This paper examines the affective landscapes of Poland, Canada, and the US in Eva Hoffman’s autobiographical account of her immigrant/exilic life in Lost in Translation (1989). Hoffman’s reputation as a writer and intellectual was launched with this autobiography. Hoffman left Poland for Vancouver with her Jewish family in 1959, when she was 13, and lived there until college in the US, where she made her career. She lives today primarily in London. Hoffman’s autobiography is divided into three parts, dealing first with Poland, then Canada, then the US.
Hoffman's text explicitly thematizes nostalgia. Hoffman affirms her nostalgia for her Polish childhood with a postmodern awareness. Though Lost in Translation has been celebrated for its self-reflexivity and its treatment of the links between language and subjectivity, some scholars have been highly critical of the “nostalgic” view of Poland. Hoffman's work is clearly invested in the dynamics and the affect of remembering and forgetting particular times and particular places. In this paper, I examine Hoffman's understandings of nostalgia, and of the affective landscapes with which she engages. Poland, Canada, and the US have powerful associations, but I focus on primarily on Poland and Canada, emphasizing the overlooked importance of Hoffman's Canadian years. I am particularly interested in exploring how affect—defined roughly as “something that moves, that triggers reactions, forces, or intensities . . ., simultaneously engaging the mind and body, reason and emotions” (Berberich, Campbell and Hudson 314), and including the affect of nostalgia—is represented and textually communicated with readers. Thus, I look at the effects of Hoffman’s privileging of lyricism as a mode and mood for life-writing.
The Aesthetics and Politics of Contemporary Women's Life-Writing in Canada and the US: Multicultural Perspectives