The online international literature magazine aimed at publishing the world’s best writing (not in English) in hopes of promoting international communication, just released in March Words Without Borders: The World Through the Eyes of Writers, featuring 28 pieces of literature never before published in English.
Within are not only stories such as “Where Are You Running To?” by Chinese author Ma Jian, but an introduction to each work; in Jian’s case Jonathan Safran Foer introduces his story. There are works originating in the language of China, South Korea, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Egypt and more, and introductions by such authors as Amit Chaudhuri, Edwidge Danticat, Jose Saramago, Francine Prose, and Aleksandar Hemon.
In a Q&A included with the galley, WWB editors note that in the past 30-40 years, “American access to world literature has been steadily decreasing, and it has reached a state comparable to that of societies under government censorship.” They also point out that we may think of censorship occurring only in countries like Iran, but in the US, The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) [it enforces economic sanctions programs]:
“had for a number of years been requiring any publisher wishing to bring out a work by an author from a so-called ‘enemy nation’ to apply for a license. In 2003 these nations included Iran, Iraq, North Korea…as well as Cuba and Syria….[I]n a country fiercely proud of its tradition of free speech, the idea that a publisher should apply for a license to translate, say, Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, was contradictory at best.”
There appear to be no shortage of reasons why this project is commendable, necessary, and an enjoyable route of exploring the world through literature.