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Borderline Citizen

Dispatches from the Outskirts of Nationhood

Robin Hemley

Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
Imprint: University of Nebraska Press
Published: 03/2020
Pages: 216
Subject: Biography and Autobiography
eBook ISBN: 9781496221834


In Borderline Citizen Robin Hemley wrestles with what it means to be a citizen of the world, taking readers on a singular journey through the hinterlands of national identity. As a polygamist of place, Hemley celebrates Guy Fawkes Day in the contested Falkland Islands; Canada Day and the Fourth of July in the tiny U.S. exclave of Point Roberts, Washington; Russian Federation Day in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad; Handover Day among protesters in Hong Kong; and India Day along the most complicated border in the world. Forgoing the exotic descriptions of faraway lands common in traditional travel writing, Borderline Citizen upends the genre with darkly humorous and deeply compassionate glimpses into the lives of exiles, nationalists, refugees, and others. Hemley's superbly rendered narratives detail these individuals, including a Chinese billionaire who could live anywhere but has chosen to situate his ornate mansion in the middle of his impoverished ancestral village, a black nationalist wanted on thirty-two outstanding FBI warrants exiled in Cuba, and an Afghan refugee whose intentionally altered birth date makes him more easy to deport despite his harrowing past. Part travelogue, part memoir, part reportage, Borderline Citizen redefines notions of nationhood through an exploration of the arbitrariness of boundaries and what it means to belong.  


Robin Hemley is the author of numerous books, including Invented Eden; Reply All: Stories; A Field Guide for Immersion Writing; Nola; Turning Life into Fiction; and Do-Over! He has won many awards for his writing, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and three Pushcart Prizes, as well as residencies at the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Center, the Bogliasco Foundation, the Fine Arts Work in Provincetown, the MacDowell Colony, and others.    


"Engaging bits about intriguing lands, all in service of trying to 'understand the complexities of the world.'"—Kirkus Reviews

"Robin Hemley explodes the very idea of nationhood and in so doing redefines it, offering a more thoughtful and humane notion of how to be a citizen of our world today. These 'dispatches' are travel writing at its best, where the writer delves into the intimacies of foreign places, seeing beyond their exotic surfaces, in search of a global humanity. Brilliantly comic, darkly but poignantly introspective, Borderline Citizen should be required reading for the twenty-first century and beyond."—Xu Xi, author of This Fish is Fowl: Essays of Being

"Robin Hemley begins Borderline Citizen with the observation that 'as travelers, we see surfaces first. It's easy to exoticize, to misinterpret, nearly impossible to see something except through our own lenses.' He then goes on to show how a thoughtful, perceptive, and open-hearted traveler can overcome all those limitations. In vividly rendered essays, Hemley takes us to some of history's oddest bits of territory, showing how human lives are shaped (and often distorted) by arbitrary political boundaries. With superb storytelling, he explores the meanings of nationalism, sovereignty, citizenship, and the loyalties of the human heart."—Corey Flintoff, former NPR foreign correspondent