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Jakob Ladegaard

Cowboys and Vampires: Eastern European Encounters in New US Fiction

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During half of the twentieth century, the socialist states in Eastern and Central Europe functioned as a political Other that helped shape collective identities in the USA. The collapse of the socialist regimes in the early 1990s opened up a new territory for economic, personal and imaginary investments. This territory was soon explored by a number of American novels: John Beckman’s The Winter Zoo (2002), Dave Eggers’s You Shall Know Our Velocity (2002), Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated (2002), Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections (2001), William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition (2003), Arthur Phillips’s Prague (2002) and Gary Shteyngart’s The Russian Debutante’s Handbook (2002). This article argues that in these novels post-communist Eastern Europe functions as a region off the symbolic map, a wilderness, often violent, replete with traces of an insistent past. The novels often view the American travellers’ encounters with this landscape through the codes of the American Gothic and Western genres. Thus, the novels frame their investigations of the legacy of authoritarianism, the possibility of cross-cultural encounters and the consequences of globalisation in literary modes that ultimately refer back to an American cultural tradition and give rise to critical reflections on the formation of American identity after the Cold War.
Original languageEnglish
JournalOrbis Litterarum
Pages (from-to)32-66
Number of pages35
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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