Monday, October 13, 2008

A Nobel Week

Many interesting things happened in the gone week. One was most remarkable.

The Nobel Prize for literature was given to a Frenchman whose works interestingly have not been accessible to the many people of Africa, and even of Europe where he resides. Jean-Marie Gustav le Clezio was given the prize for being the "author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization"

His book Onitsha (after the Eastern Nigerian city) details his experience of living in colonial Nigeria - one of such accounts by a foreigner would make a good read, if only for its unique perspective. There is of course a mild irony that Chinua Acbebe an annual member of the speculative shortlist of the prize is from that same region of Nigeria, though born a decade before this year's prize winner.

The New York Times writes in this recent article that "Mr. Le Cl├ęzio is not well known in the United States, where few of his books are available in translation, but he is considered a major figure in European literature and has long been mentioned as a possible laureate. "
His not being known here, and in the United States might be due to a lack of adequate translations of his work. But you have to know a writer's/story's prospects before venturing into translating them. What have the French-English literary translators been doing all these while? No doubt the writer has now become a hot cake and will now be made more accessible now that his name has joined the greats. This year's award thus throws a light on a branch of literature often neglected at great risk to the sustenance of literary culture: translation. Not many people in Africa and America will know what Le Clezio has written in his native French language until and unless his works are translated. And we can't force him to write in English!

This week also tasked my opinion and knowledge on the language questions in (African) literature. It is a wide debate: which language should the African write in? These recent events have only vindicated the opinions of great voices like Chinua Achebe who insists on writing in whatever language, as long as he passes his message across. That language of course happened to be English, although the question remains whether he would have been so globally recognised if he had written Things Fall Apart totally in his Igbo language. Ngugi wa Thiong'o now writes in his native Gikuyu language, and later translates them himself into English. In all, literature exists in different cultures and only translation can make them more accessible either from a dominant language into teh minority ones, or vice versa.
Needless to say, that book, Onitsha has now joined my reading wishlist. Sadly, one may have to wait until Nigerian publishers secure publishing/translation rights for those works of the writer before we get them to buy here in Nigeria. Any other suggestions?

Here is a phone interview with Le Clezio. And an old interview. Finally, here is a link to a short story by the writer, translated.


Monef said...

Funny, I had never even heard of Le Clezio until his win. I will now add Onitsha to my reding list as I am assuming a translation is imminent.

TeeAy said...

Funny this: how is it that a writer, whose work is largely unknown to the world, wins a "world" prize? France, the World?