The concept behind this book is commendable: Take some writers who are relative unknowns in the English language and make their works accessible to readers of English texts. Translating these texts into English seems necessary, important, and long overdue, because we live in a world where many people don't understand basic geography, nor know enough about other cultures. Literature helps fill that void.
Each of the writers featured in this book are introduced by well-known writers in the English-speaking world. Edwidge Danticat introduces a work by fellow Haitian Evelyne Trouillot. Eleonora Hummel's work, "The Fish of Berlin," is introduced by fellow German GŁnter Grass. In all, there are 28 authors and poets whose works are translated here, revealing their cultural, economic and political struggles to a world that is largely unaware of their existence.
This anthology contains a collection of works that span the globe. Writers from China, South Korea, India, Indonesia and Bangladesh are represented here. So, too, is literature from such taboo locations as Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Palestine. Writers from Eastern Europe, Italy, Germany, France, and Norway are also translated here, and the book closes with several texts from Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
This, however, can be a problem, because many readers may feel alienated by these texts, not having a complete understanding of the cultural and political atmosphere which affects these writers. Many times, I struggled to understand the writers and to feel a connection to their writing, which is critical to my enjoyment of it. For example, Parashuram, a Bengali humorist, is featured in this anthology. I knew as I was reading that his work is supposed to be humorous, but because I did not fully understand the context, I failed to find it funny. It seems that this book can be best appreciated if the reader has a thorough knowledge of contemporary world history.
In his wonderful introduction, Andre Dubus III states that only six percent of books that are in translation are translated into English (by contrast, fifty percent of those books are translated from English). This is profoundly shocking and sad, but Words Without Borders is definitely a step in the right direction. It would be an especially important tool for students of world literature or history, but it's important for anyone who wants a better understanding of the world and the people with whom we share it.