A literary bunch

A literary bunch
Rhonda Dredge

Last month North West City News reported on the move by the Institute of Postcolonial Studies to get locals reading outside their culture.

The institute is a privately funded think tank on Arden St that runs a reading group for scholars.

But not everyone is into the complexities of theory nor the finely tuned arguments of criticism.

This month North West City News went looking for sources of other writing translated into English and made a few discoveries.

North Melbourne Books does not have a special section for foreign literature but in the new release section there are about four titles that have been translated, including two novels by Japanese writers.

Often there is quite a lead time between original publication and an English release, creating a lag time for new ideas.

The library in North Melbourne offers a more complete list of general reading translated from other languages.

According to librarians, the best way of accessing contemporary fiction from other cultures is the International Booker Prize.

The shortlist is published annually, and all of the titles have been translated into English.

Many of them are on the library’s shelves or they can be ordered in. Some titles in this year’s prize are Heaven (Japanese), Cursed Bunny (Korean) and Tomb of Sand (Hindi).

The librarians are quite knowledgeable about recent titles and curious about the way choice of language might influence a book.

Jhumpa Lahiri, for example, is a Bengali writer who writes in English but her last novel Whereabouts was written in Italian, and she translated it herself.

The blurb for the book is less focused on story and more on mood, possibly bringing out her voice more eloquently than The Namesake, a migrant story set in the United States.

A question often addressed by writers who like to immerse themselves in other cultures is if there such a thing as a local voice or does the setting dictate the mood? Is there a North Melbourne voice?

Local writer Philip Salom is digressive in style, Kate Ryan is down-to-earth and realist while Paul Dalla Rosa is sharp and witty. All write in English. Do they have something in common?

In the first week of October the Nobel Prize in Literature was announced, awarded to French novelist Annie Ernaux.

Five of her books can be ordered through bookshops but at the time of going to press none were available for the reader, suggesting the Institute has a point.

But those in the library had been snapped up within a day of the announcement –

Exteriors and A Girl’s Story – and holds put on them all, suggesting that North Melbourne readers are a literary bunch and already onto the case. •

 

Caption: North Melbourne library: a good source of alternative views.

John Buncle

John Buncle

February 14th, 2024 - Felicity Jack
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