foreign books literature

Why we shouldn’t prioritise English lit

Angie Nock encourages us to broaden our literary horizons by reading foreign literature

For me, reading foreign literature has always been the norm. For a while I assumed this was the same for everyone who loves to read and was disheartened when I realised this isn’t the case. It’s a shame, but many English-speaking literature lovers never opt for anything not originally written in their mother tongue.

While not every literary translation is amazing, most are excellent and allow you to discover somewhere new through their settings and plots. One of the things I absolutely love about foreign literature is the way that, by reading it, you gain cultural and historical insights into places you may have never even heard about before. A foreign novel could inspire you to find out more about a certain society, travel to a new country, or even learn a language.

Literature from abroad can also offer perspectives and ways of thinking that you maybe haven’t come across before. While English literature is capable of this too, I personally feel that foreign literature can often do this on a much deeper level while also being more intriguing.

In the past few years the Nordic Noir genre has gained popularity in Britain, with authors such as Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbø becoming best sellers over here, as well as an abundance of Scandinavian tv series finding their way onto our screens. Of course, this is excellent and shows that there is a collective willingness to explore new cultures, but we must remember that the rest of the world doesn’t consist of just Scandinavia.

Two books that I feel really give a sense of their countries of origin are The Reader (Der Vorleser) and The Terracotta Dog (Il Cane di Terracotta). The Reader, written by Bernhard Schlink, allows you to gain a much better understanding of the German psyche and feelings of war guilt, with the novel also exploring teenage self-discovery and sexuality.

Meanwhile, Andrea Camilleri’s The Terracotta Dog, part of the Inspector Montabano series, instantly transports you to beautiful Sicily. However, it also reveals the darker side of the Italian island, with the plot including corruption, greed and, of course, the mafia.

However, while I regularly read translated fiction, I still do not expand my horizons far enough. My bookshelf is full of European literature, yet I struggle to find anything from, for example, South America. No one can read every book in the world, but perhaps we should all take a step outside of our literary comfort zones once in a while, even if that simply means reading a foreign book.


Image: freddie marriage on Unsplash