I've been thinking a lot about this ever since the death was announced of Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. I haven't read any of his books and it got me wondering whether I've ever read any African literature at all. Does the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith count?
I may not have read much African literature, but I haven't stuck entirely to British/American books either. I've read a couple of translated books by Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a few books set in India, several Russian works in translation, and a couple of books translated from German. Most of these books however, I read because they were on the BBC Big Read Top 100 books which I finished reading earlier this year. Would I have chosen them myself? I am ashamed to say I often view books set in another culture as being a bit too much like hard work - not enough escapism for me - but then when I do read something like A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth I find myself fascinated and never regret it. I've learned quite a bit about these cultures and languages through fiction that I probably would never have learned otherwise.
I was mulling all of this over when my eldest sibling sent me a link to an article about Ann Morgan, who spent 2012 reading something from every one of the 196 official countries in the world (plus one book from an unofficial country or region as voted for by her blog readers - a literary memoir of a journalist from Kurdistan). She was aware that her reading was very anglocentric and wanted to change that. Thus ensued a year of trying to find a story from places like Sao Tome and Principe and Honduras. If you're interested, or want to see the full list of books, take a look at her website - it's very interesting. Trying to find even a short story from some countries sounds like it was quite a task - especially those with a mostly oral tradition of storytelling!
Have you read anything by Chinua Achebe? Have you read a translated novel or short story set somewhere completely alien to you that you can recommend?
Here my top five books I've read in translation and/or that are set in a culture I knew nothing about:
- Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Russian)
- One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Spanish)
- Perfume - Patrick Suskind (German)
- A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth (English; set in India just after partition)
- All Quiet on the Western Front - Erich Maria Remarque (German)