The nationality issue

Taiye Selasi - not Ghanaian but Afropolitan
Taiye Selasi – not Ghanaian but Afropolitan

The last two books I have added to my site have raised issues about nationalities, as I have defined them on my site. Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go raised issues about Selasi’s nationality. She was born in London, grew up in the United States and has a Ghanaian Father and a Nigerian mother. As with other nationalities, I have put in her in one nationality, in this case Ghana, with my reasons outlined on her homepage on my site (because she has a Ghanaian father, the title of her first novel contains the word Ghana (though the title refers to the Nigerian reaction to the Ghanaians in their country) and her surname is Ghanaian) but she herself has commented on this topic (I am so over the whole ‘where are you from?’ question. I am! I don’t know how to reply to it any more. I go to Ghana every single year to see my mum who lives there now. But even if I were to say I was from Ghana, which isn’t true, what does that mean? What matters to me is Italian, African, contemporary American, British, and Indian culture. It’s of so much more interest to me than where I’m from. I would love it if people asked me who I am rather than where I’m from.) so she will probably not be happy with my decision.

Africa - bigger than Europe, bigger than North America
Africa – bigger than Europe, bigger than North America

There are, of course, ways round this. By using tags, I could allocate all her nationalities to her. Indeed, on the blog post, you may have noticed that I have tagged her as both Ghanaian and Nigerian. Or, I could move away from very specific nationalities and just have a category such as African, not least because many westerners are not too concerned about the finer differences between African countries. (Just for information, the size of Europe is 3,930,000 square miles, the United States 3,794,101 square miles, North America (i.e. including the Caribbean countries and Central America) 9,540,000 square miles and the size of Africa 11,668,599 square miles.)

Adem Demaçi, from the 200th nationality on my site
Adem Demaçi, from the 200th nationality on my site

The most recent addition to my website is Adem Demaçi’s Gjarpinjtë e gjakut [The Snakes of the Blood], a novel from Kosovo. Kosovo happens to be the 200th nationality on my site. You will note that my definition of nationality is not necessarily the same as anyone else’s, particularly not the United Nations’. The United Nations has 193 member countries and two observer ones (the Vatican and Palestine). Kosovo, for example, is not a member. Though, as I stated in my post on Reading the World, 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. However, it soon became apparent that there was a lot more of interest.

José Américo de Almeida's Trash - first published in 1928 but only available in English in 1978
José Américo de Almeida’s Trash – first published in 1928 but only available in English in 1978

If you, as a literary novel reader from North America or the UK in 1960 wanted to be considered well-read in the literary novel of the 20th century, you would not have had a great deal to read. You would have read quite a few novels from the US, England and Ireland (but probably not Wales or Scotland), France and the German-speaking countries. There would, perhaps, be a few Russians but not many, the odd Eastern European, the odd Scandinavian, the odd Italian and a (very) few from the Far East. You would probably ignore the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries, as the boom had not started and, anyway, unless you read these two languages, there would not be much available in English. Africa, apart from Cry, the Beloved Country, you could ignore. You might read Kazantzakis, though he did not really take off till Zorba the Greek was released in 1964. India, Canada, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, the Arab world and Central Asia could probably be ignored. Nowadays, you would have to add all these parts of the world and while you would not have to have read 200 nationalities, it would have to be at least fifty.

Balkanisation - Thomas Mann's minor principality
Balkanisation – Thomas Mann’s minor principality

It was this realisation – realisation that novels were being produced not only in Kenya and South Africa but also Chad and Guinea-Bissau, not only in India and China but also Bhutan and Laos, not only in Australia and New Zealand but also Fiji and Papua New Guinea, not only France and Spain but Brittany and Catalonia, that made me explore further. I have always been in favour of balkanisation and it is wonderful to see it in novels, where smaller, non-sovereign nations are producing their own literature. One of my favourite novels is Thomas Mann‘s Königliche Hoheit (Royal Highness) which describes a minor German principality which seems to me a lovely place to live, away from the problems of the collapse of the EU, terrorism, war and so on. I like discovering minor countries that I was not aware had a literature and I hope others can appreciate this, too, and learn about countries and territories most of us will certainly never visit. So I shall continue adding other countries – Eritrea is coming up soon – and I am sorry, Taiye Selasi, but I shall continue highlighting individual nationalities.

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