The Tin Drum Guide to Literature and Migration


Poster from the film The Tin Drum based on the book by Gunter Grass


What links Günter Grass and Milan Kundera among other important writers with migration?  A lot, as it turns out. Many great writers put the migrant’s experience at the heart of his or her works. Some of the best literature of the 20th Century concerns migration, if you think about it .

it’s no surprise that literature has turned to migration as a rich vein. Writers set their stories against a background of decolonization, wars, totalitarian regimes, failed states, terrorism and climate induced migration. With each successive waves of refugees, exiles and opportunity seekers taking to their heels, writers turned the migrant  into the protagonist of the 20th century novel.

In Migration and Literature, (Macmillan, 2008) Søren Frank explores how the phenomenon of migration has influenced different national and postcolonial literatures. He looks at Grass, Kundera, among others, but anyone working for IOM will have their own favorite writer to cite. Frank’s argument is interesting though, as he argues for a move away from ‘migrant literature,’ which focuses on the role of the author, to the more inclusive term ‘migration literature,’ exploring the social aspects of migration.
This brings up yet another link between IOM and some of the great 20th century novelists. While the title is a tad long-winded and the language might not be described as literature, the content is rock solid. Read the opening sentence of: IOM’s Position Paper for the 2013 United Nations General Assembly High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, to get the idea:

 “Ours is an era of unprecedented human mobility, with the greatest number of people ever living outside their country or region of origin. Migration today is relevant to all countries in all regions, whether as countries of origin, transit or destination or any combination thereof. In view of trends in demography, development and labour demand, large-scale migration in the 21st century is inevitable, necessary and desirable. With the growth in human mobility set to continue and likely to accelerate to become a “mega-trend” of our century, governments increasingly recognize the importance of cooperating on migration matters as well as the relevance of migration to all three pillars of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental – and to the post-2015 development framework.”

It continues:

“Over the past sixty years, IOM has partnered with Member States, UN agencies and other international organizations, civil society and the private sector to improve human development outcomes for migrants, while enhancing overall levels of development for societies of origin, transit and destination.”
The fact that many novelists have focused on migration speaks to the importance of IOM’s area of work, as “the only international organization with a global mandate and footprint on migration.” Now head over the online bookstore to discover why so many writers find migration such a compelling subject.

(Read in full IOM’s Position Paper for the 2013 United Nations General Assembly High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development.)