Translated 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. That is, the place where place is absent, the non-place, the nowhere… Ellis Island belongs to all those whom intolerance and poverty have driven and still drive from the land where they grew up.” Ellis Island is a slender Perec masterwork, unique among his many singular works.
The acclaimed poet and scholar Mónica de la Torre contributes an afterword that keeps Perec’s writing front and center while situating Ellis Island in the context of current fierce battles over immigration.