Dauphinee, E. (2013). The Politics of Exile. Oxon: Routledge.
The Politics of Exile, tells the story of the narrator, an international relations professor and researcher, and Stojan Sokolovic, a Bosnian Serb now living in Canada, as well as the many interrelated stories of his family and other people involved, in various ways, with the Bosnian civil war.
As a novel, it is successful. The characters, are believable and in this sense, if no other, are ‘true’. The novel is truly engaging, I read it within a couple of evenings (which is very fast for me), and there are numerous twists and unexpected outcomes (especially with the priest, and Stojan, and his brother etc). Stojan challenges the narrators ability to capture the war in a simple binary categories of those who were innocent and those who were guilty. It turns out that Stojan himself had killed several Bosnian civilians during the war, a fact that the narrator cannot forgive him for despite their growing friendship beforehand. But the novel seeks to be somewhat compassionate to the otherwise ‘evil villains’ (Inayatullah, 2013 *) and shows the multiple reasons people get dragged into conflict, mostly of course they were drafted into the army and threatened with prison or execution if they refused.
However, the book is also an autoethnography, and a work of international relations scholarship (as evidenced by its academic publisher and author). It seeks to criticise the continuing positivist and distanced approach to issues that clearly have person aspects. It is also, I think, a critique of the overly formulaic nature of academic work, that not only isolates non-initiated readers from its important message (see Doty, 2010**), but in itself becomes a form of police (in the sense that Ranciere*** uses the word). Dauphinee has written on ethics and the Bosnian war, and the book is based on her experience of this research, and her personal responses to it. While it is unclear whether the book is entirely true, entirely fiction or somewhere part wayinbetween, (in her other writing she mentions meeting Stojan in Bosnia rather than in Canada). However I don’t believe that it matters, while others I have discussed the book with say that if she is making it up she is abusing her authority as a scholar, I think that the issues raised, even if complete fiction, are true in the sense that they relate to human experience, and simply seek to point out that there is more than one side to a story. I personally think the story is partially fictional, but based on her encounters with many Serbians during her research and the many stories they have told. In this sense I think it is likely that Stojan is, rather than being a single person, a memory or composite of multiple people (explaining his ghostly, colour changing eyes, and the fact that he also appears in her other articles in Bosnia).
“He is possibly a war criminal, as you say, but he is also something more and something other than that.” (p201 – about Stojan).
“I live as well as I can in every moment, with love and gratitude, and I try to live in a way that would make the boy whose death I was responsible for proud of me. I remember him, and I think, in this moment, would he be pleased with who I am?” (p203).