I started to read Nancy Huston’s essays because I’ve loved her presence and her text at a recent public reading against death penalty. I read Nord Perdu (Lost North) and Journal de la Création (Diary of the Creation) very quickly, but the impression they both left in me is quite deep.
Nord Perdu is a reflection on expatriation, on practicing another language than one’s mother tongue, and on writing in another language. The essay itself isn’t long, but it strongly echoes my own experience of expatriation and my own experience of writing in English, in ways I hadn’t reflected before. For example, she writes:
« Here (in the expatriate country), you keep who you used to be in silence… everything that has formed you, that has made you as you are, they ignore it… There (in the mother country), you keep what you do in silence. What you think, say, read, see in everyday life since decades has no interest whatsoever for the people at home. » (all translations are mine).
« Each exiled person believes […] that there is a part of himself, or better, another self who goes on living up there. » When I’m stressed out, I like to run a little movie in my head where I lead a normal life in Beijing, or Hongkong, or other cities I’ve lived in before. That way, I take the necessary distance with the annoying things and I am reminded that everywhere I’ve been there always were things wonderful and others irritating in the daily life.
Even though she’s been living abroad (in France) for way longer than I have, I could relate to everything she wrote about, especially the strange relations that you keep with your childhood places, which I came to idealize from far away. Here’s what she says: « The uniqueness of childhood, for example, and the fact that it never leaves you : it’s difficult for an expatriate not to be aware of it, while the impatriated can fool themselves for their whole life with the sweet illusion of continuity and obviousness. »
The way Nancy Huston expresses herself in French is quite unique. She masters it to perfection, yet she has some quirks and a freedom with the language which I believe comes from working with an acquired language and not her mother tongue. She easily plays with words and jumps from one word to a phonetically close other, or creates new words that suit her needs (for example im-patriate as opposed to ex-patriate).
Litlove recently asked how to judge a non-fiction book: I just started to read more non-fiction books and what attracts me there is definitely the voice: Nancy Huston mixes her personal experience as a woman, a mother, a writer, an expatriate together in a unique blend that appeals to my emotions as well as my reasoning.