The literary canon has been highly praised for decades. Shakespeare, Melville, Dickens, Hemingway and the like have contributed great works to the world’s treasure chest of literature.
However, the canon is not entirely glorious. While simultaneously standing for genius, talent and education, it also is somewhat exclusive. The staggering majority of writers whose texts have been admitted to the canon are straight, white, cis-gendered males. Although there surely have been equally talented but less privileged writers throughout history, their names have either never been published or only too rarely mentioned in discourse. That is why we’re looking at some enriching and thrilling pieces of literature today, which do not need to be labeled part of any exclusive club to be worth reading.
A Golden Age
This first part of a trilogy by Tahmima Anam will give you so much more than your average book of fiction. While the names and individual stories may be made up, the underlying plot is based on a true,
historical event. A Golden Age tells the story of a family living during the time of the Bangladesh War of Independence. In addition to giving the reader an idea of the political and socio-economic conditions in Dhaka in the 70s, the novel moreover touches on subjects such as gender roles, religion and trauma. Anam proved to be a dedicated writer when she spent two years in Bangladesh for the sole reason of interviewing those who first-hand experienced the war as means of research for her work.
An Ordinary Man
An Ordinary Man is written about and by Paul Rusesabagina and his heroic deeds in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Rusesabagina tells his story of how he witnessed horrible crimes against humanity and yet felt the courage and calling to save the lives of both Hutus and Tutsis by giving them shelter. Although the autobiography has come under fire for controversy, it provides an important insight into one of the saddest moments of recent history.
Interpreter of Maladies
Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies is the name of a collection of nine short stories, pertaining to themes such as the Indian diaspora, questions of identity and the interaction of various cultures. Though the stories may be very different in terms of plot, they all tie back to the same notion. The nine stories do away with stereotypes as they highlight not only differences but also similarities between Indian and American lives. Anyone who is looking for easy reads with an educational and awareness-bringing message behind them will thoroughly enjoy this book.
Open City by Teju Cole is a cosmopolitan novel with a Nigerian protagonist. The book has a lot to offer, ranging from descriptions of scenery, historical and political commentary as well as unexpected twists. Open City also explores themes such as mental health, as the main character is a psychiatric doctor who has to cope with the oftentimes tragic stories of his patients.
What Mama Said
For anyone who prefers plays to novels, What Mama Said is the ideal epic drama. This witty play is full of socio-economic critique, political commentary and feminist empowerment, as the plot features the exploitation of marginalized people by a large oil firm. As to be expected from the playwright Osonye Tess Onweume, the main characters are strong, unique, female individuals. Onwueme is predominantly known for speaking out against domestic abuse and spreading awareness about the erasure of Nigerian history. Particularly the voices of African women who have been silenced in the writing of history are amplified in Onweume’s work.