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Branching Out

January 12, 2008

Before I forget, the latest Bookworms Carnival is up! Having recently hosted one, I know how much work it is, and Becky had double the amount of entries to deal with! It’s a great theme too, although the TBR stacks (or bookcases) are already groaning at the thought of forty-something Best of 2007 lists. :)

Also, yesterday I got the most ever visits to my blog: 213! I know to quite a few of you, this sounds like small potatoes, but it makes me feel quite special. :D It’s funny, one of the google searches that consistenly brings people here is for one my favourite quotes from any book I read in 2007. It’s from Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, and since I love it so much, I’m sharing it again today:

“How much do you love me?” she asked.
“Enough to melt all the tigers in the world to butter.”

I know if someone said that to me, I’d probably melt into butter! ;)

Now to the main point! I always enjoy reading Danielle’s Thursday Thirteen lists, and this week she did one especially close to my heart: Books in Translation. For me, I tend to focus more on whether the author is from outside the US/UK than if the book is translated, since I’ve noticed many African and Asian authors write in English to begin with. Regardless, I do want to make sure I visit lots of countries this year in my reading. So, I’m asking for your help. I’ve written up a little paragraph about each continent, sharing a few of my favourite authors, and my weakest areas. Please leave a comment telling me about all of your favourite international books/authors, and I’ll add them to this post as they come in. Also, I’ll be researching for some good international lists. With any luck, we can create a helpful resource for all book bloggers that want to make their reading more international!

Funnily enough, while I read a lot of UK lit, I’m not nearly as well-versed when it comes to continental books. The French books I read tend to be classics, so if anyone knows of some great contemporary French authors, I’d love to hear about them! As far as Italy goes, I love Umberto Eco, and have a Calvino waiting patiently on my shelf, but that’s about it. I think I’ve only ever read one book originally published in German…I picked it up from the ‘take one, leave one’ shelf of my favourite coffee shop. I think it was called The Reader, and I remember enjoying it, but that’s about it. Spain-I’ve read Arturo Reverte-Perez and Carlos Ruiz Zafon, and I finally read a book set in (admittedly, medieval) Portugal last year, although the author’s an American living in the country. My track record in central and non-Russia eastern Europe is even worse-with the exception of Kundera and Marai (whose wonderful book Embers I read last year), I’m a blank slate. Looking at my challenge lists, the only European book I have scheduled so far (other than Russian ones) is Inkheart, by German Cornelia Funke. She’s the only woman to balance out all those male authors, which isn’t great.

I’m pretty strong in the south Asia (i.e.-India) department…in fact, it’s one of my favourite genres to read in! However, I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book set in southeast Asia (I do plan on reading From the Land of Green Ghosts, about Burma, this year), and I finally started reading East Asian lit last year. I could do with some suggestions-especially about where to start in Chinese literature, some good classical Japanese works, and obviously anything from Asia that isn’t China, Japan, or India!

I’ve read quite a bit of non-fiction about sub-Saharan Africa, but my fiction lags far behind. I’ve noticed that, whenever I research African lit, lists tend to be dominated by Nigeria (I love Adichie and Achebe) and South Africa (Coetzee’s on my list). While I understand the history behind why this is, I’d welcome suggestions about the rest of the sub-Saharan region. :) This year, the only African book on my lists is Unbowed, the memoir of famous Kenyan activist Wangari Maathai. As far as the Maghreb, I love Mahfouz, and I enjoyed Tahar ben Jelloun. Outside of Egypt and Morocco, then, I’m clueless.

The Middle East
Not really a continent, but oh well. Just like Africa, I tend to read much more non-fic than fic about this region. I read an Iranian book three years ago that I absolutely loved-Women Without Men by Shahrnush Parsipur-but I know there’s a gorgeous amount of literature stretching back millenia from both Arabic and Persian cultures. It’s kind of overwhelming, so any orientation you readers can provide would be helpful! (I’ve already got my eye on the Huddawy translation of Arabian Nights.)

Latin America and the Caribbean
Note Latin, instead of South, so I’m including Mexico and Central America in this! Here, I tend to stick with Marquez and Allende, and while I love them both, I could do with a little bit of fresh blood. I love magical realism, so you’d think I’d read more fiction from its birthplace! I plan on giving Amado another try (after my disappointing experience with The War of the Saints), and I’d love to hear about your favourite authors. The only Caribbean author I know is Naipul, so also suggest away re: the islands.

Australia and Oceania
Last year, two of my very favourite reads-The Ghost Writer and The Book Thief-came from this little continent. However, neither of them gave me an insight into Australian life, lol. Ideas are welcome!

Well, that’s that. If I get enough suggestions, and if I end up doing enough research, I’ll make a page divided by geography so that it’s an easy reference for all!

12 Comments leave one →
  1. January 12, 2008 7:16 pm

    Like you, when it comes to Asia, I read mostly Indian and Chinese fiction. I know you didn’t ask for it, but if you haven’t read either Brahma’s Dream by Shree Ghatage or Shauna Singh Baldwin’s What the Body Remembers, you should try them; the latter in particular is one of my favourite books. (The author also has a wonderful short story collection called English Lessons and Other Stories.)

    For China, I’d recommend Dai Sijie’s Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth, and Xinran’s non-fiction/memoirish The Good Women of China. Xinran’s other book, Sky Burial, is equally good and set in Tibet.

    Gail Tsukiyama has written some good books set in China, Hong Kong, and Japan. I wouldn’t rave about any of her books, but I’ve enjoyed every one I’ve picked up, and they give good insight into the cultures they’re set in.

    Shyam Selvadurai, though he’s lived in Canada for some years, grew up in Sri Lanka, and all three of his books are set there. I really like both his adult novels, Funny Boy and Cinnamon Gardens.

    I wasn’t wholly impressed by Edeet Ravel’s Ten Thousand Lovers, set in Israel, but it was an interesting read, and I liked the unusual narrative style.

    Of course, the two North African countries I know are the ones you’ve already mentioned—Egypt and Morocco. Ahdaf Soueif is a well-known Egyptian writer; I’ve only tried her short story collection I Think of You, which was very good but somewhat melancholy.

    Laila Lalami is a first-time Moroccan novelist, and I loved Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits. (Her blog and her articles are also very good reads, and treasure troves of world lit recommendations, particularly for the Middle East and North Africa.)

    For the Caribbean, I liked Shani Mootoo’s Cereus Blooms at Night.

    I also have a list at my blog of pretty much all the world lit that was recommended to me when I asked for suggestions. I’m looking forward to updating it with the books you mentioned and the other suggestions you get!

    Happy reading!

  2. January 12, 2008 11:13 pm

    This was a fun post and got me thinking about my favorite books of the world. Here’s a few suggestions: Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (Norway); Labyrinth by Kate Mosse (France/England); anything by Jhumpa Lahiri (England born but books center on characters with ties to India) and probably the best resource I can suggest is the Man Booker Prize. The winners are from all over the world and I’ve read so many and LOVED them. Here’s a few good Booker winners: True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (Australia with Australian history!), Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (India, lots of magical realism), and my favorite author Michael Ondaatje (born in Sri Lanka but his books take place in various parts of the world). You should post a list of the books you’re thinking of reading so we can all get suggestions. :)

  3. January 13, 2008 1:15 am

    Hmm, let’s see… for books originally written in German, you could try Herman Hesse. I’ve only read Siddhartha, which I enjoyed, but the rest of his work is highly praised too.

    Still in Europe, there’s Halldor Laxness from Iceland. From Sweden, there’s Selma Lagerlof. Unfortunately she seems to be more or less forgotten these days, but I think she’s really, really good. She was also the first female to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

    From Portugal, you could try “The Book of Disquiet” by Fernando Pessoa. This was my favourite book when I was a teenager. It’s not really a novel, it’s more a series of meditations, written in the form of journal entries, about life and loneliness and everything in between. It’s not something everyone would enjoy, I know, but I think it’s worth a try, even if just for the acutely beautiful writing.

    Hmm, I really don’t know much about Asia and the Middle East. There’s always India…have you read “The God of Small Things”? If not, do! It falls under “writing that made me gasp”.

    From the Caribbean, there’s Dionne Brand. She’s Canadian, but she was born in Trinidad and her work often has Caribbean settings. I’ve only read a few short stories, but they were amazing.

    I hope this helps!

  4. Evie permalink
    January 13, 2008 2:13 am

    The Complete Stories of David Malouf
    David Malouf is one of Australia’s most highly-regarded authors, and is particularly renowned for his short stories. Published this year, this book includes Malouf’s entire short story collection, but if you haven’t read Malouf yet you probably won’t want to fork out for a hardback of his entire short-story career. If that’s the case, try Dream Stuff or The Great World. Reading a David Malouf book will immerse you in Australian life, and challenge any preconceived notions you may have about Australia.

    The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard
    Hazzard is considered one of Australia’s greatest literary authors. She took twenty years over this book, and it shows in the perfection of every sentence. The Great Fire won the 2004 Miles Franklin Award (Australia’s most important literary award). I also recommend Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus, which is on my TBR list. These books are set in Post-War Japan and England respectively, but they really do provide a lot of insight into many aspects of Australia that you are very unlikely to have heard of or encountered before. Also, Australia’s part in WWII and its aftermath was a huge part of “Australian life”, as is living overseas (per capita, we travel more than any other nation).

    Patrick White is the only Australian author so far, to have been awarded the Noble Prize for Literature. Patrick White is a complex author, he can sometimes be difficult to read, in the same way that some people find it hard to read Saul Bellow or Henry James, but he is well worth the effort of persevering and has a lot to say about Australia. I recommend Voss.

    I also recommend Drusilla Modjeska’s The Orchard and Poppy , Helen Garner’s Joe Cinque’s Consolation, Ruth Park’s Harp in the South, Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria, Alex Miller’s Journey To the Stone Country.

    You should also try anything by Robert Drewe, Tim Winton and Thea Astley.

  5. January 13, 2008 7:09 am

    I’d also recommend Herman Hesse, and Italo Svevo from Italy (Zeno’s Conscience or the Confessions of Zeno, depending on the translation). As for classical Japanese, there’s the Tale of Genji.

  6. January 13, 2008 9:06 am

    Good job beating your blog visits record! That is one gorgeous quote; no wonder people google it.

    This post would fit well with Bonnie’s reading around the world project/blog. I think it’s sort of a long-term challenge. I don’t know the url of that blog, but if you find her in my blogroll, you should be able to look at her blogspot dashboard and find the project, if you’re interested.

  7. January 13, 2008 10:42 am

    Poodlerat, thanks for all of the suggestions! They’re definitely going into my new ‘World Lit’ section. :)

    Em, those books all sound great! I’m working on a new ‘World Lit’ section as a general resource-I’ve got the Former British Empire stuff up!

    Evie, wow. What a great tour of Australian authors. :D Do you have a blog, so I can give you link credit in my ‘World Lit’ section?

    Dorothy, thanks! The Tale og the Genji sounds so good. :)

    Dew, I’ve included a link to her post in my new ‘World Lit’ section. Thanks!

  8. January 13, 2008 5:47 pm

    Without making any specific recommendations I find that both Penguin and Oxford Classics are great sources of literature in translation, and not just European cultures.

  9. January 13, 2008 7:32 pm

    Ed, thanks for the suggestion. :)

  10. Evie permalink
    January 14, 2008 4:50 am

    I’m glad you liked the list. I don’t happen to have my own book blog, but have often been tempted to start one of my own. One of these days :).

    I also have some Asian literature suggestions.

    A Tower for the Summer Heat by Li Yu (China, classic)
    Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie (China, contemporary)
    Beauty and Sadness and other books by Yasunari Kawabata (Japan, Nobel Laureate)
    Kokoro by Natsume Soseki (Japan, classic)
    Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness and other books by Kenzaburo Oe (Japan, Nobel Laureate)
    Selected Stories of Lu Hsun (China, classic)
    Soul Mountain and other books by Gao Xingjian (China, Nobel Laureate)
    Spring Snow and other books by Yukio Mishima (Japan, classic)
    The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki (Japan, classic)
    The Peony Pavilion by Xianzu Tang (China, classic)
    The Plum in the Golden Vase by Anonymous (China, classic)
    The Story of the Stone by Cao Xuegin (China, classic).

    I don’t have that much knowledge of African or Middle Eastern literature, so I leave any other suggestions to others. I did however love Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (and I Sweep the Sun Off Rooftops by Hanan Al-Shaykh.

  11. January 14, 2008 12:39 pm

    Thanks again Evie! I’ll try to get these on the lists later today or tomorrow. :)

  12. Myrthe permalink
    January 14, 2008 3:27 pm

    Okay, I give in. I really don’t have time for reading and commenting on blogs, but I couldn’t resist this.

    My favorite Israeli author is Amos Oz. I read quite a few books by him years ago and didn’t like them then. This completely changed last year when I read one of his latest books. I love his works now, he’s one of my favorite authors! Another good Israeli author is Meir Shalev.

    Over the last couple of years quite some Dutch literature has been translated into English. Some authors that I am sure are available in English are Harry Mulisch (The Discovery of Heaven), W.F. Hermans (The Dark Room of Damocles) and Hella S. Haasse (she has written many historical novels). These three are among the greatest and most important Dutch writers, but there are definitely more “lesser gods” available in translation as well. I just don’t know which ones exactly.

    I’ll think hard if I can think of any other names and titles and I’ll let you know.

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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