open access


The word nostalgia originally referred to a literal disease: a lethargic condition experienced by soldiers and seamen, thought to be caused by homesickness. These days, nostalgia is more often used in a broader sense of a sustained attachment to the past, whether real or mythical, individual or communal. Because the past is always by definition beyond retrieval, nostalgia is often considered a harmful, even self-delusional condition: No longer a literal disease, nostalgia has instead become a cultural malaise whose primary symptom is a wistful but futile yearning for a long-lost past. Reading Ling Ma’s pandemic-themed 2018 novel Severance, this article finds a different kind of nostalgia, which looks not to the past but to the future: For the novel’s linguistically and culturally exiled Chinese American protagonist, nostalgia comes to express a longing to belong, which has the potential to root her in the place she claims as her future home.