Meditations on Exile and Home   /   Fall 2005   /    Bibliographic Review

Writing Home

Books on Home and Exile

Willis Jenkins

Plants on a front porch. Via Wikimedia Commons.

For so foundationally human a theme, it can be difficult to track down the scholarly literature on home. Outside of improvement manuals, buyers’ guides, and interior magazines, the theme lacks a genre. Or perhaps it proliferates in too many literatures to become the expertise of any few. Just consider how pervasively we encounter its Greek root, oikos, as prefix to vocabularies describing the human habitat. Economics and ecology seek the laws and logics of how humans find themselves at home, and the two often compete to normatively guide our way “back home,” as it were. But where do we turn to consider what a home might be, and what it might mean to dwell or return there?

So too for losing our home. As insidious, inevitable, and regenerative as the experience of exile, it too seems a foundational human theme without a dedicated literature. The haunting absence of home stolen underlies many a political menace, yet also evokes personal creativity and social innovation. The textual traces of exile thus promise ways of understanding chronic distress as well as sources of renewal. But where do we turn to make sense of those traces? 

We find fragmented hints of home and its complexity, along with many clues to making sense of exile, by reading memoirs and fiction. Many such personal narratives powerfully address the remembrance, loss, haunt, and rediscovery of home. But works tracing common strands of reflection on home or framing the experience of exile are fewer. The lists below avoid fiction and memoir (with a few exceptions) in order to gather together kinds of synthetic reflections on home, dwelling, household, displacement, homelessness, and exile. 

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