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Surviving to Tell the Tale: Josef Haslinger’s Phi Phi Island (2007)

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Abstract:

Literary texts about historical disasters tend to offer moral, political, or scientific interpretations of the occurrence that go well beyond the immediate experience of a catastrophe. They are, almost exclusively, written by people who did not in fact experience the catastrophic event. Survivor accounts, by contrast, typically do not have literary qualities. Phi Phi Island, the Austrian writer and essayist Josef Haslinger's literary report on how he and his family lived through the tsunami of 2004, is an exception. Point of departure for Haslinger's narrative is his inability to rejoice in the fact that he is alive. Carefully crafted and beautifully realized, his text combines the reconstruction of the events with reflections about how one can tell such a story in the first place. This essay analyzes Haslinger's strategies for coming to terms with the coincidence of survival, observing that the very personal nature of the report stands in noticeable contrast to the writer's commitment to political commentary in his other works.

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