Dual Nationality

*

Buoyed by the undying and intrepid spirit of Yazigian warriors, you swagger into the hotel lobby and make a beeline for the receptionist, intending to fan out all the cash you’ve got on you. You won’t have him thinking that, just because you come from a poorer country than France, you lack the means to stay at his establishment. But, given that you don’t know what to call the thing on which you’re planning to place your bills–if this scene were happening in a bar, the word counter would be perfect–you decide to shuffle the money under his nose instead. The effect is strictly the same, and in doing so you spare yourself the highly disagreeable sensation of coming into physical contact with an object that you are unable to correctly name.

You fire off answers to each of the receptionist’s questions–yes you would like a room for the whole night, no it’s not to entertain clients, no you don’t offer massages either, in Yazigia all the women dress like this, yes yes yes it’s a country in Europe, okay it’s quite small but it used to be really big and for your information they were already programming in SQL by the twelfth century. The receptionist, looking wounded, finally asks you for an ID–but you feel no pity for him: if he thinks the Minitel is going to make a comeback anytime soon and reinstate France as a telecommunications world leader, then he’s sorely mistaken. You hold out your Yazigian passport, deliberately turning away your head to show that you’re not remotely interested in the information contained within, because you’re not at all an amnesiac who hasn’t yet had the chance to check her official givens, there will be absolutely no need to alert the police or the psychiatric hospital, you’re an innocent little lamb. The receptionist furrows his brow–could it be that you’re much older than you look? hopefully you’re not past thirty–and gives you back your passport and hands over a key. You thank him warmly and reassure him that you will be a perfect guest, you come from a very clean country, and you walk off towards the elevator with stately dignity.

The key obtained from the receptionist opens the door to what looks like a broom closet laid in coarse yellow carpet. Oh, it’s your room. Welcome to Paris, City of Light. On the threshold of your dismal lodgings you space out for a second; what are you supposed to do now? Ah yes, you finally have a moment to yourself, now is the perfect time to go through your suitcase and examine your passports, quick, fetch a magnifying glass and opium pipe! With a little bit of luck, you’ll find yourself in the directory and tomorrow you’ll be home, your epic journey over. Odysseus can watch and learn. But, first things first, you take off your faux leather heels, because it’s out of the question to walk on an indoor carpet in shoes that have been worn outdoors, you’re not a savage, for Pete’s sake. The process begins joyously–taking off your shoes is like planting your flag in the ground, it allows you to feel at home in a foreign land–but you come to a stupefied halt: the soles read size 42 and, if that weren’t enough, your feet, your feet, they’re horrible, two misshapen cyclopes, the enormous toes glaring at you as if they’d turn you to stone. You have to admit this is a harsh blow. Still, you try very hard to regard your feet with affection, or at least with courtesy, for they are a part of you and it would be unfair to brush them off without even having attempted to get to know them.

You face your suitcase and your brain fires off guesses in every direction. Are you about to discover a lock of your husband’s hair, a treatise on non-Euclidean geometry, a portrait of your grandmother, a quote estimate for cosmetic foot surgery, an autographed poster of Enrico Macias, a pay stub from the Yazigian Secret Service? Though each of these propositions is intrinsically excellent, an even better idea would be to pull the zipper. You won’t find proof of espionage, at any rate, because secret agents rarely pack their mission instructions with their underwear.

You lift the suitcase cover–it’s an oyster that opens, a black box about to give up its secrets–but you quickly realize that the wrapping paper was much more interesting than the present itself. There’s nothing inside but a few sexy outfits, a neon green tracksuit, a pair of sparkly stilettos, and a bag of toiletries. In short, there’s nothing illegal, which doesn’t really surprise you; the more you get to know yourself, the more you come across as a young woman of unshakeable integrity. And there’s also nothing that would permit you to piece together the course of your existence: no planner, no address book, no business card. This is the suitcase of a woman who writes nothing and reads nothing, it’s wordless baggage. There is, however, a notebook–your heart gives a leap as you grab it–false alarm, it’s brand new, according to the purchase receipt you bought it in Iassag’s airport that very morning, and it’s definitely blank, no one’s thought to scribble down a message of moral support. This proves, at least, that this is your first amnesic episode and not a chronic disorder; otherwise, you would’ve prepared a memo or an itinerary, you would’ve left yourself an explanatory message, and one of your relatives–say, your husband–would’ve come to pick you up at the airport.

Your amnesia, by the way, doesn’t overly worry you. Up to this point you’ve managed splendidly, and with what a cool head, too, really it’s very lucky to have come across a young woman of your mettle. That said, perhaps you should worry a little, or even ask yourself as to what may have caused the amnesia–sometimes, we forget that which is troublesome, sometimes, we forget that which is unbearable–and what if someday soon you come across an unsolvable problem, what if someone soon asks you a question to which you’ve forgotten the answer–sorry, but who’s this talking? Oh, that was one of your thoughts just now, a very strange thought, too, resembling a charred branch. Usually, your thoughts are all flowering and full of life, but this one was like dead. You shoo the inconvenience away, you’ll see to the medical side of things later, the important thing right now is to flip through your passports and identify yourself. But the charred thought, taking flight, leaves an odd idea in its wake, like a potential event that doesn’t occur, but could occur, or like a theory of a theory holding that you could find, in the unused notebook, a piece of paper folded over twice, which would turn out to be a letter from your grandmother entreating you to solve some quandary.

The idea isn’t too far-fetched, if you carefully think about it: consider, you were visiting Yazigia to spend time with your parents and grandparents, they live over there while you live over here with your French husband, your grandmother gave you a letter before you left, my dear polynomial heart you’ll read it when you get there, you’ll see, you’ll understand everything; you folded the paper over twice and placed it in the notebook so it wouldn’t get crushed. In her letter, your grandmother reassures you, don’t worry my darling circumference if you’ve forgotten everything it’s just that I slipped an amnesic potion into your dairy-free yogurt, she explains the situation, it’s all a game and you’re the heroine, happy birthday decagonal sweetheart, she gives you a mission, you have to find your house on your own, here’s a map and a compass, your husband’s in on it and that’s why he didn’t meet you at the airport. What an attractive scenario–you really ought to think about writing Hollywood screenplays–and what a shame that it should be undermined by merciless, real-life proof: although you shake out the notebook vigorously, your grandmother’s letter, strangely enough, isn’t there.

All the better, then, because you really should look at your passports. It’s already dark outside, and, if you want to dial directory assistance this evening, it would be polite to get moving. Not to mention that a favorable development would be very welcome in your current situation: your suitcase has yielded no information, you have little money left and no one to turn to–in a word, if something doesn’t happen within the next few hours, tomorrow you’ll be left with two options, either going to the police and risking setting off a world war if by chance you’re a spy on a secret mission, or beginning a process of social marginalization that will inevitably lead to homelessness, STDs, and schizophrenia. You agree, you’re absolutely right, you were wrong to have gone off in all directions like that, and then, having congratulated yourself on your own mental honesty (knowing how to recognize your own mistakes is the key to success), you take the two passports out of your handbag.

You begin with the Yazigian one. Your eyes grow wide. A gesture from which you would’ve concluded, if you weren’t already aware, given that this being inside your own head is an indisputable advantage when it comes to following your thoughts in real time, that you are surprised. Is your name that of a celebrity, an actress, a gold-medal gymnast? Nah, you would’ve recognized yourself in the mirror. Although, no, not necessarily, faceless celebrities do exist, after all; you’ve got to stop being so negative. You check the French passport to see if the cause of your surprise is in there, too, because it’s better to cross-reference your sources, no such thing as too careful, and no no no don’t you frown like that or else you’re going to go off on a tangent again–ahem, if you could just say something here, a frown rather suggests displeasure, if, for example, you’d been absolutely hideous in the photograph, if you’d had a humiliating bowl cut a few years back–shut up, now is completely not the time to analyze your own facial expressions, the hour is dire, all is desolation and despair, there’s a Soviet tank aiming right at you, hey now what’s this about a tank, it’s absolutely not what you wanted to be thinking of.

You were born in France, in Lyon. That’s what is says in the Yazigian passport. That is also what it says in the French passport. The Yazigian one displays some additional information: Reason for Yazigian citizenship: mother and father Yazigian by birth. Comments: previous ruling of the Yazigian Populist Republic, in which parents stripped of Yazigian nationality due to defection, declared null and void. There’s no corresponding information in the French document. Still, it’s pretty clear that you’re French by way of birth and not marriage. If your husband wasn’t at the airport, it’s quite simply because you don’t have a husband. In other news, your name is Rkvaa Nnoyeig and you are thirty-one years old, a fine number even though it doesn’t begin with a two.

Born in France. This sucks, this sucks, this suuuucks. You stamp your feet in rage–dignified rage, obviously, a parting gift from your Yazigian dignity. Being a Yazigian immigrant was beautiful, it was romantic, you were an enigmatic princess of the east, you blazed with the anguish of having been torn asunder, you stood tall, you were unyielding, your heart beat to the rhythm of Yazigia’s tragic destiny, it was all of a higher order, mysterious, exquisite–and, poof, cruel upheaval, turns out you’re a rip-off Yazigian, a second-generation immigrant, a Frenchwoman of Yazigian origin, in other words just a Frenchwoman, when you’re born in Lyon you are French and nobody gives a damn about your Yazigian origins, everyone in France has foreign origins, you don’t have the time to deal with every single case because there’s way too many of you.

You’ve never lived in Yazigia. There’s no rent, no wrench, no sorrow. Your parents, they were the ones uprooted. Not you. If you’ve discovered nostalgia in your head, it’s simply because you were raised by immigrants–they bequeathed this nostalgia to you, but it’s not really your own. Being around your parents, you would’ve learned, through imitation, to counterfeit their homesickness, and perhaps this is even what they expected of you, perhaps they even quietly pushed you down this path, so that you became a reassuring, consoling mirror for them. It’s considerably cheaper than therapy, after all. Maybe the taxi driver had the same mustache as your father, and, click, mechanical response–hey, Dad, come here, I’m going to recite the stuff you say when you’ve drunk too much, when you listen to old songs, when you receive a moving letter from back home, come on, we’ll cry together and this will ease your heart, you’ll see. You’re a forger of nostalgia.

You sit on the edge of the bed and try to look as sweet as possible. Perhaps the Yazigian nation would like to take you back? You press your Yazigian passport to your heart. You feel as if it’s gotten thinner. Yes, anyone would say its ribs are showing. The French one, meanwhile, is thick and fat like a Lyon sausage. (Or the kind from Toulouse. You don’t really know, charcuterie isn’t exactly your department.) You kiss your little Yazigian passport–oh, but there’s no going back, you’ve strayed so far away–you didn’t ask to be born in France, you were dropped there, it’s not like you had a choice, so forgive me, potatoes and sugared blackberries in August, forgive me, hay bales and potholed roads, forgive me, solar eclipses and knee-deep snowfall, forgive me, wild boars and apricot liquor . . . You’re compelled to be French, the ground has swallowed you up, here you’re integrated, you’re incorporated, you become a speck among specks, France is the great republican countertop blender.

You know your name, and yet you’re more anonymous than ever. You’re diluted by the great mass of the French people. It’s much too big for you, this France, it makes you invisible, you feel as if you’ve disappeared. Drowned in the crowd you no longer exist, you no longer have any distinctive trait, no singular characteristic. Except for your horrible feet. Voilà, you’re a Frenchwoman with horrible feet. Terribly desirous of meeting you.

Neither Yazigian nor immigrant–no, really, this is a tough pill to swallow. However, if there is something, or rather someone, that you don’t regret at all, it’s your French husband. As a matter of fact, there had been something deeply humiliating about your relationship; you can think this freely, now, knowing he no longer exists. Because owing your nationality to a man necessarily creates an imbalance of power, and afterwards you feel indebted, you feel dependent, you accept things you shouldn’t. This French husband of yours, you saw him waltzing around as if he owned both the place and you, thinking he’s your creditor for life, believing you’re his property, it’s all thanks to whom, eh, don’t forget where you came from and the laundry while you’re at it–oh, what a relief to have escaped it all. If it had to be like that, then better a real green-card marriage (your apologies to the government); the contract is clear, you know the terms, once you’ve signed it’s settled, it’s over and done, there isn’t some guy who makes you pay day after day for whatever he thinks to have given you–how touchingly lavish, really–except he hasn’t actually given you anything, citizenship through marriage isn’t a wedding present from the groom, he believes he has this power, but no, it’s the social contract, it’s the Civil Code, in this scenario the only thing the husband does is be French, which isn’t much as far as gestures of devotion go. You, you’re a free woman, you don’t owe your French citizenship to anyone. At the moment you’re not too sure what to do with it, but at least it’s a matter between you and France, there’s no sleazy pig involved.

You try to sort yourself out. You move your most cumbersome thoughts aside, you sidestep, you leap over, you crawl under, and, after having overcome multiple obstacles, you end up in a more or less quiet corner of your mind. There must be, inside you, a feeling of belonging to France: it’s all about finding the key to unlock it. And you’ve got to make progress–you’re an amnesiac in a seedy hotel, your husband must be getting worried. But no, you don’t have a husband anymore, how many times do you have to repeat yourself? You scribble on your mental chart of propositions: I am a Frenchwoman from France and I don’t have a husband, this way you won’t make the mistake again, you have to save your cognitive energy. As for your husband, goodbye and good riddance, he’d better not so much as think of trying to win you back. And if, on the off chance, you happen to have a husband, anyway–after all, the fact that you’re French doesn’t prevent you from having a husband, Frenchwomen also wed, not for citizenship but for love–well, he can wait for you, it’ll serve him right. The only thing he had to do was come and pick you up when you arrived. If you truly love your wife, you don’t abandon her in an unfriendly airport like that. You cross out the phrase I don’t have a husband and you add: if I have a husband, don’t forget to make a scene about the airport (but not too much, because, deep down, you two both know you love each other).

You look at your French passport. So this is it, your real passport. The Yazigian one is nothing more than a fashion accessory, an ornament inherited from your parents. Like your first and last names, typically Yazigian, but purely cosmetic in essence. Well. France is also very pretty. There are the castles of the Loire, there are cathedrals. And, above all, there’s the sea. Yes, the sea–low tides, high tides, Somme Bay and Brittany, birds, seals, and thalassotherapy, jacuzzis, massages, and mud masks–by the way, shouldn’t you be saying ocean, is the ocean a sea, or are they two different things, ah, the enigma of classificatory thinking–whatever, it’s that big thing with waves and it’s so beautiful because you can see forever. Granted, this is a France for holidays; a France for life, that’s another matter.

If your parents came here, perhaps that’s because it was truly better. You mentally pull up all the information available to you on the subject of communist Yazigia at the end of the 1970s: you picture a record suicide rate, phone tapping, widespread alcoholism, and newspapers in bathrooms. Given the shortage of toilet paper, people wipe themselves with yesterday’s headlines, which also provides an opportunity to purposely smear the photo of the Party’s Secretary General. Then, your parents leave, they settle in France, and, a few years later, you’re brought into the world on French soil. And, thanks to the right of asylum, and later birthright citizenship, or most probably the two combined, you grow up in France. It’s a better life. As much democracy and toilet paper as you could wish for. Yes, there’s no denying that France was kind. It didn’t have to take your parents in, but it did, because it’s the birthplace of human rights and a generous country. And crack.

You’ve found the breach, you crow jubilantly, here’s the door you were looking for, you plunge into it–not into the door but into the breach, obviously–shush, this is a solemn moment, you’re on the brink of surrendering to a powerful rush of gratitude, you’re flat-out running through your mental forest, but of course, France was your fluffy cradle, your adoptive mother, who, unaffronted by the fact that you were imported goods, nurtured and raised you in Yazigia’s stead, by delegation of authority, you could say–but here your flight freezes mid-air for an instant as you realize you’ve drawn more conclusions than is reasonable, a birth is only a birth, your parents could’ve simply been on holiday in France when the happy event unexpectedly came to pass, and don’t come arguing that Lyon is a surprising choice for a summer getaway, your father and mother were probably free thinkers emancipated from the controlling grip of travel guides–still, despite this breach in the breach, you resume your rush towards France, this big and bumbling giant who willingly took the little girl from hicksville into its broad arms, who, without expecting anything in return, put ground under her feet and a roof over her head, who gave her books by the thousands and schools to learn in, who swaddled her in a warm embrace and watched her grow–except, here, here comes another counterattack, that’s a real sweet story you’ve got there, but, since the parents are Yazigian, this means the family culture, the bones, the very tissues of the skin are Yazigian, and, even if the little girl had grown up in France, she would’ve returned to live in Yazigia, you only need to look at the suitcase contents, would a Frenchwoman walk about in sparkly stilettos?–and in a final aerial flip you think, this love between France and the little girl is all the more beautiful because it’s a free and unconditional love–and in another final flip you conclude that the die was cast the moment your name was chosen, the bond cemented, you’re a Yazigian born abroad and not a Frenchwoman with foreign parents, unless it be the opposite, or the inverse, you’ve forgotten the difference between those two terms . . . and so your thoughts twist around each other, and so your breath intermingles, until you let yourself fall onto the coarse yellow carpet, and you remember, just as you’re about to sink into a deep sleep, that you’d meant to call directory assistance, obviously that’ll have to be done tomorrow because you’re already out cold, nobody would deny you’ve had a trying day.

Bios

Nina Yargekov

Nina Yargekov was born in France to Hungarian immigrants in 1980. She is the author of three novels: Tuer Catherine (P.O.L, 2009), Vous serez mes témoins (P.O.L, 2011), and Double nationalité (P.O.L, 2016), which won the Prix de Flore in 2016 and has since been translated into Serbian and Spanish. Like the protagonist of Double nationalité, whose name is an anagram of the author’s, Yargekov herself feels to have a case of identity crisis. Her work is markedly populated by split personalities, wordplay, and mathematical jokes.

Daria Chernysheva

Daria Chernysheva is a translator from French and Russian into English. Born in Russia, she moved to the United States as a child. She completed her MA in Translation Studies at the University of Warwick in 2018, where she was a Fulbright Scholar, and has translated two children’s books for Silver Dolphin Books. She was a participant at the 2019 La Fabrique des Traducteurs at the CITL in Arles, France, where she had the chance to work on translating Dual Nationality. She hopes to soon find a publisher for her English translation. To that end, she welcomes all contact, and would like it to be known that she is usually based in Brooklyn, New York and can be reached at [email protected]

Double nationalité by Nina Yargekov, Copyright (c) P.O.L Editeur, 2016. English translation copyright (c) Daria Chernysheva, 2020.