierska creates a beautiful chronicle of disappearance of love. The female protagonist decides not to leave her old love but rather to put up with the death of their love. Even her affair with a man who seems to be the perfect lover (both physically, intellectually and emotionally) does not retrieve her old faith in love. When the lover proposes to her ‘to be properly together’ she decides to leave him and to go back to her miserable life convinced that ‘she made the right decision’. This story, like all of Mazierska’s reflective stories, does not offer an happy end, nor a clear cut moral parable. To the contrary, it encompasses not only the contradictions of life in the old (Britain) and new (Poland) west but also the complexities involved in the space occupied by women in the midst of this old-new west.

Yosefa Loshitzky is Professorial Research Associate at the Centre for Media Studies and the Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies (CMDS) at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. From September 2014 to September 2016 she was a Leverhulme Trust Emeritus Fellow conducting a research on ‘Just Jews and Muslims: Conversions, Conflations and Conflicts.’ She is the author of The Radical Faces of Godard and Bertolucci (1995), Identity Politics on the Israeli Screen (2001), selected by Choice Magazine as an outstanding academic title for 2002, Screening Strangers: Diaspora and Migration in Contemporary European Cinema (2010), the editor of Spielberg’s Holocaust: Critical Perspectives on ‘Schindler’s List’ (1997), and a guest editor of a special issue of Third Text on ‘Fortress Europe: Migration, Culture, Representation’ (2006). She is currently writing a book entitled ‘Just Jews? Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Contemporary Culture and Beyond’. She has given keynote and plenary papers in the USA, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Brazil, Israel and elsewhere. From 1994-2003 she served on the editorial board of Cinema Journal, the official organ of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, the largest Film Studies Scholarly Association in the world. Currently she is a member on the international advisory board of Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture and Media Studies. Author of numerous articles and book chapters, Loshitzky’s work has been translated into French, German, Swedish, Danish, Italian, Arabic and Hebrew.

Image: Widok Z Okna Pracowni Na Kopiec Kościuszki, Stanisław Wyspiański, 1904

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