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The Persistence of Memory

Tarun K. Saint

Edited by Smita Tewari Jassal and Eyal Ben-Ari
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 381, Rs. 480.00


The anthology edited by Smita Tewari Jassal and Eyal Ben-Ari brings together essays from varied disciplines including memory studies, social anthropology, sociology and literary criticism that come to terms with the partition motif in contemporary conflicts. While a majority of contributors deal with the South Asian experience of partition, there are essays about other ‘partition societies’ such as Palestine and Israel, as well as Germany prior to reunification, and Korea. The impact of partition processes on identity formation and memory in the wake of trauma and rupture on local communities as well as national societies is explored in these various contexts. This comparative perspective on the divisive effects and ramifications of partition follows earlier studies such as the recent volume edited by Ghislaine Glasson Deschaummes and Rada Ivecovic, Divided Countries, Separated Cities: The Modern Legacy of Partition (including the important work by Radha Kumar on the failure of partition as an exit strategy in South Asia, Bosnia and Kosovo), and Joe Cleary’s work on the literature produced in the wake of the partition of Ireland and Palestine.   The editors’ introduction sets out the important critical questions negotiated in this volume. In their account, partition refers to much more than processes of forced separation and the creation of distinct political entities. It also forms the basis for long-term practices such as identity, work, memory and inspiration, as well as shapes the basis for the organization of different societies. In Germany, as well as India-Pakistan and Israel-Palestine, partition and conflict with the ‘separated other’ became an organizing principle on which a variety of exclusions and inclusions were based. The fracture that results from partition and subsequent reverberations in society as a result of collective trauma, the editors argue, requires examination in a comparative framework that allows for a ‘listening of echoes’. Partition, they suggest with reference to earlier studies by historians, social anthropologists and political sociologists, is a constitutive experience for such partition societies, creating a different kind of experiential reality. In the case of Palestine and Israel, the war of 1948 and the Palestinian uprising, the al-naqba, was the definitive event constituting both Palestinian identity as well as later notions of Israeli independence and survival in the form of remembrance of the struggle for survival (including the memory of the Holocaust). In contrast, in Germany questions relating to partition took a second place to reflections on collective responsibility as regards the ...

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