This slender volume from award-winning poet and critic Kirsch (The People and the Book) contributes little to the ongoing debate over the definition and function of world literature. He starts by asking the standard questions: Can a book ever be truly global, since it is written in a specific language and typically deals with topics close to the writer’s own homeland? Does translated fiction tend to look too much alike, aiming to please a certain market? Kirsch addresses these questions through close readings of selected novels from eight authors. These include Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, and Orhan Pamuk’s Snow. Kirsch asks readers to wait patiently as he wades through detailed plot summaries of each novel before reaching unsurprising conclusions. For example, Americanah illustrates the ways that a “migrant’s experience of America... serves as a route to the creation of a global political consciousness.” Murakami’s characters, though living in Tokyo, in their “contentedly rootless” existence convey something universal about the human spirit in the 21st century. The current conversation among literary critics about world literature has now persisted for over 20 years, and Kirsch doesn’t have enough original insight to justify a fresh salvo at the subject. (Apr.)
Illuminating.” —New York Times Book Review
“Award-winning critic Adam Kirsch achieves a fresh take on world literature in this collection of essays about eight global writers who encompass six languages and five continents.” —BBC, “Ten Books to Read in April”
“In an era of cheap air travel, digital communications, consumerism, worldwide urbanization, and the dominance of English...readers, editors, and critics found it easy to welcome works by Haruki Murakami or Orhan Pamuk and the snapshots of foreign life they reveal...Kirsch argues in his new book [that] these circumstances have given rise to an entirely new literary category.” —Siddhartha Deb, The New Republic
“Timely, direct, and full of good sense, The Global Novel brilliantly discards critical pieties to address numerous arguments for what the twenty-first century novel is becoming.” —World Literature Today
“A critical appreciation of ‘world literature,’ highlighting works that combine specifics of locality with global reach.... Kirsch is shrewd on what he terms ‘a new genre of English-language fiction...call it migrant literature,’ which is less about an immigrant’s arrival than a transitional passage, one that reinforces the notion of globalization in novels whose cultural roots are tougher to untangle. An insightful addition to the Columbia Global Reports roster.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Kirsch's analysis thoughtfully adds to the existing conversation, making a persuasive case for the global novel.” —Library Journal
A conversation has been ongoing for years as to whether or not, with an increase in translated literature and a growing worldwide consciousness, literature can transcend national borders and traditions, and speak to and for a single global community. If such a universal literature is possible, would it be good, or would it be mediocre, devoid of intricacy and nuance, easily palatable and ready for mass consumption? Kirsch (director, master's program in Jewish studies, Columbia Univ.; Why Trilling Matters) here argues that global novels exist, and that they are good novels. Focusing on eight books, the author demonstrates that world literature does not take on a single form but rather allows for variation, which prevents it from becoming a one-size-fits-all commodity. Owing to the small size of the book, some of Kirsch's arguments, such as that a push for global literature means more than a push for more works translated into English, are not fully realized and remain unconvincing. VERDICT While far from a comprehensive treatise on the subject, Kirsch's analysis thoughtfully adds to the existing conversation, making a persuasive case for the global novel. Best suited for academic libraries.—Timothy Berge, SUNY Oswego Lib.
A critical appreciation of "world literature," highlighting works that combine specifics of locality with global reach.Like "world music," the very notion of world literature has become problematic, weighted with notions of cultural imperialism, dilution, elitism, and what Kirsch (Jewish Studies/Columbia Univ.; The People and the Books: 18 Classics of Jewish Literature, 2016) terms "the original sin of translation itself." Does simple translate better than complexity? Do novels that appeal to the lowest common denominator stand a better chance of crossing borders than ones that are unique to the culture that spawned them? Is the whole issue "just another way of asking whether a meaningfully global consciousness can exist"? A poet and critic, the author finds plenty of literary value in novels that have found a readership well beyond the author's homeland. He matches six of the books that he surveys into pairs, and some of these pairings can initially seem arbitrary. Sure, Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake and Michel Houellebecq's The Possibility of an Island might both be categorized as "dystopian," but even Kirsch admits that "writers more different than Atwood and Houllebecq can hardly be imagined—the Canadian feminist and the French misogynist," although he makes a case for some sort of shared moral vision and social criticism. Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 and Roberto Bolaño's 2666 are both epic, doorstop volumes with numbers in their titles, though the critical receptions to the two were very different. Kirsch is shrewd on what he terms "a new genre of English-language fiction…call it migrant literature," which is less about an immigrant's arrival than a transitional passage, one that reinforces the notion of globalization in novels whose cultural roots are tougher to untangle. The author finishes with the popular and critical triumph of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels, which are so personal and specific to Naples yet so universal in theme. An insightful addition to the Columbia Global Reports roster.