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on February 1, 2009
This book was published in 2007. It contained 36 works by 28 writers from some 20 nations. There were 18 short stories, 5 excerpts from novels, 2 essays or excerpts and 11 poems or excerpts.

The anthology was intended to introduce to English-language readers a number of older and younger authors who write mainly in other languages. There were 5 writers from Western Europe and Scandinavia, 3 from Eastern Europe; 5 writers from the Arab world and 1 from Iran; 3 from East Asia, and 1 each from South Asia and Southeast Asia; 3 from South America, 4 from Central America, and 1 from the Caribbean. Sub-Saharan Africa seemed especially underrepresented, with just 1 writer.

Most of the works appeared to come from the 1990s and 2000s. A few were from one or more decades earlier.

The oldest writers in the collection were the Indian-born writer Parashuram (1880-1960), Italy's Giorgio Manganelli (1922-90) and Etel Adnan (1925-), who was born in Lebanon, has lived much of her life in the United States, writes mostly in English and was categorized in this book as French. The youngest writers were Bosnia's Senadin Musabegovic (1970-), the Kazakhstan-born German writer Eleonora Hummel (1970-), Palestine's Adania Shibli (1974-) and Norway's Johan Harstad (1979-). Others included Egypt's Gamal al-Ghitani (1945-), Poland's Bronislaw Maj (1953-), called the most important religious poet of his generation, and China's Ma Jian (1953-). Twelve of the writers were women.

The stories enjoyed most were those that portrayed characters sensitively and used one or two of them to reveal something about the societies they lived in, such as those by China's Ma Jian, South Korea's Jo Kyung Ran, Iran's Goli Taraghi, Romania's Gabriela Adamesteanu, Germany's Hummel, and El Salvador's Castellanos Moya. Of the stories that employed magical realism -- applying to reality some exaggeration and absurdity, or blending hallucination and reality -- most enjoyed were the pieces by Castellanos Moya and Juan Forn, in which an obsessive character narrated an unwilling return to El Salvador and a narrator encountered a deceased parent.

For this reader, the most interesting pieces stylistically were the ones by Castellanos Moya and Manganelli, which found a good match between styles (fevered, precise) and subjects (the dark sides of a person and society, the overwhelming sense impressions of an Indian city).

A few stories were mainly humorous: the one by Parashuram, called the greatest modern humorist in Bengali, that must have been written before India's independence and imagined a world where India was the colonizer and the colonized were Great Britain and the rest of Europe. And one by Nigeria's Isola that mocked lightly the power of English and human foibles in a village. The story by Castellanos Moya, though extremely dark, also had a humorous side.

A prose work by Bosnia's Musabegovic, in little more than a page, described with photographic precision five events showing the trajectory of the narrator and his country. One by Norway's Harstad recognized pain and loss and described well some problems in a modern society, but managed to retain hope. Another work was powerfully atmospheric (Argentina's Saer).

Many of the remaining pieces in the anthology, in comparison, seemed a bit bland, unfocused, opaque. Or in their description of tragedies in a certain region of the Middle East, lacking something in balance.

The poetry comprised fewer than 20 pages of the book. From the poems for Maj that were included, this reader was unable to get the feeling that he was the most important religious poet of his generation.

It's too bad there was no space for writers from, say, Brazil, Russia, Turkey, Pakistan, Japan, Thailand or Vietnam, or that no writer from India was included for a language like Hindi. Or that no writer from Israel was selected to accompany the two from Palestine.

Other anthologies of world writing include Giant Talk: An Anthology of Third World Writings (1975), the Penguin Book of International Short Stories (1986), Global Cultures (1994), Global Voices (1995), The Harpercollins World Reader (1995), The Art of the Story (1999), and World Literature from McGraw-Hill (2003).

In reference to comments by another reviewer, in my opinion the story by Egypt's al-Ghitani was about a would-be suicide, not a suicide bomber. If the story contained something about a bomb or the outlook of someone who'd use a bomb, I missed it.
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on May 30, 2015
Strange (not in a good way) and pointless stories. Poorly edited. In the first story, I was so confused as to the sequence of events portrayed that I wrote out a timeline. Turns out that piano that the son was playing, the family could not have owned as they had sold it 6 years before when their daughter fell ill, in order to pay for her surgery. It had taken all of their money including retirement pension and no mention is made of where a second piano might have come from. That is but one flaw, but clearly shows that the piece was not even edited. The second story is just non-sensical. The third and fourth were again pointless, and just bizarre. I would have been happy with some exposure and insights into other cultures, but my book club mates and I decided that these stories were most likely previously unpublished for a reason. Complete waste of time and $12. No doubt required reading for some students in the name of "diversity". I'm sure there are better choices. Why are teachers jumping on this bandwagon?
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VINE VOICEon March 2, 2008
The six-page introduction to this collection of "28 works of literature never before published in English" reads like a diatribe against unworldly Americans. According to Mr. Dubus, we should feel guilty because: George W. Bush, along with many other Americans, is geographically challenged; "50 percent of all the books in translation now published worldwide are translated from English, but only 6 percent are translated into English;" and we are "ignorant of other cultures around the world." Guilt shouldn't be used as a motivating factor for geographically and culturally challenged Americans to read Words without Borders. Instead, the incentive for its reading should be the quality of the stories themselves: some are great, many are very good, and even the odd and/or incomprehensible ones are worth a look. The fact that authors cover topics that they are better suited to understand, articulate, and share with us about the realities of their worlds should make them even more enticing to prospective readers. Each story is introduced by a recommending writer and followed by personal information on the author. Among the great: Children of the Sky by Indonesian Seno Gumira Ajidarma, a chilling story about children born in severe poverty, destined to become streetwise beggars and A Drowsy Haze by Egyptian Gamal Al-Ghitani, a suicide bomber's last day. On the other hand, The Scripture Read Backwards was beyond my ability to comprehend, as were several of the poems. Of the remaining selections, I enjoyed most without always having a good grasp of their meanings. Also good: New Sudden Fiction: Short-Short Stories from America and Beyond by Robert Shapard.
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VINE VOICEon September 9, 2008
When you look at the authors who have been recommended in this book, few if any would be known outside of their home country. But, when you look at those making the recommendations there are over a half dozen Nobel Prize winners. What makes this anthology so difficult to categorize is that it includes poems, prose and portions of full novels.

The poetry is interesting in a antique way in that poetry in the modern world has lost it's power to move people the way it once did. Some of the reasons for this is the overwhelming effect on people of television and radio. So much garbage is out there covering up the good stuff that we lose our ability to sort it all out.

Some of the sections from books are just like 'flotsam and jetsome'. They're just out there floating around with no rhyme or reason. Can you imagine reading a few pages from a novel by Kurt Vonnegut and trying to make sense of what the author was trying to say? It's hard enough after reading the whole book! I don't think they've done justice to these writers by giving us 'petite fours' of stories.

Read it at your own peril, so much is lost in the translation.

Zeb Kantrowitz
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on July 5, 2009
I certainly agree that this is an uneven, if not eclectic, collection. My personal preferences aside, some of the pieces are intensely located within a culture, and the shared humanity and empathy the introduction purports can derive from engaging such a collection of disparate voices is muddied or lost if the reader does not have the culture-specific knowledge to find coherence in the individual pieces. Many deal with ethnic, religious, or national conflicts that may be thoroughly a part of a certain cultural discourse, but which do not transcend and the reader is not offered much of a roadmap. The recommendations/introductions to each piece could have helped immensely, but I found more here that speaks to discord than to understanding and empathy. Notably, without themes or common drives, the pieces do not "speak to" one another. In all, I'll look for a second edition that works in a more coherent way; and I would certainly suggest other books to prospective buyers/readers.
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on October 27, 2009
An excellent idea with interesting excecution, this volume collects short stories from all over the world introduced by local famous writers generally with forewords and description of the authors and translators. Curiously, there are many tales from Palestinians and Arabs but none from Isreal. I had hoped to find new authors to follow. Unfortunately, most of the stories (and poetry) are not first rate. It is more interesting from a sociological point of view rather than a literary one.
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This anthology is an unusual collection of writing that contains poetry as well as excerpts of literary fiction. What makes it different from other anthologies is that each section is introduced by another author/writer who explains why they selected it for inclusion and how they were affected by it. All 28 of the sections have never before been published in English, and the contributors are diverse and eclectic. Produced by Words Without Borders, it continues their mission of shining light on translated works of literature.

For example, Ariel Dorfman introduces a section by Argentina's noted author Juan Forn, "Swimming at Night". It's a subtle expression of regret and knowledge combining to make a moving portrait of a man learning to embrace fatherhood. Of the appearance of his dead father in the living room, he asks "If you knew how many things I did these past years for your benefit, thinking that you were watching."

Another is a short story by Johan Harstad of Norway, entitled "Vietnam. Thursday." It is introduced by Heidi Julavits, who describes the impact as "an achingly lonely story [that] artfully deepens a flatscreen modern world into a 3-D portrait of the empathy one stranger experiences on behalf of another stranger, which becomes, in true transitive fashion, empathy flung back upon oneself." The ironic image of the psychologist going home to ask questions of an anonymous online psychology robot is not one easily forgotten.

A poem by Etel Adnan is introduced by Diana Abu Jaber, and within it this stanza "those who cannot travel discover the geography of the body, there are also airports and harbors at the surface of our souls".

This is a fascinating collection and one that may take some time to get used to, as the cultural differences and allusions are left in place for you to contemplate. It is available at and other bookstores. See also the [...] website for more literary translations, an online magazine and a reading blog with updates.
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on July 27, 2015
Good collection of global stories by some unknown (to me) and well known non-American authors.
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on May 12, 2015
The stories did not make sense and did not interest me
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on May 6, 2007
For each man or for each culture,the distance between consciousness and

words and things is different.We,Japanese have been translating, for instance,Buddhist scriptures,through Chinese from Indian languedges into Japaneses for a long long time.But even now translating is difficult tusk

for us.In Modern Times,with a lot of outside-words informations,and a lot of translation from Europe and America, we feel depths between cultures,also.Oh,even married cupples sometimes feel like this.

I love the elephant story by a Korean young woman.I love the English tanslation Of Lao Tzu by Ursula K Le Guin.
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