April 5, 2014

Why I Love World Lit

Isabel Allende.  Chinua Achebe.  Fyodor Dostoevsky.  Haruki Murakami.  These are authors you immediately recognize who are also world literature authors.  They are from Chile, Nigeria, and Russia, respectively.   Their works that you read are translated into English from their native languages.  

I have long been an advocate for world literature.  And by world lit, I do not mean only American and British writers writing about people in other countries.  While I LOVE this as well, what I mean by world lit is literature that is written by people of different nationalities, originally written in languages other than English.  

Through translation  we are transported into a world that has been either created or documented by people from across the world.  There are phrases and metaphors present in world lit that a native English speaker would never think to put together.  The opinions and viewpoints discovered by reading world lit can be so vastly different from American culture that it is like breathing in fresh oxygen for the first time.  Your eyes are opened with each turning of the page.  Your mind broadens with each new understanding as the stories unfold.  You realize all at once how vastly diverse various cultures can be, yet how very similar the human experience is all over the world.

There is such a vast and expansive collection of writers out there all over the world.  How can we justify reading books only by American, Canadian, Australian, and British authors?   How can we justify that only 3% of the books published annually in the U.S. are translations?  

If you would like to expand your horizons by reading world lit, and have no idea where to start, here are some books I recommend starting with:

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (originally written in Japanese, a romantic coming-of-age story in gloriously odd Murakami style)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (originally written in Swedish, a fast-paced mystery made into both Swedish and American movies, hint: the Swedish movies are better)

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (originally written in Spanish, it is a mystery book about books that are disappearing by one singular author)

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind (orginally written in German, about an 18th-century Frenchman devoted to scents who scours the earth to create the perfect perfume)

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk (orginally written in Turkish, set in 16th century Istanbul about love, mystery, philosophy, and art)

If you desire a more challenging read, try these:

Stone Upon Stone by Wieslaw Mysliwski (originally written in Polish, a masterpiece of postwar Polish lit)

The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu (originally written in Japanese, written in the 11th century about medieval court life in Japan, it it a tome at 1182 pages but an amazing work)

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (originally written in Italian, these three books are all about the levels of Hell)

Don't stop there, either.  Check out all the authors and books your little heart desires and fall in love with world lit, as I have:

Gaston Leroux (France, Author of The Phantom of the Opera)
Alexandre Dumas (France, Author of The Count of Monte Cristo)
Jaroslav Hašek (Czech Republic, Author of The Good Soldier Švejk)
Cornelia Funke (Germany, Author of Inkheart)
Kerstin Gier (Germany, Author of Ruby Red)
Stefan Zweig (Austria, Author of Chess Story)
Voltaire (France, Author of Candide)
Hermann Hesse (Germany, Author of Siddhartha)
Victor Hugo (France, Author of Les Miserables)
Arto Paasilinna (Finland, The Year of the Hare)
Åsne Seierstad (Norway, The Bookseller of Kabul)

Leo Tolstoy (Russia, Author of Anna Karenina)
Elvira Baryakina (Russian Federation, White Shanghai: A Novel of the Roaring Twenties in China)
Paigham Afaqui (India- Urdu Language, Author of Makaan)
Pramoedya Ananta Toer (Indonesia, Author of House of Glass)
Sijie Dai (China, Author of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress)
Kader Abdolah (Iran, Author of My Father's Notebook: A Novel of Iran)


Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o (Kenya, Author of A Grain of Wheat)
Mohaammed Deb (Algeria, Author of The Savage Night)
Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt, author of Adrift on the Nile)
Mariama Ba (Senegal, author of So Long a Letter)
Ahmadou Kourouma (Ivory Coast, author of The Suns of Independence)

Central and South America:
Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Colombia, Author of One Year of Solitude)
Alonso Cueto (Peru, author of The Blue Hour)
Adriana Lisboa (Brazil, author of Symphony in White)
Alejandro Zambra (Chile, author of The Private Lives of Trees)
Giannina Braschi (Puerto Rico, author of Yo-Yo Boing!)
Alejo Carpentier (Cuba, author of The Kingdom of This World)

These lists, of course, leave out books written in Creole, Sioux, Cherokee,  Hawaiian, Siberian Yupik, and hundreds of other languages spoken in the U.S.  If you know of any books translated into English written in other languages native to the U.S. PLEASE share in the comments!

Share in the comments:
~Do you like to read World Lit?  Why or why not?  
~If you haven't tried any World Lit, does this post inspire you to try it?
~Can you recommend a book that has been translated into English that I should read?
~Any other thoughts!

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