The latest addition to my website is Abderrahman Budda Hamadi‘s Lágrimas de Alegría [Tears of Joy], a (not quite) novel from Western Sahara. I am not sure that there is even a novel from a Western Saharan writer though, as Conchi Moya shows in her blog (link in Spanish), there have been novels by Spaniards about the country. Like many people, I imagine, I know very little about the country, only that it used to be Spanish Sahara and that, when the Spanish moved out, the Moroccans moved in. The Western Saharans resisted, through the Polisario, but the Moroccans have occupied the economically viable part of the country, behind a huge sand wall and there now seems to be a stalemate between Morocco and Western Sahara as to what the future should hold. There is not a great deal in English on the topic, though the Wikipedia articles on the country and its history are a good start. The site of ARSO – Association de soutien à un référendum libre et régulier au Sahara Occidental [Association of Support for a Free and Fair Referendum in Western Sahara] gives some information, with much in English. The UN, BBC, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch all have pages on the topic. And, just to show that I am not prejudiced (though I am), here is a pro-Moroccan site. There are also various blogs such as this one, this one and this one. There are many others in French, Spanish, Catalan and Arabic. Other English ones have not been updated for a while.
A Western Saharan jaima or tent
As I said above, I am prejudiced. I am generally in favour of groups of people seeking their independence from a dominant colonial power. (And, yes, if the Scots want to leave the UK, good luck to them.) However, if anyone reads this blog, I doubt that it will be for my political stance so I will touch briefly on the literature. Unfortunately, all the links are in Spanish so I will try and explain briefly for those who do not read Spanish. It is a Spanish woman, Conchi Moya, who has done much to promote the culture of Western Sahara and her blogs are well worth reading if you do read Spanish. Her blog on Western Saharan literature is very helpful but, even if you do not read Spanish, you will see that there is not much. The latest one is a collection of writers associated with the Gdeim Izik protest camp, called the Saharan Spring. Sadly, their spring looks to be no more successful than the other springs in the region.
The book on the left, for example, is the story of a teacher who used traditional wooden tablets for her teaching. You can read the first chapter (in Spanish) here. Other books are history, memoirs, poetry, stories and travel in the country. None has been translated into English (or, as far as I can determine, any other language) and, as all are published by small publishers, they are not even easy to obtain in Spanish. However, what they do show is that, despite their grim political situation the writers of Western Sahara are continuing to write and we can only hope that the conflict is soon resolved and they can start producing some full-length novels.
When I first started my site, many years ago, it was not my intention to cover the world. My aim was to review (and therefore encourage others to read the books reviewed) of what I considered the most interesting novels since approximately the beginning of the twentieth century. I expected to be focusing on a wide array of novels from North and South America, Europe, South and South-East Asia, Australia and New Zealand and a few from other areas such as Africa and the Middle East. I did not expect that the Great Vanuatuan novel would be of the slightest interest to me. But, as I started working on the site, I came across more and more countries that were, to my surprise, producing novels and in many cases, novels of some interest. Some were difficult to get hold of. Some were not readily available in English or, indeed, in a language I could read. However, I have now expanded my range to include as many countries as I can. At the time of writing I have reviewed books from 176 countries and have links to sites for 225 countries and more will certainly be added in the not too distant future. See my statistics page for details.
Since working on this site, I have come across a mild phenomenon (Internet meme?) which involves people reading a book from every country. Here are a few I have found:
I am sure that there are a lot more. I would be interested to hear of other bloggers/sites doing this, particularly if a) they have made a lot of progress and b) they have included some lesser-known countries (from the point of view of North Americans/West Europeans).
I would like to briefly discuss criteria, which do seem to differ.
1) The first criterion is what countries to include (and to exclude) and what constitutes a country. Wikipedia lists 193 UN member countries and some have chosen this as their criterion. (Some only mention 192 countries. South Sudan has joined since then.) This excludes Taiwan as well as a variety of national entities but is still ambitious. Others have chosen other criteria. Wikipedia has lots of possible criteria but one criterion that has been chosen is the Wikipedia list of sovereign states, giving 207 countries and including Taiwan, but also Palestine, Abkhazia, Kosovo, Niue and others. My criterion is simple. I have tried to include all UN members (though I have succeeded where the politicians have failed in uniting some countries, such as the two Irelands and two Koreas) as well as certain countries (in the broadest sense) where there is both a separate cultural identity (and, usually though not always, a separate regional language) as well as a separate literary culture, by which I mean they have produced their own literature separate from the dominant state to which they belong. This has been a bit arbitrary and has usually been based on what I can find, i.e. can I find links and/or novels for this culture?
2) The second criterion is genre. I am limiting myself to the literary novel as that is what my site is about. Most of the others seem to allow most genres, including poetry, drama, the short story, genre novels and various works of non-fiction (though generally excluding travel guides).
The three Andorras
3) The third criterion is author nationality. I have limited my choices to books written by nationals of the country concerned, with one exception and the reason for that exception was that the author, Robert Barclay grew up in and was writing exclusively about the Marshall Islands. (And I could not find any other novel from there.) Others have selected books about the various countries, written by authors of other nationalities. I notice that some people have chosen Peter Cameron’s Andorra for Andorra which is a bit of a cheat. Cameron is from the US but his book is about a country called Andorra but not the Andorra, as his Andorra has a seaside town, which the real Andorra certainly does not. (There is another book or, rather, a play, which does this. Max Frisch‘s Andorra is set in a but not the Andorra.)
4) Finally, there is the issue of language. I am fortunate enough to be able to read in several languages. Most of the read-the-worlders are sticking to one language (generally English) or perhaps two, which really does limit them.
As you will see from the above links, several people seemed to have started on this project and since abandoned it. If anyone has finished – e.g. read a work from all 193 UN member countries – I have found no record of such an achievement. Ann Morgan has sort of done it but they are not all novels. There are two main reasons. The first is that there are some countries, where there are no novels. Not only does the Great Vanuatuan novel referred to above not exist, as far as I can see, there is no Vanuatuan novel at all. This is hardly surprising. It has a population of around 221,000. The novel is not part of its culture. It does have a significant poet, however. This situation applies to several smaller island nations, such as Tuvalu, the Maldives, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Palau, Nauru and so on. If I am wrong, and they do have novels, I would be glad to know. The second reason is language. If you want to read a novel from certain francophone African countries, you will find it difficult to do so if you cannot read French. I am shortly going to read a novel from Chad. If there is a novel from Chad in English, I have not found it, though I have not searched diligently as I can read French. For Rwanda, some read-the-worlders have opted either for works by non-Rwandans or testimony of the horrors translated into English. This is, of course, fine by their criteria but I am reasonably certain that there is no novel written by a Rwandan translated into English. Indeed, there are very few written in French. This is one I found. But it is not just francophone Africa. Cambodia is another country where you can only read novels translated into French, though, of course, there are testimonies available in English about the killing fields. If you want to read a novel from Turkmenistan, it helps if you can read Russian but if you cannot, Berdy Kerbabaev has been translated into German but not English. I do have a collection of Turkmenian short stories from the Soviet era in English which is not too difficult to find. The same applies to some other former Soviet states. In short, I would think that it is probably impossible at the moment to read a novel in English from all 193 UN member states and probably impossible to read anything of substance from all 193.
As I never set out to read a novel from all 193 (or all the states for which I have links), this does not bother me too much. If someone does write the Great Vanuatuan Novel or, indeed, any Vanuatuan novel, I shall be happy to read it. Obtaining the novel might be difficult – I do have a copy of John Pule’s Burn My Head in Heaven but it was not easy to obtain and is not readily available. Pule, by the way, is from Niue, which is not a UN member state. Other novels have also been difficult to obtain, even from major libraries. So, in conclusion, I shall be curious to see if any of these people actually make the target and even more curious to see what they read to do so. I wish them luck. As for me, I shall be happy to get within a dozen or so.
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