The OF Blog: World Cup of Fiction: June 19 Matches

Saturday, June 19, 2010

World Cup of Fiction: June 19 Matches

After Friday's exciting sports results (which include the official of the US-Slovenia match being under review for his shoddy reffing), today's sports matches can only hope to replicate the excitement of the Group C matches.  But what about the literary sides in today's contests?  There might be quite a few winners here for readers seeking to learn more about the strengths and weaknesses of the national literary sides.

Group D

Ghana - Sports Nickname:  The Black Stars.  World Cup appearances, 2 (2006, 2010).  World Cup Championships, 0

Strengths:  As a young country celebrating a half-centennial of independence, Ghana has had several authors emerge in its independence generation.  Among these are Kofi Aidoo, Anthony Appiah, Meshack Asare, William Boyd, Akosua Busia, Amma Darko, and newer writers such as Stephen Atelebe.

Weaknesses:  Ghanaian literary culture is still nascent and barely known outside their home country.

Australia - Sports Nickname:  The Soccaroos.  World Cup appearances, 3 (1974, 2006, 2010).  World Cup Championships, 0.

Strengths:  Australia has had a Nobel Prize in Literature laureate, Patrick White.  In addition, several Australian-born authors have gone on to international prominence, including James Clavell, Richard Flanagan, Thomas Keneally, Brenda Walker, and Alexis Wright.  In addition, Australia's genre fictions have begun producing some international talent, including Margo Lanagan, Peter Carey, and  D.M. Cornish in the SF categories.

Weaknesses:  Much of Australian writing seems, based on second-hand evidence, to be a writing against some concept of Australia.  In addition, Australia still has a relatively small writing community compared to most other English-speaking countries.

Prediction:  Ghana upsets Australia, once the quality of Ghana's literature becomes more widely known.  This may be the literary upset of the tourney, although obviously on the real pitch, Ghana will be heavily favored.

Group E

 The Netherlands - Sports Nickname:  Oranje.  World Cup appearances, 9 (1934, 1938, 1974, 1978, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2006, 2010).  World Cup Championships, 0.

Strengths:  The Dutch produced one of the leading writers of the Northern Renaissance, Erasmus.  Other famous Dutch writers and poets include Joost van den Vondel, Betje Wolff and Aagje Deken, Johan Huizinga, and Harry Mulisch.

Weaknesses:  Compared to most of its neighbors, the Dutch did not produce either the relative or absolute quantity of quality literature.  

Japan - Sports Nickname:  Blue Samurai.  World Cup appearances, 4 (1998, 2002, 2006, 2010).  World Cup Championships, 0.

Strengths:  Japanese literary traditions in each of the three traditional genres dates back over two thousand years, from Kojiki to today's mangas based on Japanese mythology.  Murasaki Shikibu wrote in the 11th century The Tale of Genji, perhaps one of the earliest novel-like works produced.  Yasunari Kawabata was the first Japanese Nobel Prize in Literature laureate.  In the post-World War II period, internationally famous Japanese writers include Kenzaburu Oe, Kobo Abe, Haruki Murakami, Banana Yoshimoto, among several others.

Weaknesses:  Some of the cultural differences between Western and Japanese cultures can cause a bit of disconnect in how the readers process the texts.

Prediction:  The Japanese literary attack is too varied and unpredictable for the Dutch literary dike to contain.  Japan scores the game's only literary goal with a manga adaptation that sweeps the world.

Cameroon - Sports Nickname:  Les Lions Indomptables.  World Cup appearances, 6 (1982, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2010).  World Cup Championships, 0.

Strengths:  Cameroon recently has begun producing more writers of some international interest, including Yungsi Ernest Kiyah, Emmanuel Fru Doh, Larry Bate Takang,Wirndzerem G. Barfee, Bill F. Ndi, Ndzdemo Ngong Romauld, and Vivian Yenika.

Weaknesses:  As is unfortunately the case for non-Western nations and Western readers, there just is not all that much familiarity with African writers, particularly those from countries like Cameroon, where English is not a native language.

Denmark - Sports Nickname:  Danish Dynamite.  World Cup appearances, 4 (1986, 1998, 2002, 2010).  World Cup Championships, 0.

Strengths:  Hans Christian Andersen is probably the one Danish writer that most Anglo-American (and other Latin American and European) readers would recognize immediately.  Søren Kierkegaard is Denmark's most famous philosopher, whose work presaged that of the 20th century Existentialists.  Johannes Jensen won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Weaknesses:  In looking up information on Danish writers, I learned that 20% of books sold in Denmark in the past few years was in English, perhaps indicating that Anglo-American literature is of more interest to a growing percentage of the population than is native Danish literature.

Prediction: Andersen provides the difference in an otherwise defensive-minded, rather turgid affair.


Paul said...

It won't be a big shock to you that I think you're a bit harsh on the Dutch. :P There's more to Dutch literature than just Mulisch and Vondel (I've never even heard of those other two names you mention, and Huizinga is a cultural historian, isn't he?). Names like Hooft (16th century poet, historian and playwright), Multatuli (19th century essayist and author, most famous for "Max Havelaar" in which he attacks the abuses of colonialism in Indonesia) or Achterberg (20th century poet) could be mentioned too. And certainly the Netherlands hasn't produced as many famous writers as France or Germany, but relative to their size, I think they pulled their weight well enough.

With regard to the 20% statistic for Denmark, I would say it's difficult to draw conclusions from that unless you have comparable data for other European countries - and data on the origin of the books read, rather than just the language they're read in. I'd suspect the Danes, other Scandinavians, Dutch,... are just more likely to read Anglo-American books in the original language, while e.g. French or Spanish readers mostly read those books in translation.

Larry said...

Yeah, I know I was being a bit harsh (and yes, I consider excellent historians in literature discussions), but that's part of the fun in these posts. Did you notice my snarky comments about the English, French, and Germans? :P

As for that statistic, it's likely a sign of multilingualism, but at the same point, it means that a growing percentage of the literature read there is of foreign origin and while that's good to some extent, there is the real risk that it could weaken the local, national authors.

Paul said...

Fair enough. You should check those authors out, though, if you have the time and inclination some time. Add the Flemish writers to that, and I think the Dutch language and literature is worthy of your attention. ;)

And as for Denmark, it is a small country and a small language, which means it's logical that readers would read more books from outside the country, in translation or not. An Anglo-Saxon can read an enormous variety of books in all possible genres without ever having to read in translation, but most smaller languages don't have that luxury. If a Dane likes, say, speculative fiction, I dare say he or she won't get far reading only Danish literature. And yes, I would imagine Danish authors can use every reader they get, and would prefer that more Danes read their books instead of foreign ones, but surely the primary criterium when choosing which book to read should be whether one would enjoy it or find it interesting, or not - not the nationality of the author. It makes more sense to translate those Danish books to English and other languages and promote them abroad, then to complain about Danes reading too many foreign books.

Larry said...

I don't think we're all that far apart, just more a case of different angles to the same problem areas. Yeah, I know a teeny bit about Flemish lit, but since it's a National competition based on the real World Cup, I had to limit myself there. Rest assured, the other point of the posts is to draw out comments such as yours that add even more suggestions to those who may be interested.

As for the Danish situation, I see your viewpoint, but I just can't help but wonder if it may also choke out interest in publishing in Danish for certain authors, if the larger market is in English. It is a problem that I've heard some Latin American authors complain about and their national markets are a few degrees larger as a whole.

Mieneke said...

Being Dutch, I have to agree with Paul, though to be honest, I'm one of those people who read in English 98% of the time. I read Eddings in translation (oh the horror) from the library at 13 and afterwards just bought the books in English. Of course the fact that I went on to get a BA in English Language and Culture doesn't help in this regard as it's given me a pronounced preference for reading in English, even if my preferred genre hadn't been more readily available in that language.

Anyway, I was thinking, if you read a Spanish translation to help reading its Serbian original, teaching yourself Dutch that way should be a breeze, because Dutch really isn't that difficult ;)

Paul said...

Larry: Yeah, I see your points. No worries, I understood the point of these posts - I've been waiting for you to do the Netherlands so I could finally make a somewhat informed comment that could tell you something you didn't know already. ;)
And Mieneke is right, if you can teach yourself Serbian, you can teach yourself Dutch too. :P At least passively - writing in Dutch is harder than it seems, as I've learned from my experience as a regular on a Dutch-learning site.

Mieneke: I had exactly the same experience, also with Eddings, though the translation didn't strike me as that bad at the time... it might if I went back to it now. It was good practice for my English at the time, as Eddings' English is relatively easy but they're still sizeable books.

Larry said...

I don't think I'd need too much to read Dutch. Mostly just refresh my German first. Then it'd be akin to how I "learned" how to read Italian and Portuguese.

Myshkin said...

You missed Yukio Mishima for the Japanese. His inclusion should put to rest any dreams of victory for the Dutch :).

Myshkin said...

Oh, and it really is too bad the Russians didn't qualify, as winning a literary World Cup without having to go through the Russians is not really a victory to brag about. We all know who the real champions are, even if they weren't represented at the tournament.

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