After neglecting my world literature reading for a few months, I finally got around to reading a classic from one of the countries on my Reading the World list and also giving a boost to my bookshelves in preparation for the rest of the year. All of these will be a complete contrast to the American and British classics I’ve been reading recently.
And so to the heat of Latin America.
When I asked a couple of work colleagues to name a book considered a classic in Brazil, it didn’t take the two of them long to settle on Dom Casmurro by the exotically-named author Joaquin Maria Machado de Assis. Not only is de Assis considered one of Brazil’s greatest writers, Dom Casmurro has become recognised as a masterpiece of realist literature and thus required reading for all high school students in the country.
Written in the 1890s, it’s a story of female adultery told as a memoir by a betrayed husband Bento Santiago. Bento is prone to many digressions as he traces the history of their relationship which began as teenagers when their families lived next door to each. How much can we trust his version of events remains to be seen…. is he really as much an innocent as he tries to appear??
To the heart of Africa
When I was searching for authors from Kenya, it was obvious that I would have to take a look at Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. His own story is extraordinary — his writing led to imprisonment because the Kenyan authorities objected to his portrayal of the country as a nation ruled by greed and corruption. He was subsequently adopted as an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience. Now living in California, he continues to write, often in his native Gikuyu language and is considered a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Petals of Blood moved onto my bookshelf this week – it’s not considered his best work but I chose it because it’s the book that led to his imprisonment in 1977. It’s a story of a murder investigation set in a country coping with the impact and repercussions of the Mau Mau rebellion as well as with a new, rapidly modernizing Kenya.
And so to Algeria
I have a choice of two authors to represent Algeria – Mohammid Dib and Ahlam Mosteghanemi. While I liked the sound of Dib’s work, I was intrigued more by Mosteghanemi who is the first female author from Algeria to have work originally written in Arabic translated into English. The book I’ve just acquired is Memory in the Flesh, the first part of a trilogy and considered to be one of the top 100 Arab novels of the 20th century. The story covers a period from the 1940s to the 1980s, and features a love affair between a middle-aged militant and the young daughter of his freedom fighter friend.