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Writing autohistoria-teoría: agency and illness in German life narratives by Evelyne Leandro and Mely Kiyak


Health concerns by migrants have been neglected in the German healthcare system, and they are impacted by discriminating discourses of othering. By analysing two autobiographical illness narratives by immigrants in contemporary Germany, this article exposes limitations in existing discourses of migration health and argues for more relational and affirmative theories of illness and care. Evelyn Leandro’s diary The Living Death: The Struggle with a Long-Forgotten Illness (2017) describes her own drawn-out therapy against leprosy as a Brazilian in Berlin. In Mr Kiyak Thought That the Best Part of His Life Will Start Now (2013), the Turkish-German journalist Mely Kiyak narrates her father’s experience with advanced lung cancer in a German hospital. Drawing on medical anthropology, postcolonial theory and material (eco)feminism, I argue that these narratives establish migrant health and agency in transnational assemblages that include chemotherapy, lungs and skin, family networks, healthcare providers, food cultures and health policies. These assemblages of illness are connected with the narratives’ hybrid and relational aesthetics and politics: similar to Gloria Anzaldúa’s practice of autohistoria-teoría, I show how Kiyak’s and Leandro’s life writing combines personal and communal storytelling with critical theorising to include diverse voices, languages, histories and identities. By transgressing identities of self and other, German and foreign, patient and physician, human and non-human, the narratives inspire a greater sense of the extent to which (all) bodies, histories, cultures, technology and medicine are entangled in a dense network of relations. This article envisions a relational and hybrid ontology and aesthetics of migration health and thereby intervenes into the growing field of transcultural medicine and medical humanities.

  • patient narratives
  • medical humanities
  • philosophy of medicine/healthcare
  • cross-cultural studies
  • public health

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