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Classical and Modern Languages, Literatures, and Cultures

First Advisor

Guy Stern


This dissertation studies Jewish exile experience in India by analyzing fictional and autobiographical writings of exiles who fled from Nazi persecution during the Second World War and sought refuge in India. Writers such as Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Willy Haas, and Ernst Nathan Schaeffer lived in Indian exile and recorded their experiences. This study not only deals with their experiences in Indian exile, but also examines their impact on the Indian milieu through the study of Indian writings about Jewish emigration to India. Vishram Bedekar and Anita Desai constitute the group of Indian writers who are discussed in this dissertation. Due to its geopolitical situation, India occupied a unique status as country of asylum during the Second World War. As a British colony struggling for independence, government policies and attitudes towards the exiles were radically different from those in other parts of the world. The presence of refugees from Central Europe in colonial and post-colonial India marks a site of cross-cultural dialogue that is analyzed with the help of postcolonial theory and orientalism. The writings examined in this study reflect not only the legacy of British colonialism but also the challenges facing a new and free India. The dissertation's two-track approach to the study of Jewish exile experience in India creates a dual perspective by presenting the European perspective of India as well as the Indian perspective of the Europeans. This study presents discourse and counter-discourse by giving expression to the voice of the European Self and the voice of its Other, in this case India. The repetition of European history in Indian reality urges readers to confront the past. The democratic assessment of racial prejudice and chauvinism on both sides stresses the importance of a critical, decentered consciousness. This position of relativity and in-betweenness leads to an empathic universalism and a deracialization of culture, thus giving way to a new discourse that mediates between and among cultures rather than privileging one side over the other.

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