African books in BBC stories that shaped the world

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By Gracious Madondo 

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Culture section has compiled a list of one 100 best literature books from around the world under the title “The 100 Stories that Shaped the World”.

The list comprises novels, poems, folk tales and dramas from different literary genres and languages from around the world.

Most notable is Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”, which made it in the top five of the list at fifth position with Odyssey by Homer at number one followed by “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe, “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelly and George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” at number four.

Other African books that made it on the list include Zimbabwe’s feminist writer Tsitsi Dangarembga’s “Nervous Conditions” at number 66 and Ugandan poet Okot p’Bitek’s “Song of Lawino” at number 63.   

According to BBC Culture, the list was put together by various literature experts from around the world who suggested five books of their choice for the compilation of the list.

“BBC Culture polled experts around the world to nominate up to five stories they felt had shaped mindsets or influenced history. We received answers from 108 authors, academics, journalists, critics and translators in 35 countries”

Experts have said although the list is a noble idea, it is too subjective and Eurocentric. 

They argue that the list does not fully serve justice in the inclusion of African literature in the listing as literature in African languages is excluded.  

University of Zimbabwe English literature lecturer Memory Chirere said although the list includes some African writers, the rest of the list shows that no African was consulted in compiling the list.

“So many great works by Soyinka and Ngugi and Marechera and Senghor and Honwana and Pepetela and Armah and Mungoshi... are not here. You can sense that not many Africans were consulted,” he said.

Chirere said the list is a positive initiative but it is subjective, as it mainly focused on European literature and literature that has been translated into English only.  

“The bias is clearly tilted very heavily towards books in English or those books that have been translated into English. Books in European languages also have an advantage. The list is, therefore, about European books and some non-European books in European languages. It has very little to do with us,” Chirere said.

Chirere said the list seems to be based highly on personal taste and opinion and because of that it does not embrace books in African languages or any other foreign languages that could have shaped the world.

“I respect the list but it is subjective. You don’t find any book there in an African language. And yet such books have shaped our minds,” said Chirere.

The top five of the list comprises literature from different groups of literature and genres from protest African-American literature in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, to the gothic horror fiction “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelly, to political satire in George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”.

The list includes some of the most influential texts in African-American and Caribbean literature including, “Wide Sargasso Sea” (28) by Jean Rhys, “Beloved” by Toni Morrison (11), Ralph Elison’s “Invisible Man” (39) and “Their Eyes Were Watching God” (41) by Zora Neale Hurston.

Vast Shakespearean pieces also made it onto the list namely Hamlet (8), Romeo and Juliet (13) and “King Lear” (33).  

Novels and plays that also influenced the movie industry with their adaptations making the books even more popular also made it into the list.

These include “The Harry Potter Series” by J.K. Rowling (15), “Journey to the West” by Wu Cheng’en (22), “To Kill a Mocking Bird” by Harper Lee (27), “Cinderella” by an unknown author (52), Lewis Caroll’s “Adventures of Alice in Wonderland” (44) and “Dracula” by Bram Stoker (71), among others.

 

2018 BBC Culture - The 100 Stories that Shaped the World

 

1. The Odyssey (Homer, 8th Century BC)

2. Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852)

3. Frankenstein (Mary Shelley, 1818)

4. Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell, 1949)

5. Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe, 1958)

6. One Thousand and One Nights (various authors, 8th-18th Centuries)

7. Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes, 1605-1615)

8. Hamlet (William Shakespeare, 1603)

9. One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel García Márquez, 1967)

10. The Iliad (Homer, 8th Century BC)

11. Beloved (Toni Morrison, 1987)

12. The Divine Comedy (Dante Alighieri, 1308-1320)

13. Romeo and Juliet (William Shakespeare, 1597)

14. The Epic of Gilgamesh (author unknown, circa 22nd-10th Centuries BC)

15. Harry Potter Series (JK Rowling, 1997-2007)

16. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood, 1985)

17. Ulysses (James Joyce, 1922)

18. Animal Farm (George Orwell, 1945)

19. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë, 1847)

20. Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert, 1856)

21. Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Luo Guanzhong, 1321-1323)

22. Journey to the West (Wu Cheng’en, circa 1592)

23. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1866)

24. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen, 1813)

25. Water Margin (attributed to Shi Nai’an, 1589)

26. War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy, 1865-1867)

27. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee, 1960)

28. Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean Rhys, 1966)

29. Aesop’s Fables (Aesop, circa 620 to 560 BC)

30. Candide (Voltaire, 1759)

31. Medea (Euripides, 431 BC)

32. The Mahabharata (attributed to Vyasa, 4th Century BC)

33. King Lear (William Shakespeare, 1608)

34. The Tale of Genji (Murasaki Shikibu, before 1021)

35. The Sorrows of Young Werther (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1774)

36. The Trial (Franz Kafka, 1925)

37. Remembrance of Things Past (Marcel Proust, 1913-1927)

38. Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë, 1847)

39. Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison, 1952)

40. Moby-Dick (Herman Melville, 1851)

41. Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston, 1937)

42. To the Lighthouse (Virginia Woolf, 1927)

43. The True Story of Ah Q (Lu Xun, 1921-1922)

44. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll, 1865)

45. Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy, 1873-1877)

46. Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad, 1899)

47. Monkey Grip (Helen Garner, 1977)

48. Mrs Dalloway (Virginia Woolf, 1925)

49. Oedipus the King (Sophocles, 429 BC)

50. The Metamorphosis (Franz Kafka, 1915)

51. The Oresteia (Aeschylus, 5th Century BC)

52. Cinderella (unknown author and date)

53. Howl (Allen Ginsberg, 1956)

54. Les Misérables (Victor Hugo, 1862)

55. Middlemarch (George Eliot, 1871-1872)

56. Pedro Páramo (Juan Rulfo, 1955)

57. The Butterfly Lovers (folk story, various versions)

58. The Canterbury Tales (Geoffrey Chaucer, 1387)

59. The Panchatantra (attributed to Vishnu Sharma, circa 300 BC)

60. The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas (Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, 1881)

61. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Muriel Spark, 1961)

62. The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists (Robert Tressell, 1914)

63. Song of Lawino (Okot p’Bitek, 1966)

64. The Golden Notebook (Doris Lessing, 1962)

65. Midnight’s Children (Salman Rushdie, 1981)

66. Nervous Conditions (Tsitsi Dangarembga, 1988)

67. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1943)

68. The Master and Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov, 1967)

69. The Ramayana (attributed to Valmiki, 11th Century BC)

70. Antigone (Sophocles, c 441 BC)

71. Dracula (Bram Stoker, 1897)

72. The Left Hand of Darkness (Ursula K Le Guin, 1969)

73. A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens, 1843)

74. América (Raúl Otero Reiche, 1980)

75. Before the Law (Franz Kafka, 1915)

76. Children of Gebelawi (Naguib Mahfouz, 1967)

77. Il Canzoniere (Petrarch, 1374)

78. Kebra Nagast (various authors, 1322)

79. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott, 1868-1869)

80. Metamorphoses (Ovid, 8 AD)

81. Omeros (Derek Walcott, 1990)

82. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 1962)

83. Orlando (Virginia Woolf, 1928)

84. Rainbow Serpent (Aboriginal Australian story cycle, date unknown)

85. Revolutionary Road (Richard Yates, 1961)

86. Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Defoe, 1719)

87. Song of Myself (Walt Whitman, 1855)

88. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain, 1884)

89. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain, 1876)

90. The Aleph (Jorge Luis Borges, 1945)

91. The Eloquent Peasant (ancient Egyptian folk story, circa 2000 BC)

92. The Emperor’s New Clothes (Hans Christian Andersen, 1837)

93. The Jungle (Upton Sinclair, 1906)

94. The Khamriyyat (Abu Nuwas, late 8th-early 9th Century)

95. The Radetzky March (Joseph Roth, 1932)

96. The Raven (Edgar Allan Poe, 1845)

97. The Satanic Verses (Salman Rushdie, 1988)

98. The Secret History (Donna Tartt, 1992)

99. The Snowy Day (Ezra Jack Keats, 1962)

100. Toba Tek Singh (Saadat Hasan Manto, 1955)

 

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