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Worthwhile Collection of World Writing
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.