Questions that might seem absurdly simple to one who has always lived in the same culture often turn out to be extremely complex for the immigrant, the child of a multicultural family, or the international student: what is my real name, my real home, my real language, my real self? In an extremely insightful essay, Ying Zhang (Phoebe) confronts these questions as they affect both her and the narrators or protagonists of several literary works. The assignment for Essay 3 in WR 098 was to write a synthesis and analysis essay examining a theme as it is developed in the memoir Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language, by Polish-Canadian-American journalist Eva Hoffman, and in two other sources. For her second source, Phoebe chose The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, a novel about a boy born in the US to Indian immigrants and given the unusual first name of Gogol, after the father’s favorite author. For her third source, Phoebe selected “Cultural Baggage,” Barbara Ehrenreich’s manifesto rejecting her multifarious ethnic background in favor of her family’s legacy of intellectualism and critical thinking.
To these three examples Phoebe adds her own experience as a Chinese student at BU, trying to negotiate between her native culture and the new culture in which she is immersed. As Phoebe notes, each of the four persons described resolves his or her conflict in a different way. And, while she has entitled her essay “An Unanswerable Dilemma,” Phoebe has in fact shed a great deal of light on this vexed question.
— THOMAS OLLER