Georges Perec

Georges Perec

The many beautiful, complex books of the acclaimed French author Georges Perec (1936–1982) include Life: A User’s Manual, A Void, W: Or the Memory of Childhood, Things: A Story of the Sixties, A Man Asleep, and 53 Days.

Ellis Island

Literature by Georges Perec

Translated from the French by Harry Mathews

With a contribution by Mónica De La Torre

Georges Perec, employing prose meditations, lists, and inventories (of countries of origin, of what the immigrants carried), conjures up in Ellis Island the sixteen million people who, between 1890 and 1954, arrived as foreigners and stayed on to become Americans. Perec (who by the age of nine was an orphan: his father was killed by a German bullet; his mother perished in Auschwitz) is wide-awake to the elements of chance in immigration and survival: “To me Ellis Island is the ultimate place of exile.…
More Information
While exploring the island—its history, its buildings, its leftovers—Perec identifies Ellis Island as a non-place, an isle of tears, and reveals Emma Lazarus’s metaphor of America’s ‘golden door,’ which is emblazoned upon the Statue of Liberty, to be little but a false promise.
The lyric study of Ellis Island is a mournful counterfactual about what might have been had his parents—and many others—made it across the ocean. If Perec took pride in not repeating himself, it did not stop him from returning, as if in an elliptical orbit, to the same obsessions: police states, citizens going missing, organized brutality, human fragility
The New Yorker
< Greg Nissan Francesca Wade >