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Pepper Goldsmith, T. (2018). Lost in Translation: echoes of a refugee childhood. J. Child Psychother., 44(3):315-325.

(2018). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 44(3):315-325

Lost in Translation: echoes of a refugee childhood

Tara Pepper Goldsmith

And now, when I have reached the courts of my ancestral dwelling, our home of old, my father, whom it was my first desire to carry high into the hills, and whom first I sought, declines, now Troy is rooted out, to prolong his life through the pains of exile.

‘‘Ah, you,” he cries, “whose blood is at the prime, whose strength stands firm in native vigour, do you take your flight. …Had the lords of heaven willed to prolong life for me, they should have preserved this my home.”

Aeneid, Book II: 634–642 (Virgil, [19BCE], 1937)

In 1991, just as I had laboriously translated these lines in a dusty Cambridge classroom, thinking more of grammar than meaning, my Classics teacher glanced out of the window and commented that the passage made her think of the two million refugees that were then in the news, pouring out of the former Yugoslavia into refugee camps. I can recall staring at her in amazement, as the distant past, my mother’s recent past, and the many, distressing stories I had heard about it, collided with current events.

I was not conscious of it at the time, but as the child of a refugee, the profound trauma, isolation and dislocation of my mother’s experience had seeped into and coloured nearly every aspect of my life. There had been little space for anything else. Reading the Aeneid, I glimpsed a chink of light, a perspective on that experience, the magnitude of which had been impossible to grasp. I had spent 17 years growing up a stranger to myself, my conscious and unconscious experience filled with the repetition of the unprocessed and traumatic experiences of others.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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