American Literature Massively Overrated: Jhumpa Lahiri

American Literature Massively Overrated: Jhumpa Lahiri

Indian American author Jhumpa Lahiri believes that American literature is massively overrated and that current reading habits are transformed by the mainstream.

"Our reading habits are transformed by the mainstream and to be frank, I find American literature massively overrated," the 46-year-old author said at the ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival here today.

Lahiri was in conversation with American author Jonathan Frazen, British writer Jim Crace and Chinese author Xiaolu Guo who has also written books in English during the session "The Global Novel."

"It is shameful that there is lack of translation in the American market. I know I am making a judgment, but I guess that is what it is. Living out of the US gives you a completely different perspective," said the author.

Panelists at today's session were unanimous that the English language served as a common bridge to link different cultures and reach out to more people.

Lahiri's most recent fiction The Lowland, a tale of two brothers set in Kolkata of the 1960s was nominated for the 2013 Man Booker Prize but did not win it.

The London-born daughter of immigrants from West Bengal who is famed for her novels and short stories about immigrant experiences relocated to Italy two years ago. She said she felt compelled to compare the literary scenario in America and in Italy.

"I was very surprised to find the number of translated books in Italy. Seven of their best books of the year were translations of works from different countries," she said.

The author said she was currently reading in Italian to to overcome her superficial knowledge of literature in that language.

"I have lived in America and was exposed to Anglophone literature like many of you. But it was freeing to see such kind of recognition given to other works in other countries," Lahiri said.

Outling the journey of her books, beginning with an initial rough idea to the ultimate draft, Lahiri said she never knew how a book would eventually turn out or what its climax entailed.

"I never have an idea in my mind beforehand. I just expect to be happy and satisfied when I am finished with the book," she said.

Lahiri is the author of three previous books and with her debut collection of stories, Interpreter of Maladies, bagging her a Pulitzer Prize.

Lahiri said that it was nice to see the recognition being given to literary works of other countries.   global novel.

Differentiating the terms 'Global' and 'Universal', she said that the former term was best reserved for market oriented jargon writers, whereas the latter reflected the ultimate goal of serious writers.

American novelist Jonathan Franzen observed that "the worst way to be universal is by trying to be universal."

Maaza Mengiste, the author of widely acclaimed Beneath the Lion's Gaze, shared a story about one of her university students, thrown into prison during the Ethiopian revolution of 1974.

The student somehow sneaked in a copy of Gone with the Wind, which he shared with his fellow prisoners, translating each line for them and writing them on cigarette packets.

Menzinge said that she had never thought of Margaret Mitchell as a 'global' writer, but the incident showed that her book had universal resonance.

English writer Jim Crace, shortlisted this year for the Man Booker Prize, agreed that certain books had the ability to take the audience beyond cultural boundaries.

Bilingual writer from China, Xiaolu Guo, pointed out that contemporary reading habits have been profoundly transformed by a widespread anglo-saxon culture.

She spoke on translation and said that it is not translator but the book industry which is more powerful and decide on the work of translation.

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