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Abstract

Exile is a central motif of 20th century European culture, and literature was often tied to historical events throughout this century, especially during World War II. In Latvian literature, this motif was partially the result of the emigration of a great part of the population in 1944; many were fleeing direct warfare and the return of the Soviet army, escaping from Latvia. This paper examines the peculiarities of women’s experiences in exile in the prose fiction of Latvian émigré writer Irma Grebzde (1912–2000). Grebzde was among those 250,000 Latvians who fled as fugitives in 1944 for Sweden and Germany and then proceeded further to the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries. Grebzde fled to Germany where she stayed at Wurzburg refugee camp and in 1948 moved to Canada. She worked in New Brunswick, Ottawa, Montreal in 1973 and then settled in Toronto. Grebzde has produced about 30 short prose fiction collections and novels. An important subject in Latvian émigré literature is the lives of Latvian émigrés in lands of settlement. Their fiction is generally autobiographically marked, capturing the authors’ own experience in a fictional form. This goes for Grebzde’s short prose fiction texts and novels. In her works Canada is depicted as a land of welfare, a place unaffected by World War II. European refugees are safe there, though they face low social status and a condescending attitude from Canadians. Both in Latvian émigré literature generally and Grebzde’s works, exile consciousness is often presented in an urban setting. Canadian cities are positioned as a comfortable environment for consumer society, with posh resident areas, shops, advertisements, cafes, whereof just a small share may be enjoyed by European refugees due to their poorer financial means. The sphere of nature functions as the space where exiles can develop dialogical relations with the foreign land and search for similarities with the Latvian rural environment.

Note on the Author

Ingrīda Kupšāne, author of 1 research monograph and over 40 research publications, is currently working at Daugavpils University, Latvia, as a docent teaching courses of the history of Latvian literature, Latvian émigré literature, and history of Latvian culture. Her research is on comparative literature, Latvian émigré literature, history of Latvian theatre, and cinematography.

Sandra Meškova, author of 2 research monographs and over 80 research publications, is currently working at Daugavpils University, Latvia, as an associate professor teaching courses of literary theory, the history of British and North American literature, and comparative literature. Her research is on life writing, comparative literature, and women’s studies.

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