Considerations on “The Big Sick”

Kumail is a Pakistani comic who meets an American graduate student named Emily. But Kumail worries about what his traditional Pakistani parents will think of Emily. She’s not Pakistani; she’s not Muslim; it’s not a match based on family status; and he’s in love with her. You don’t have to be Pakistani or Muslim to identify with this dilemma, because this true story of Kumail Nanjiani’s relationship with Emily Gordon is a story of separating from your parents–a part of life that all of us have to navigate. If your parents are immigrants, Orthodox Jews, religious Catholics, Holocaust survivors, Amish farmers or evangelical Christians, then psychological separation may be more complicated–fraught with guilt and accusations of betrayal. You may even be exiled or mourned for as if you were dead–not just by your family, but also your religious or ethnic community. And forced separation makes intra-psychic separation more difficult because anger and guilt can keep you entangled with the family and/or community for years–or even a lifetime.

Kumail seems to understand this intuitively. He tells his family he is going to move to New York and he is not going to marry a Pakistani. But he refuses to accept their attempt to expunge him from the family. Of course, this is a movie not life! Or, at least, not everybody’s life–you might not be able to remain in the family or community from which you are expelled. It seems that Kumail was lucky!

Nowadays families are experiencing this kind of trauma ABOUT PRESIDENT TRUMP! Political ideologies can be just as unforgiving as religious orthodoxies. If your parents are Trump supporters and you supported Hillary Clinton, you may find yourself feeling as isolated and alienated at the dinner table as Kumail.

Historian Ron Radosh explained on Sixty Minutes that he was surprised when he found, in the course of his research for his book, The Rosenberg File, that Julius (but not Ethel) was guilty of espionage.  Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted and executed in 1953 for conspiracy to commit espionage and passing information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. Publishing the book required separating from his peer-group of left-leaning academics as well as friends and even some family members.

In my novel, Two Sisters of Coyoacán, Chapter 3 describes the intense debates about Stalin vs. Trotsky that went on at City College in the 1930’s. In the early thirties, they disagreed but remained friends.

Source: Roberta Satow/with permission of Chet Loggins

“The Stalinists from Alcove 2, like Butcher, were visiting Alcove 1 and arguing as they always did. The disagreements were inescapable: Who was Lenin’s choice for successor? Did he intend Stalin to take over? What made more sense–Trotsky’s theory of ‘permanent revolution’ or Stalin’s idea of ‘socialism in one country’?”

But by 1936 when the Moscow Trials began, Stalinists and Trotskyists no longer ate lunch together or stayed married. If you grew up in a Stalinist family, supporting Trotsky’s right to defend himself in absentia, meant accepting emotional exile. For more on the Stalinist-Trotskyist split among American communists: CLICK HERE 

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