Vote for your favourite World Bookshelf book

The World Bookshelf is home to over 100 brilliant books from around the globe which English PEN has supported through its Writers in Translation programme. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the programme we are asking YOU, the reading public, to vote for your favourite World Bookshelf book. Simply visit your chosen book’s entry on this site and click on the ‘Vote for me!’ button. Voters will be entered into a monthly prize draw to win five of the latest World Bookshelf books. The public’s favourite book will be announced at the end of the year!

2 Comments on “Vote for your favourite World Bookshelf book”

  1. The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany (Fourth Estate, £14.99)

    The Yacoubian building stands on one of Cairo’s boulevards, a once grand Thirties building slipping into decay. The characters, whether corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, brutal police, slum dwellers on the building’s roof or the one-time affluent their resources and influence in decline – reflect the decadence.

    Taha, son of the doorman of the building, wants to escape his slum in the sky and become a policeman. But despite his academic success he is rejected because his family is neither rich nor influential. Disillusioned, he goes to university and gets drawn into student Islamic politics with devastating consequences.

    His girlfriend, Busyana, has to provide sexual services for the men who hire her in order to earn a living.

    The breadth of the society portrayed is remarkable and the writing, even in translation, is exquisite and the portrayal of a secular state in conflict with Islam is both interesting and valuable. The religiosity was alien to me, but it was not a novel I could put down.

  2. Grains of Gold: An Anthology of Occitan Literature. Edited by James Thomas (Francis Boutle Publishers £30.00)

    James Thomas towards the end of this excellent volume suggests that there are, maybe, as few as 500,000 ‘active speakers’ of the langue d’oc, until as recently as 1914 a language widely spoken in the southern half of France, and in areas of northern Italy and the Val d’Aran in Spain.
    I understand what James Thomas means. Many older people can speak the language in its various dialects, but rarely do so even within their own families, yet their own parents were monoglot Occitan speakers. It is disturbing that a language can be destroyed so quickly.
    Occitan, once the language of European culture was the language of the Troubadours whose poetry changed the course of European literature. It was the first Romance language, thanks to the Troubadours, to have a standard grammar. It inspired Dante and Petrarch to create a standard Italian language, an important feature of the Enlightenment.
    Occitan has been a culture under siege since the Cathar Crusade (1209-29), in reality a racist attack on the culture and language of southern France. In 1539 French became the sole official and judicial language of France.
    The Revolution decreed that French alone be the language of France. Egalité in linguistic terms meant uniformity of speech not equality of status between its differing languages.
    The Troubadour poetry will interest many readers of this book. Even more interesting and valuable are the chapters from Frédéric Mistral and the felibres up to the present. Mistral is often portrayed as the only writer in a lesser used language to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
    As well as its value as an anthology, the background information, particularly on political attitudes towards the Occitan language and culture, is excellent. The French portrayed its regional languages and cultures as a regressive, right wing influence, with accusation of collaboration in World War.
    Certainly the Félibrige attracted the admiration of Petain and the fascist Charles Maurras, but it was also led by the socialist poet and novelist Félix Gras and had a communist wing. The socialist leader Jean Jaurès advocated the teaching Occitan in schools and many left-leaning French intellectuals and artists saw Occitan culture as a symbol of enlightened resistance to dominant orthodoxies.
    This latest in the Francis Boutle anthologies from lesser used languages is an important contribution to our understanding of a little known aspect of the story of France.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *