Literature, at its best, should allow us to see the individual rather than the general; to participate in some intimate way in other lives rather than melding them into shapeless abstractions. (from the introduction)
Concerned with the fact that most Western readers are ignorant of the important and transforming effect of literature in enemy nations, and the tendency of Westerners to accept two dimensional characterizations of people from the “Axis of Evil” countries, the editors of Literature from the ‘Axis of Evil’: Writing from Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Other Enemy Nations compiled a collection of essays about the literary movements in those countries and previously untranslated short stories, poems, and novel excerpts from the writers living there.
Since I’m very interested in literature as a vehicle for social and political criticism (I just presented a paper on the topic at a conference a few weeks ago, which was fun!) and also in the literature of the Near East and Middle East, I enjoyed this book. I learned from the essays and, for the most part, enjoyed the translated selections.
I do think it’s important to develop more nuanced and realistic understandings of other cultures, and I think that particularly in the case of cultures that are unfamiliar or quite different from our own, carefully selected fiction is a wonderful vehicle to accomplish that. I’m reading hard in this vein at present so I’ll have more to say on the topic in future posts.
If you’ve never thought much about writing from countries like Iran, Iraq, Syria, the Sudan, or North Korea, I think this book would be a good way to get your feet wet and learn something about each of the countries while reading good excerpts. The editors do make some political feelings evident in the introduction, and obviously the book was compiled in reaction to George W. Bush’s statement about certain countries being the Axis of Evil, but the overall message and content of the book is worthwhile no matter what your personal thoughts on the title phrase.
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