‘Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be poetry, and sink into a mechanical art. It would be μóρφωσις, not ποίησις. The rules of the IMAGINATION are themselves the very powers of growth and production. The words to which they are reducible, present only the outlines and external appearance of the fruit. A deceptive counterfeit of the superficial form and colours may be elaborated; but the marble peach feels cold and heavy, and children only put it to their mouths.’ [Coleridge, Biographia ch. 18]

‘ποίησις’ (poiēsis) means ‘a making, a creation, a production’ and is used of poetry in Aristotle and Plato. ‘μóρφωσις’ (morphōsis) in essence means the same thing: ‘a shaping, a bringing into shape.’ But Coleridge has in mind the New Testament use of the word as ‘semblance’ or ‘outward appearance’, which the KJV translates as ‘form’: ‘An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form [μóρφωσις] of knowledge and of the truth in the law’ [Romans 2:20]; ‘Having a form [μóρφωσις] of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away’ [2 Timothy 3:5]. I trust that's clear.

There is much more on Coleridge at my other, Coleridgean blog.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Around the World: Favourite Novels



I started this exercise curious to see, really, how large is the gap in my knowledge of world literature. It turns out: it's pretty huge. The majority of nation-states listed below are followed by I have never read any fiction from that country. I am, of course, limiting myself to novels written by citizens of the countries concerned (which is to say, I am not counting fiction merely set in that country, or by people born elsewhere who lived in those countries for a while); and I could mumble something here about the unavailability of translations, the need to pay literary translators more and commission them to do more work. But that's a torn and shabby sort of Get Out Of Jail Free Card. The fact is I am lamentably under-read in non-anglophone literatures and need to do better. K through M is particularly dire, isn't it?

In my own defence, I have read a lot—and I mean: a lot—of British and American fiction, and a fair whack of fiction from some (but, evidently, not all) European nations too, plus unevenly distributed chunks from Commonwealth and other countries. But the overall picture, for me, is: bleh.

Afghanistan – I have never read any Afghan fiction.
Albania – Ismail Kadare, The Palace of Dreams (Pallati i ëndrrave, 1981). This counts as my favourite Albanian novel by virtue of being the only Albanian novel I have ever read.
Algeria – Apuleius, Golden Ass (Asinus Aureus, c. AD 180)
Andorra – I have never read any Andorran fiction.
Angola – I have never read any Angolan fiction.
Antigua and Barbuda – Jamaica Kincaid's Mr Potter (2002). But see: Albania
Argentina – Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciones (1944/56). Not a novel, I know, but: bite me. It's Borges.
Armenia – I have never read any Armenian fiction.
Australia – Les Murray, Fredy Neptune (1999)
Austria – Franz Kafka, Der Process (‘The Trial’, 1925)
Azerbaijan – I have never read any Azerbaijani fiction.

Bahamas – I have never read any Bahamian fiction.
Bahrain – I have never read any Bahraini fiction.
Bangladesh – I have never read any Bangladeshi fiction.
Barbados – I have never read any Barbadian fiction.
Belarus – I have never read any Belarusian fiction.
Belgium – Hergé, Les Bijoux de la Castafiore (1962)
Belize – I have never read any Belizean fiction.
Benin – I have never read any Beninese fiction.
Bhutan – I have never read any Bhutanese fiction.
Bolivia – I have never read any Bolivian fiction.
Bosnia and Herzegovina – Aleksandar Hemon, Nowhere Man (2002), but: see Albania.
Botswana – I have never read any Batwana fiction.
Brazil – I am surprised to discover that, so far as I can see, the only Brazilian writer I have read is Paulo Coelho. I have to say: I draw the line at listing The Alchemist as in any sense a favourite.
Brunei – I have never read any Bruneian fiction.
Bulgaria – I have never read any Bulgarian fiction.
Burkina Faso – I have never read any Burkinabé fiction.
Burundi – I have never read any Burundi fiction.

Cambodia – I have never read any Cambodian fiction.
Cameroon – I have never read any Cameroonian fiction.
Canada – Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin (2000).
Central African Republic – I have never read any CAR fiction.
Chad – I have never read any Chadian fiction.
Chile – Roberto Bolaño, 2666 (2004)
China – Cao Xueqin, The Story of the Stone (18th century)
Colombia – Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien años de soledad 1967).
Congo – I have never read any Congolese fiction.
Costa Rica – I have never read any Costa Rican fiction.
Côte d'Ivoire – I have never read any Ivoirean fiction.
Croatia – I have never read any Croatian fiction.
Cuba – I have never read any Cuban fiction.
Cyprus – I have never read any Cypriot fiction, Greek or Turkish, a fact which surprised me.
Czech Republic – Karel Čapek, War with the Newts (Válka s mloky, 1936)

Denmark – Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or (Enten–Eller, 1843). Don't @ me.
Djibouti – I have never read any Djibouti fiction.
Dominica – I have never read any Dominican fiction.

Ecuador – I have never read any Ecuadorian fiction.
Egypt – Naguib Mahfouz, Palace Walk (بين القصرين 1956)
El Salvador – I have never read any El Salvadorian fiction.
England – Charles Dickens, Bleak House (1853).
Equatorial Guinea – I have never read any Equatoguinean fiction.
Eritrea – I have never read any Eritrean fiction.
Estonia – I have never read any Estonian fiction.
Ethiopia – I have never read any Ethiopian fiction.

Fiji – I have never read any Fijian fiction.
Finland – Tove Jansson, Comet in Moominland (Mumintrollet på kometjakt, 1946)
France – Marcel Proust, À la recherche du temps perdu (1922-31)

Gabon – I have never read any Gabonese fiction.
Gambia, The – I have never read any Gambian fiction.
Germany – Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain (Der Zauberberg, 1924). Sigh.
Ghana – I have never read any Ghanese fiction.
Greece – Homer's Iliad (7thC BC)
Grenada – I have never read any Grenadan fiction.
Guatemala – I have never read any Guatemalan fiction.
Guyana – I have never read any Guyanese fiction.

Haiti – I have never read any Haitian fiction.
Honduras – I have never read any Honduran fiction.
Hungary – Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon (1940)

IcelandNjáls Saga (c. 1280)
India – Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children (1981)
Indonesia – I have never read any Indonesian fiction.
Iran – Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis (2003)
Iraq – Ahmed Saadawi, Frankenstein in Baghdad (2014 فرانكشتاين في بغداد‎). But: see Albania.
Ireland – James Joyce, Ulysses (1922)
Israel – Lavie Tidhar, A Man Lies Dreaming (2014). Don't tell him I said so.
Italy – Vergil's Aeneid (4 BC)

Jamaica – Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings (2014)
Japan - Shūsaku Endō, Silence (沈黙 Chinmoku 1966)
Jordan – I have never read any Jordanian fiction.

Kazakhstan – I have never read any Kazakhstani fiction.
Kenya – I have never read any Kenyan fiction.
Korea – I have never read any Korean fiction.
Kuwait – I have never read any Kuwaiti fiction.
Kyrgyzstan – I have never read any Kyrgyz fiction.

Laos – I have never read any Laotian fiction.
Latvia – I have never read any Latvian fiction.
Lebanon – I have never read any Lebanese fiction.
Lesotho – I have never read any Mosotho fiction.
Liberia – I have never read any Liberian fiction.
Libya – I have never read any Libyan fiction.
Liechtenstein – I have never read any Liechtensteinian fiction.
Lithuania – I have never read any Lithuanian fiction.
Luxembourg – I have never read any Luxembourgian fiction.

Macedonia – I have never read any Macedonian fiction.
Malawi – I have never read any Malawian fiction.
Malaysia – I have never read any Malay fiction.
Maldives – I have never read any Maldivian fiction.
Malta – I have never read any Maltese fiction (I don't count Anthony Burgess).
Mauritania – I have never read any Mauritanian fiction.
Mauritius – I have never read any Mauritian fiction.
Mexico – Carlos Fuentes, The Death of Artemio Cruz (La muerte de Artemio Cruz, 1962) Micronesia – I have never read any Micronesian fiction.
Moldova – I have never read any Moldovan fiction.
Monaco – I have never read any Monégasque fiction (I don't count Anthony Burgess).
Mongolia – I have never read any Mongolian fiction.
Montenegro – I have never read any Montenegrin fiction.
Morocco – I have never read any Moroccan fiction.
Mozambique – I have never read any Mozambican fiction.
Myanmar – I have never read any Burmese fiction.

Namibia – – I have never read any Namibian fiction.
Nepal – I have never read any Nepalese fiction.
Netherlands – I'm astonished to discover I appear not to have read any Dutch fiction at all. How can that be?
New Zealand – Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries (2013)
Nicaragua – I have never read any Nicaraguan fiction.
Niger – I have never read any Nigerien fiction.
Nigeria – Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart (1958). I think about this novel all the time.
Northern Ireland – Bernard MacLaverty, Grace Notes (1997)
Norway – Knut Hamsun, Hunger (1890)

Oman – I have never read any Omani fiction.

Palestine – – I have never read any Palestinian fiction.
Pakistan – Mohsin Hamid, Exit West (2017)
Panama – I have never read any Panamanian fiction.
Papua New Guinea – I have never read any Papua New Guinean fiction.
Paraguay – I have never read any Paraguayan fiction.
Peru – Mario Vargas Llosa, The War of the End of the World (La guerra del fin del mundo, 1981). But: see Albania.
Philippines – I have never read any Filipino fiction.
Poland – Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim (1900). A toss up between him and Lem.
Portugal – José Saramago, Blindness (Ensaio sobre a Cegueira, 1995)

Qatar – I have never read any Qatari fiction.

Romania – Emil Cioran, On the Heights of Despair (Pe culmile disperării, 1934). Yes, I'm bracketing this as fiction.
Russia – Tolstoy, War and Peace (Война и мир 1869)
Rwanda – I have never read any Rwandan fiction.

Saint Lucia – Derek Walcott, Omeros (1990)
Samoa – I have never read any Samoan fiction.
Saudi Arabia – I have never read any Saudi fiction.
Scotland – Walter Scott, The Heart of Midlothian (1818).
Senegal – I have never read any Senegalese fiction.
Serbia – Milorad Pavić, Dictionary of the Khazars (Хазарски речник, 1984). But: see Albania.
Seychelles – I have never read any Seychellois fiction.
Sierra Leone – I have never read any Sierra Leonean fiction.
Singapore – I have never read any Singaporese fiction.
Slovakia – I have never read any Slovak fiction.
Slovenia – I have never read any Slovene fiction. I refuse to recruit Žižek into this category.
Somalia – I have never read any Somali fiction.
South Africa – J. M. Coetzee, Disgrace (1999)
Spain – Cervantes, Don Quijote (1612)
Sudan – Tayib Salih, Season of Migration to the North (Mawsim al-Hijra ila al-Shamal, 1967). But: see Albania.
Suriname – I have never read any Surinamese fiction.
Swaziland – I have never read any Swazi fiction.
Sweden – Astrid Lindgren, Pippi Longstocking (Pippi Långstrump, 1945)
Switzerland – Jean-Jaques Rousseau, Emile (Émile, ou de l'éducation, 1762)
Syria – I have never read any Syrian fiction.

Taiwan – I have never read any Taiwanese fiction.
Tajikistan – I have never read any Tajikistani fiction.
Tanzania – I have never read any Tanzanian fiction.
Thailand – I have never read any Thai fiction.
Togo – I have never read any Togolese fiction.
Tonga – I have never read any Tongan fiction.
Trinidad – V S Naipaul, A House for Mr Biswas (1961)
Tunisia – I have never read any Tunisian fiction.
Turkey – Yaşar Kemal, Memed, My Hawk (İnce Memed, 1955)

Uganda – I have never read any Ugandan fiction.
Ukraine – I have never read any Ukrainian fiction.
United Arab Emirates – I have never read any UAE fiction.
United States – Philip K. Dick, Ubik (1969)
Uruguay – I have never read any UAE fiction.
Uzbekistan – I have never read any Uzbek fiction.

Venezuela – I have never read any Venezuelan fiction.
Vietnam – I have never read any Vietnamese fiction.

Wales – The Mabinogion (12th-Century)

Yemen – I have never read any Yemeni fiction.

Zambia – I have never read any Zambian fiction.
Zimbabwe – I have never read any Zimbabwean fiction.

19 comments:

  1. You have England and Scotland but no Wales?

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    1. Yes: I hummed and ha'd over Wales, being Welsh myself (or, though raised entirely in England, being of Welsh provenance). In the end I've rather avoided the issue.

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  2. For 19th century Brazil, try Machado de Assis, either Dom Casmurro or the Postumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas. And for Portugal you need Eça de Queiros.

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  3. Interesting exercise! Surprised to see Spain is missing though...

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    1. An oversight! Corrected now (but in a rather predictable way ...)

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  4. I just read today your Japanese choice!

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  5. Hey Adam, I’ve probably missed a few recommendations but here’s some ideas for countries you don’t have marked out. I’ve read every book below & am only passing on the ones I highly recommend. I hope this helps you towards your goal.

    Bangladesh - Monica Ali, Brick Lane
    Brazil - Clarice Lispector. Near to The Wild Heart is amazing but if you enjoyed Kafka’s Metamorphosis you can’t go passed The Passion According to GH.
    Cuba - Cristina Garcia, either The Lady Matador’s Hotel or Dreaming in Cuban
    Ethiopia - Dinaw Mengestu, The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears
    Ghana - Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing
    Haiti - Edwidge Danticat, The Dew Breaker
    Indonesia - Eka Kurniawan, Beauty is a Wound
    You’re missing Jordan on your list. Rabih Alameddine was born there. My favourites of his are An Unnecessary Woman & The Hakawati
    Netherlands - Tommy Wieringa, These are the Names
    Phillipines - Gina Apostol, The Gun Dealer’s Daughter
    Saudi Arabia - Seba Al-Herz /Siba al-Harez, The Others
    Sierra Leone - Ishmael Beah, Radiance of Tomorrow
    Vietnam - Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer
    Zimbabwe - NoViolet Bulawayo, We Need New Names

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    1. I've read "Brick Lane" actually: but though she was born in Bangladesh, Ali has lived here since she was three (that is, pretty much all her life) and identifies as British Bagladeshi. (Similarly Viet Thanh Nguyen has lived in America from the same age, and is surely an American-Vietnamese novelist rather than a Vietnamese one). Now I absolutely accept that an element of this exercise is arbitrary, and that national identity is fluid and so on, but I wanted to undertake this exercise in a way that didn't spare my blushes, or sneak examples in to up my average.

      So for example, this came up on Twitter: if I look at it, I'd say I've read maybe 20 South African novels, but all written by White South Africans (I've read most of Coetzee, some Brink, Gordimer and Nick Wood). That's not very good, really.

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  6. I doubt mine would be any better. Maybe time to start an international book group?

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  7. I've read modern fiction (ie, 2th century or later) from the following countries: Albania, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Turkey, UK, USA and Yemen. I try not to count emigres by their nation of origin - Ishiguro, for example, in British not Japanese - although it's not always so suct and dried: Leila Aboulela is a Sudenese writer resident in the UK, who writes in English but about Sudanese people both here and in the Sudan.

    If you want to fill in somce gaps, I recommend Lebanese writer Hana al-Shaykh, Belarussian Svetlana Alexeivich (although it's not really fiction), Hungarian Magda Szabó and Bangladeshi Adwaita Mallabarman (although it was still part of India when he write the book for which he's known).

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  8. OTOH, I've seen films from a shitload more countries - 75 countries at the last count.

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  9. If I can recommend a Cuban novel, it's Three Trapped Tigers by G. Cabrera Infante. The back cover compares it to Ulysses; I think that's not exactly apropos, but it really is an astounding novel, and the English translation may be the best I've ever seen of anything.

    For Paraguay, it's I the Supreme by Augusto Roa Bastos, a modern classic that deserves to be more widely-read.

    And for Indonesia, Twilight in Jakarta by Mochtar Lubis, an amazingly good novel somewhat reminiscent of Dos Passos' USA but more humanistic. Interesting story about that one: Lubis was a political prisoner of the Sukarno regime at the time, so the manuscript was smuggled out of the country and published in English translation (the first Indonesian novel to ever be so) years before the original was.

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  10. https://harpers.org/archive/2018/06/comforting-myths/

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