Memory and the destruction of family links About Caryl Phillips’ Crossing the River

Anne Garrait-BourrierUniversité Clermont-Auvergne
Paru le : 22.02.2019
Mots-clés :

MÉMOIRE ET DESTRUCTION DES LIENS FAMILIAUX. À PROPOS DE CROSSING THE RIVER DE CARYL PHILLIPS / La destruction du modèle familial fut l’une des principales conséquences du passage du milieu que les noirs subirent durant leurs siècles d’esclavage. Or, la famille est le lieu où les histoires (stories) sont transmises. Qu’advient-il alors du groupe, de la société et de la nation lorsque la famille disparaît sous la violence des traumatismes de l’histoire (History) ? Quelle forme d’agentivité (agency) peut suppléer la perte de ce lien originel ? À partir de ces questions, nous nous concentrerons sur les représentations de la paternité dans Crossing the River de Caryl Phillips (1993), puis nous les comparerons et les opposerons à la figure de la maternité, pour insister finalement sur les parentages de substitution que le roman reconstruit pour tenter de remplir les vides laissés par l’esclavage.

Mots-clés : agentivité, diaspora africaine, esclavage, famille, parents de substitution, traumatisme.


The novel Crossing the River published by Caryl Phillips in 1993 focuses on family links in the context of the African diaspora. It is historically admitted that the destruction of the family pattern was the main horrifying consequence of the Middle Passage black people had to endure throughout the centuries of slavery which followed the development of the British and European empires. Studying their “destruction/reconstruction” through literature and fiction is a way for Phillips to pay an emotional tribute to the millions of families shattered by slavery (“For those who crossed the river”)1.

Starting his book with this alarming statement, “A desperate foolishness. The crops failed. I sold my children” (Phillips, 2006 : 1), Phillips explores the very notion of kinship through time and space in the context of the aftermath of slavery in Europe and in the United States. Family is the place where collective and cultural memory is usually transmitted through generations, narrated by the elders  and passed on orally to the young. When families are destroyed, this memory is then necessarily impaired and dangerously threatened by time. As Carl N. Degler puts it, “It is this lack of a developed or complete family under slavery that so handicapped the Negro once slavery was ended” (Degler, 2012: 172). In her book entitled Mothering: ideology, experience and agency, Patricia Hill Collins also observes that “family links social hierarchies of gender, race and nation” (Hill Collins, 1994: 65). How can these hierarchies be preserved when memory is destroyed; are they subverted when the family no longer play its structuring part and when memories are diluted?

To try to put these questions into perspective we will first concentrate on the representations of fatherhood in the novel, then we will compare and contrast them with the  figure of motherhood, to insist eventually on the surrogate kinships the novel reconstructs so as to fill the voids left by slavery.


In the context of slavery and of postcolonial studies, the image of the father is a very ambiguous one. In recent years, the field of masculinity as it was developed in the Western world has generated standards based on the concepts of authority, control and discipline as well as responsibility and involvement (Bourdieu, 1998). Contrary to these patterns, African American and Caribbean males (Caryl Phillips is from Caribbean ancestry) have experienced fatherhood —a value essential to the construction of manhood— in a very different way, as developed by Carl N.Degler in Neither Black Nor White or by Tannenbaum in Slave and Citizen:

Under the law of most of the Southern states there was no regard for the Negro family, no question of the right of the owner to sell his slaves separately, and no limitation upon separating husband and wife, or child from its mother (Tannenbaum, 1946, 77)

The very denial of access to the status of pater familias and thus to fatherhood on the plantation and under the system of the “peculiar institution” was part of the erasure of black manhood for centuries (Kolchin, 1993), and Phillips’ representation of fatherhood attached to black males is intimately related to these historical elements.


The omnipresence of Africa in the background of the novel insists on its importance in the building of a diasporic black identity. Africa is the place the Blacks were forced to leave, forced to go back to, and the ship is the means through which these incessant movements took place. If  Africa is the symbol of the original family, the ship is that of disruption and destruction. In the chapter “Crossing the River,” devoted to Captain James Hamilton and his experience at sea, Phillips disrupts the stream of the children’s narrations and establishes a fictional Bakhtinian dialogue with the writings of John Newton, a real slave-trader born in London in 1725 who travelled to the West Indies on a slave-trading expedition and whose influence is obvious in the building of the character of the slave trader in the novel. These writings are incorporated into the diary of Captain James Hamilton who happens to be the captain who bought Martha, Nash and Travis from the nameless African father at the opening of Crossing the River. This extended “family” of slaves is portrayed by the captain himself as both voiceless and without any proper identity, described merely in figures and numbers, through columns and balances, as when he actually purchases the three “heroes” of the novel: “Wednesday 19th March…[…]. Approached by a quiet fellow. Bought 2 strong man-boys, and a proud girl. I believe my trade for this voyage has reached its conclusion.” (Phillips: 124)

This lack of identity through reification is thus also to be linked to this “quiet fellow”, the African father – and to his initial decision to sell his own children, thus making the future of the family bloodline disappear into the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean. Africa shares a part of responsibility in the silencing of its children. Not without irony does Phillips describe the pathetic experience of Nash’s “repatriation” —or quest for another ‘pater’— to Africa under the influence of the ambiguous American Colonization Society as a doomed return to this land of the Father which no longer generates any fathers.


The American colonization society is also presented by Phillips as being responsible for having degraded the relationships between the former slaves and their “father land”, hence, their relationship with fatherhood. In this way, it shares responsibility with the “peculiar institution” and is shown as a “peculiar” as well as an ambiguous way to solve the “question” of blackness and eradicate the memory of slavery in America before the Civil War. Africa was then used doubly, first to be emptied of its sons, and then artificially re-inhabited by strangers who kept fighting for their identity and were never recognized again as “sons” —shown by the personality troubles and sad fate of Nash. The section “Pagan Coast” plays upon these notions of paternalism and repatriation (literally); real fatherhood being illustrated here as a divine and social authority, eminently white. Edward Williams is the British Master “par excellence”. He has no children of his own and thus views his slaves and even ex-slaves as his own, assimilating “possession” with love— a paternalistic attitude developed and analyzed by Peter Kolchin as typical of the last generation  of Masters (just before the Civil War). This ambiguous emotion is nothing more than a subversion of the feeling of paternity. Phillips goes a step further by making subversion look and sound like perversion by exploring the desire Williams feels for his “son” Nash and other male slaves and servants. This can be seen as a homosexual pedophilic desire which, given the peculiar relationship he develops with his young male slaves, can also be considered incestuous. Slavery is clearly presented here as a perverted system facilitating all human perversions, even the most unnatural. In one of his letters Nash tells him: “you who have done more to me than my natural father” (Phillips: 20), a statement intensely dramatic in its implicit reading. This installed and institutionalized paternalism seems to redeem the slave holder from his practice of slavery —made obvious through the Christian undertones of Nash’s letters and his permanent assimilation between his Master and God, an assimilation Williams is not far from believing to be true (“I am eternally grateful to You and my Creator” [Phillips: 21]).

The Master is the absolute Father, forgiven for having destroyed the real family links of his slaves and for having taken children from their parents. He is the master of memory too as he recreates a “new” would-be “family” on the plantation he rules over, and even tries to project the idea of a “black family” far from the boundaries of white society by sending his slaves back to Africa. The plan of sending the former slaves to Africa to solve the question of slavery without renouncing the system, even although presented as humanitarian and Christian by the Colonization Society and its adepts (Williams being one of them), was deeply racist. It was concerned with having black men exert their manliness in Africa and not in America, and be “men” again in a country adapted to them, whereas in America there were just slaves. The best example is that once in Liberia, Nash is called “Mr. Williams” and not “boy” which surprises him (Phillips: 32-33). Another revealing example is the fact Nash chooses to have three wives (Phillips: 60) and even contemplates having a fourth one to re-build his life: “I have considered a fourth, but the expense is at present beyond me” (ibid.). This hyperbolic self-representation of family and of manhood is a way to destroy his Master’s sexual empowerment on him and to shatter his Christian values: “that my present family does not conform to what you might reasonably expect of me will no doubt disturb you” (ibid.). The more he re-becomes a man, the more distant he becomes from his “Dear father” (letter written in 1840, in Phillips: 40). The Master is eventually contested in fatherhood through discreet references to incomplete biblical formulas: “Why have you forsaken me?” (Phillips: 42, no italics in the text), followed by negative indirect biblical references in his 1842 letter (“the American God does not even resemble them in that most fundamental of features”, 64, my emphasis), and, finally through the echo created by the direct use of the major biblical reference,  quoted in its complete version this time (and in italics): “Father,why have you forsaken me…”, at the very beginning of the next section, “West” (Phillips: 73).

The dominant motive illustrating the degraded image of fatherhood in the novel is that of absenteeism. Fatherhood is clearly related to the notion of loss, a loss transmitted as a heritage —memory being thus the remembering of loss. One example is the case of Travis, the abandoned Africa child whose father never took care of and who dies during World War II, literally “abandoning” his son Greer, in a lineage of extinction of fatherhood.


If fathers are proven ineffectual in the novel, mothers do not necessarily receive better reviews. Being a mother under slavery or becoming a mother in the context of racism in England in the 1940s is presented by Phillips as an impossible task (Toni Morrison —dealing with the same subjects and acknowledged by Caryl Phillips as a literary example— shows it as an equally traumatic experience nevertheless leading to the possibility of a future). In both cases, as in nearly all colonial and postcolonial texts, motherhood is a sacrificial crossing of human borders. Women prove incapable of recreating a proper family in Crossing the River ; love —contrary to what the African father writes in the epilogue— is not powerful enough to overcome desertion and racism.

“West” is the narrative of Martha Randolph, who, sold into slavery alongside her brothers Nash and Travis (the three African children evoked in the prologue), ends working on a plantation in Virginia. Martha is a direct victim of the peculiar institution. In this context, she develops a very “peculiar” bond with her daughter Eliza Mae, a bond forged out of suffering, resilience and abnegation. When her Master dies, Martha discovers that she and her family will be sold at auction: “slaves. Farm animals. Household furniture. Farm tools. We are to be sold in this order. […] My Eliza Mae holds onto me, but it will be to no avail. She will be a prime purchase.” (Phillips: 76-77)

Phillips insists through that statement on the fact that the institution of slavery has the power to cut family bonds and to break any memory of former happiness. When Martha is eventually dismissed by Mr. Hoffman, her new Master (Phillips: 78), she instantly finds herself turned from slave to fugitive slave. Phillips narrates this change in social conditions as a “passage” —another crossing— and the beginning of an intimate diaspora, making Martha a part of “ ‘the many-tongued chorus of the common memory’ ” of the epilogue (Phillips, 235). Her experience of running away from her condition evokes Sethe’s running away from the Sweet Home plantation in Morrison’s Beloved. —a shared experience of escaping which resonates within the extended family’ identified by Paul Gilroy as “the black Atlantic” (Gilroy, 1995).

Her obsession is then to move to the West to recover Eliza Mae (“Eliza May” is the canonic female slave, as Phillips chooses for his character the name coined by Harriet Beecher Stowe for her own heroine in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1852). She is the long loved and sought-after daughter. She is Morrison’s Beloved, a ghost and a hope. This ghostly hope is incarnated in the text by the word “Moma” (Phillips: 77) that she cries when mother and daughter are separated by the auction, a desperate call for help. The answer to that call is silence: the loss of the child is the main tragedy of the female slaves, considered as breeders (“I am too old for breeding,” Martha says during the auction scene, ibid.) and not as mothers. Instead of answering, Martha moves West.

Now that she is physically separated from her daughter, Martha has the strange conviction that she, too, must become a part of the exodus that is heading West. For Martha, to head West means a literal “crossing of the river”, but instead of the Ohio river the southern slaves crossed so as to escape from slavery and reach the North, she crosses the Missouri River and its borders to reach another kind of North (changed into the West):a symbolical cardinal point abolishing all human societal systems, particularly that of slavery; even colour is transgressed —if not abolished— in her desperate attempt as her exodus to the West is described in black by Phillips. The pioneers she joins are colored people. In the chapter devoted to her, Martha flees for a double reason. She wants to leave her status as a slave behind and hopes for a community of black folks sharing her past and looking for “a new life”; at the same time, she hopes her daughter —another member of the same community— will be in California waiting for her. This double aspiration is utterly fanciful and lies on no rational grounds whatsoever, as the tone of doubt of her stream of consciousness indicates: “Apparently, these days colored folks were not heading west prospecting for no gold, they were just prospecting for a new life without having to pay no heed to the white man and his ways. Prospecting for a place where your name wasn’t “boy” or “aunty”, and where you could be a part of this country without feeling like you wasn’t really a part.” (Phillips: 73, my emphasis).

Contrary to Sethe’s salutary “re-memory” process (e.g. the reconstruction of the past by the acceptation of its   painful return, the Subject literally bumping into his own memories [Morrison, 1993])2, Martha believes that she must reinvent herself by running away from her past in order to re-discover her lost daughter in a completely different context, and that this strategy is like “pioneering.” More than a fugitive slave, Martha is a frontierswoman whose plan is to conquer her own motherhood.

To convince the black pioneers to take her whereas she is old and sick, she assures them that, she won’t be a “burden”, that “she knew all about wild and dangerous country, and had many times seen horses and oxen shot that had broken their legs and watched as the trail-riders made soup out of their hides and bones.” (Phillips: 88) Crossing so many borders on the American soil (like the Indians had to do in their forced migrations) and heading west towards California does indeed annihilate her condition as a slave and makes her closer to the Indian and even to the white pioneer, and it artificially makes her feel more American as her nation is “in progress” and its manifest destiny is to expand. This expansionism implies novelty, newness and a scorn for the past, which justifies her exodus to the West of oblivion. In her frantic quest to be re-united with her daughter and to become a mother again —a quest which eventually fails as the estranged daughter is definitely lost— she eventually loses herself and any sense of belonging. Diaspora is chosen by Martha as a delusional response to the diaspora itself: she journeys through America to go back to her family but all she finds is homelessness.

Martha becomes a lost soul looking for her lost daughter. She becomes a wanderer, showing by her fictional experience that the family bonds destroyed in slavery cannot be rewoven and are forever longed for. The only image she keeps of her daughter before dying at the end of the chapter is not a memory properly speaking but a dream, where she re constructs her daughter’s life in the West, imagining for her an honorable life with husband and children, a happy family life Martha happens to be excluded from… as if her own unconscious refused to accept this prospect.

Joyce is the other female character in the novel. She is Martha’s white counterpart. More than a counterpart she happens to be like a fictional sister to Martha or a white and inverted version of her. They actually share the same father in the epilogue, where the African father seems to recognize her as one of his children: “But my Joyce, and my other children, their voices hurt but determined, they will survive the hardships of the far bank” (Phillips: 235) The character of Joyce in the chapter “Somewhere in England”, also has to cross a series of extreme ‘hardships’ in order to ensure her own survival. Not becoming a ‘real’ mother will be the most traumatic one and it starts with the loss of her own mother.

Following her mother’s death, Joyce recalls that when she returned from the funeral, her husband Len: “laughed at me. She died because you left her down there on her own and went off with me, he said.” (Phillips: 187) Joyce’s mother actually died in a bomb explosion and Len’s lies and pathetic reaction to this death trigger Joyce’s aspiration for a necessary change: she “decided that on the first Sunday of every month I would take the bus into town. I would play daughter” (ibid.), meaning here: “I would leave him”.

To conquer the illusion of freedom, the first thing to do i to re-construct her relationship with her dead mother (traveling to the dead mother is like traveling to the “lost” child for Martha, mother and daughter being in these inverted scenarios interchangeable). If, when alive, Joyce’s mother was often judgmental and harsh on her, Joyce rebuilds her love for her through memory and dream. Ironically and tragically enough, it is only after her mother’s death that their relationship seems to improve: “now that she was with her maker I had the feeling that she was listening to me. Which is more than she ever did when she had some breath in her body.” (Phillips: 187) The other common point developed with Martha’s destiny is the similarity between the context of warfare and that of slavery: like slavery, warfare has the power to fracture and destroy families. In this chapter, there is a scene reminiscent of the slave auction scenes in Martha’s narrative, when Joyce remembers the evacuee children (Phillips: 144) who had arrived in her village, wearing tags around their necks. In slavery as in wartime, the children are the first victims of dispersion and loss, which represents a threat to their future, deprives them of their roots; and finally results in a loss of memory (the example of Greer at the end of the chapter, looking for information about his father is telling). When Joyce’s friend Sandra becomes pregnant by another man (while her husband is away at war), Joyce: “pointed out the obvious. That this is a war. That if Tommy ends up without a father, he won’t be the first and he won’t be the last” (Phillips: 157), announcing through this strange prophecy her own destiny and also that of her son Greer.

Joyce is presented as an ambiguous woman. This might be due to her whiteness, the other main white characters in the novel being a slave holder and a slave trader. The implicit question is thus: what is her relation to slavery? In her diaries, Joyce criticizes the political discourses of her time, always unveiling their hidden and ambiguous aspects, positioning herself as a rebellious “dominated” person, opposing herself to hegemony. This is most clearly revealed in her attacks upon Winston Churchill as she writes: “if Churchill tells me one more time that this war is being fought for freedom and true principles of democracy I’ll scream.” (Phillips: 164) In the same way, she asserts herself as an anti-racist and progressive woman when she claims that the wartime news, “just showed the Tommies. Never the Yanks. And if they did, never the Coloureds,” (Phillips: 223) accepting implicitly to be on the side of the  “coloured” people. But her life choices will not be in accordance with her theoretical commitments. Human nature always prevails in Phillips’ novel, and overcomes intention and commitment. Joyce herself will contribute to the racist attitude prevailing in Britain as her life with Travis, the black American GI stationed in England during the Second World War, and their son Greer, who is described as, “like coffee,” will both become a shameful stain in her life that she will spend years to try to erase. A slave to men (Len beats her) and to social conventions (miscegenation is a sin in Britain in the 1940s), Joyce’s whiteness is of no help to her. Her cross-cultural transgressive experience is another illustration of the plight of women. With Joyce, Phillips opens up his analyses of the doom of “de-maternalization” to all the women who have been in contact with Gilroy’s “black Atlantic”, and he creates a form of cultural sisterhood, a “female Atlantic”.

Like Martha with Eliza Mae, Joyce loses her son. Like her, she does not have the physical or mental strength to fight for him when someone comes to take him. But contrary to her, she will not spend her life looking for him but will try to forget about him and his father. This is clearly revealed in her 1963 diary entry, when Joyce records a visit by her son Greer, who was put to adoption a young child, and calls him her “GI baby. No father, no mother, no Uncle Sam,” who “for eighteen years I hadn’t invited to do anything.” When Greer questions Joyce about his father she apologetically replies, “I don’t even have a picture of him. I’m sorry, love. I destroyed everything. Letters, pictures, everything. When I met Alan. It seemed the right thing to do.” (Phillips: 223, my emphasis), an argument Martha also develops to accept the selling of her daughter: “On her own she stands a better chance for a better life; I want to tell her this, to encourage her to let go, but I have not the heart.” (Phillips: 77)

But Joyce did not do the “right thing” and Martha intimately knew her argument was a fake one (her “heart” tells her there is “no better life” for her daughter). For Joyce, the only way to keep crossing such mental borders and ensure her own survival is to eradicate all traces of her former life with Travis, to destroy memory, to avoid thinking about them as a “family”. Family hurts in the context of hatred for miscegenation and her new life with Alan cannot accommodate her previous choices and political involvement. So she makes the choice of renouncement in order to reconstruct for herself a feeling of “belonging” with her Nation. Greer, her fatherless mixed-blood son, is the sacrificed child of Greek tragedies (Greer even sounds like “Greek”) and she is the weak mother who gives up on him.


If real parents cannot assume their roles and protect their children, then who can? As was the case in the slave quarters on plantations, family bonds were artificially recreated  by slaves themselves so as to protect their off spring and save the spirit of life. Aunts and Uncles became more reassuring and protective than the dying mothers and fathers. Following this cultural and historical trend, Phillips develops a vision of surrogate kinships in the novel. As roles are changed, so are identities. The play upon names indicates a constant change in personalities and roles in the novel not jut as a return to the historical dehumanizing renaming of slaves but also as the necessity to look for substitutes for the missing parents.

Martha cannot escape the dehumanizing doom of having been raised in as a slave. At the end of the chapter, the white woman who pretends to help her wonders: “we will have to choose a name for her” (Phillips: 94). This is tragically ironical as Martha fought to define herself out of the dominion of White power; in running away she promised herself “never again she would be renamed” (Phillips: 80). But when she unites with her daughter in her dreams before she dies, the daughter herself has a new name, that of her former Master, which is a gruesome twist of fate. In a similar way, Joyce fights against the power of males, by rejecting her first husband’s name: “My name isn’t bloody Len anybody” (Phillips: 148), but freedom goes far beyond fighting for a name as she eventually cannot live her life freely as the single mother of a black child and she willingly abandons her ‘title’ of mother, oblivious of her son’s own name.

Surrogate children are numerous in the novel. Logically enough, Nash is the surrogate son of Williams, the “false father”; Martha also develops surrogate family bonds so as to try to survive her quest for her daughter. Lucy in “West” is the surrogate daughter Martha seems to choose for herself. This tie also, as all surrogate ones in the novel, is short-lived. It is rewarding but ultimately broken by Life. All attempts instigated by Martha to bond with others, particularly white people, are threatening to her and undermine her efforts to create a surrogate home. Martha is excluded from the American dream of home and family as if there were no “location of culture” (Bhabha, 1994) possible for the diasporic peoples. When her second husband is murdered, the pattern of dispersal is repeated for her as a doom: she is driven away from a place she had called home for a decade. She then looks for a new home joining pioneers; she thinks she can find her daughter again (Phillips: 89), but she dies in a state of childlike dependency. Cross-cultural surrogate bonding seems doomed to fail in the novel. Only surrogate relationships within the same racial and cultural framework seem possible, even though they are also difficult and unsatisfactory. Following the same logic, the woman who saves Martha is the image of surrogate motherhood, but this is totally inadequate and ineffectual as the shelter she offers is icy and Martha only receives a drink of cold water. She is not loved by this Mother in the same way Edward Williams is just a perversion of fatherhood. The conclusion is that no surrogate links can replace  real family bonds and that once they are broken, mourning and loneliness are the only options left. Family cannot be delusional, it exists or it does not, and Crossing the River is a novel about the complete loss of Family.

Contrary to the novels written by Morrison on the same subject, Phillips gives the ‘real’ father —be he absent or flawed— pride of place in his novel and then shifts from the classical colonial discourse. He re-genders Africa from motherland to fatherland by making an African father speak instead of the mythical grandmother. This masculine voice then holds all the other diasporic voices of Africa, as one can perceive when Nash says: “Africa the dark land of our forefathers” (Phillips: 41). This choice deprives the novel of any kind of positive outcome despite the cry for love upon which it ends. Only women have the biological power to ‘re-produce’ original family bonds by having children and recreating roots by renewing humanity. Fathers have many powers but not that original and primeval one, as is shown by the vision of the African father in despair at the very end of the novel. Nevertheless, if family seems sacrificed, the ending of the novel opens the door to the possible re-construction of a common multi cultural memory as men (fathers and sons) —because they are resentful and haunted by the voices of the past— seem to be endowed with the power of re-creating a ‘brotherhood’, as the concluding words of the epilogue, paraphrasing Martin Luther King’s famous speech, emphasize:

I have listened to the voice that cried: I have a dream that one day on the hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood (Phillips: 236)


Bhabha, Homi, 1994, The Location of Culture, London: Routeledge.

Bourdieu, Pierre, 1998, La domination masculine, Paris, Ed. du Seuil.

Degler, Carl N., 1971, Neither Black Nor White, Slavery and Race Relations in Brazil and the United States, Madison, Univ of Wisconsin Press (retrieved December 9, 2012).

Gilroy, Paul, 1995, The Black Atlantic, Modernity and double consciousness, New York, Verso.

Hill Collins, Patricia, 1994, Mothering: ideology, experience and agency, New York, Routeledge.

Kolchin, Peter, 1993, American Slavery 1617-1877, New York, Hill and Wang.

Phillips, Caryl, 2006, Crossing the River, London, London Vintage edition (first edition of the book by Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 1993).

Morrison, Toni, 1993, Beloved, New York, Vintage edition.

Tannenbaum, Franck, 1946, Slave and citizen, the Negro in the Americas, New York, Vintage Books.

1 All the quotations from Crossing the River are taken from the 2006 London Vintage edition (first edition of the book by Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 1993). This epigraph is situated before the acknowledgments. In the following notes, the reference to the publishing year 2006 will not be added.

2 The word “rememory” is coined by Morrison, as is this other word, “disremember” (remember + dismember), indicating the painful process of “remembering” as an amputation of one’s old self to rebuild a new one.