During the recent Jaipur Literature Festival Xiaolu Guo, an award-winning writer and film-maker, voiced her concerns about the domination of English American literature in modern world and its negative influence (in her opinion) on the reading habits on a broader scale.
Together with Jhumpa Lahiri, an Indian/American writer who has won the Pulitzer prize, she states that English American literature is extremely overrated, and its precedence over all the other literatures changes the reading habits of the entire world, homogenizing cultures. The main characteristics of Anglo-Saxon literature, according to her, are as follows:
- It is narrative-driven.
- It is realistic.
- It is based on story-telling.
- It lacks poetry and tends to repeat itself.
What’s Wrong with Anglo-Saxon Literature
Xiaolu Guo believes that the prevalence of Anglo-Saxon literature on the world literary market slowly but steadily changes the preferences of the entire world. For example, now she lives in Italy and recently has been astounded to see that in a local newspaper the list of 10 books of the year contained 7 books written in English. It is unimaginable for an American or a British paper to publish a list that would contain even a couple of books written in any language other than English.
Xiaolu Guo and Jhumpa Lahiri think that American and British book market exists in a state of isolation – they are not very much interested in books written in foreign languages – only about 2% of books published annually in these countries are translated, while in other countries this percentage is dramatically higher – up to 70% in Slovenia.
Their main grievance is that writers who write in other languages than English are treated unfairly – they have to be translated into English before they can be recognized beyond their cultures, and even after that they usually stay unnoticed – simply because the English-speaking world isn’t interested in them unless they win a Nobel Prize.
Displeased with Reality
However, it seems that English American literature just seemed like an easy target, taking into account that this statement was made during a literature festival in Jaipur, because what Xiaolu Guo and Jhumpa Lahiri find to be so annoying are nothing but simple facts of life. If 70% of books published in Slovenia are translated, it isn’t because this country and this culture are somehow more open, but because there aren’t so many books written in Slovene to begin with. And if the majority of the population of the world knows English at least as their second language, is it all that strange that it is the major language the books are published in? If books written in other languages are not that popular, it is not the guilt of English literature. That is just how the things are.