Elephants in Our Yard
Elephants in Our Yard by Meral Kureyshi is a novel of loss – in the passing of a loved one, in fleeing and migrating to a new country where one feels unwelcome, and in returning to the motherland where one feels they no longer belong but to which they are still tethered. The narrator acts as cartographer, mapping grief in physical landmarks as she illustrates her family’s journey from their hometown of Prizren in former Yugoslavia through the various Swiss towns they move through while their status and fates are processed. Moving through the places that swallow the migrant in an unfamiliar tongue and cold indifference, she speaks in the second person to her late father, whose passing has further disoriented the family and whose promises and dreams of a better life seem to haunt more than comfort.
While poignant and at many times bleak, Kureyshi’s voice also offers the glimmers of hope that appear universal in the Western diaspora. The story is broken into vignettes, oscillating between the emptiness in her father’s absence and the feeling of becoming a stranger to her homeland, and the moments of joy and triumph in establishing her and her family’s identity in the face of isolation and alienation. These moments, like when they finally have a phone and find their names in the Swiss phone book, echo a universal desperation known to many in the diaspora, one that aches to be a part of one’s new world without having to succumb to its colors, and while still saturated in the names and textures of one’s motherland. Kureyshi outlines this paradox in simple but affecting tones, not arguing against it or apologizing for it but rather embracing the idea that straddling multiple cultures is often a messy and beautiful experience.
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