AS WE prepare to celebrate World Book Night on Monday, here’s a question worth pondering.
Which country or countries in the world don’t have any fiction?
No-one is better placed to answer than London-based freelance journalist Ann Morgan, who has come up with the brilliant idea of trying to read her way around the world in a year.
So far, she is 50 books in, and blogging about the project on ayearofreadingtheworld.com But already she knows there might be trouble ahead in getting good books from some of the smaller island nations of the Pacific.
“With countries like Nauru, Tuvalu and the Republic of Micronesia there are tiny populations and no real tradition of literature, although there is a great oral tradition. So yes, this might be a problem.”
Over to you, readers. Help her out.
STRANGER TO FICTION
But back to countries without fiction. One of the people Ann Morgan found herself corresponding with was a Spaniard called Alejandro Coa de Benos, the only foreigner with a North Korean passport and the only one allowed to work for its government.
“I am sorry,” he told her, “but I do not know of any adult fiction since the times of the creation of the Republic. All literature was politically oriented for setting the base of the new socialist country.
“Books, films or cartoons in DPRK must have the meaning, moral and ideology. There is no adult fiction because all books published are either poems or based in historical facts.”
OUT OF AFRICA
Not, Ann points out, that we should feel too smug (although come on, I think a bit of smugness is called for: however bad things get here, at least our rulers trust us with non-ideological, immoral and meaningless books). But no, we shouldn’t get too smug, she says, because one thing that reading around the world has taught her is just how little translated fiction makes it to these shores.
Take, for example, Mozambique. And take Mozambican writer Ungulani Ba Ka Khosa’s novel Ualalapi. No, you won’t have heard of it either: it’s unpublished here, though it has been translated in to English. But a decade ago, an African jury selected it as one of the top 100 books in the entire continent. Just another of the great reads Ann has discovered – and I’m sure there’ll be a lot more.