The Reason I Read International Literature is Bigger than Literature

Hundreds of thousands of people gather on the Place de la Republique to attend the solidarity march (Rassemblement Republicain) in the streets of Paris

I write this post with a roiling stomach, one which has been roiling since yesterday. Sunday, January 11, 2015. The day of the march in Paris against terrorism and a loss of freedom.

Many weeks ago, one of my dearest friends asked, “Why do you read so much translated literature?” and before I could properly formulate a complete thought, the first thing that came out of my mouth was, “Because I don’t feel American.”

I did, once upon a time. When I was a child, and John F. Kennedy was President, it seemed America could do anything. Be the first in space? Sure. Resolve the Cuban Missile Crisis? Sure. Be a compassionate leader in strength and integrity? That is what I felt it meant to be an American.

Today, I am ashamed that our President could not bring himself to Paris. We were essentially unrepresented in a significant world issue, and to me there is no excuse.

World Leaders

I will always be from the land of the free and the home of the brave. I will always value the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, the freedoms that my son as a U.S. Marine has vowed to protect. But, I will also link arms with my fellow world citizens, who fight for the right to live a life without fear. A right to live without a terrorist domination. Because “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)

I can link arms with the world when I read the literature which it produces. The points of view may differ from mine, but together I become whole. The literature of the world can make us a group which understands and affirms one another, a group who will stand together against evil.

23 thoughts on “The Reason I Read International Literature is Bigger than Literature”

  1. This is so true. Reading books about and by people who are different from us can only make us more empathetic, more understanding, and more human. We are all in this life thing together, right?


  2. Such a wonderful and powerful post. I too am dismayed and ashamed that the man who is the president of our great country didn’t see fit to make a stand with the other leaders.


  3. I agree with you. I left America when Reagan was president. We wanted more than the confines of our own borders. Since then we have travelled extensively and read even more and we have learned how to appreciate people from all countries. I wish America wasn’t so insular but then so many Americans don’t travel (like the Aussies do) and don’t read. It is hard to learn anything by staying in your own backyard but I suspect that is b/c of ‘only 2 weeks holiday’ unlike other countries that get 4 to 6 weeks. They have time to go places. I will always have my American upbringing and I don’t think it is possible to lose that but I will always appreciate other countries equally. I enjoyed your post and yes Obama should have gone to France. I wonder why he didn’t.


  4. Beautiful! Especially “But, I will also link arms with my fellow world citizens, who fight for the right to live a life without fear.” Such a wonderful sentiment. If only more people felt like a citizen of the world.


  5. Totally agree. I am often ashamed to be from America. Though I wouldn’t want to live elsewhere, I think this country could do better. I am especially upset by our homeless population. It is terrible that such a rich country cannot house its people.


  6. Of course we’re linking arms with those 3+ millions in a virtual sense, marching to demonstrate we share the same ideals and values. But your President aside, have you noticed that there was no Asian country representation (none that was noted at least). I’m afraid the notion of press freedom and the freedom of expression is very much influenced by cultural factors. For a culture that is fastidious in the outward appearance, in saving face, in hierarchy and pride, in submitting to authority, a cartoon laughing at your honourable leaders is definitely not something that should be encouraged or fostered, if not outright outlawed. I’m saying this from one who lives bi-culturally; I’m disappointed at the lack of support (none whatsoever?) from Asian leaders in the Paris march.


    1. I had not thought of the absence of representation from Asian leaders. What can we do, Arti, but stand for justice the best we can? The lack of leadership concerns me…


  7. Lovely words on a powerful and meaningful debate – in this day and age, we can ‘link arms’ as individuals and communities, and our leaders will need to watch and learn – we are human beings with a desire to ‘link arms’ on issues that are important – a free speach is one of those really really important issues. Thanks for your continued advocacy for reading international authors, and translated works – without your advocacy I wouldn;t have read as much as I have.


  8. I totally relate to your post. I actually feel a citizen of the world, but a free one, who appreciates most the freedom of speech. oh, and I am proud our newly appointed president went to Paris to take part in the march…


  9. Great post Bellezza, and one I totally agree with, I didn’t realise that your nations president wasn’t in attendance & am quite surprised considering both isreal’s & palestines leaders managed to bury theiron differences (if only temporarily) and joined with a host of others. As you know I penned my own response to the outrage and I honestly believe like yourself that the greater understanding you have of other nations & their people’s the greater chance of peace & one of the best ways to understand is through their literature, through how they perceive themselves. Again wonderful thoughtful post.


  10. What a wonderful post. I too have always liked to read and have felt compelled to read literature from many countries and cultures. I hadn’t really thought about it in specific terms, applying it to specific reasons (maybe I haven’t had to until now?), other than the more general, “because it helps my understanding of others.” This is a very representative specific application as to why some of us choose to read world literature. Well said 🙂


  11. Your post was succinct and well put without being partisan. I have generally been supportive of this administration but was truly disappointed in their decision to not stand with the world. Particularly in light the U.S. role in shaping the current dilemma.


  12. I too was disappointed in the lack of an official delegate from the U.S. The problem, of course, is bigger than the President. I’ve been dismayed by some of the reactions in the U.S. An ignorance of Charlie Hebdo (the magazine) is understandable; as a French friend put it, even in France “Everyone knows Charlie Hebdo, but no one reads it.” But more disturbing is that even many highly educated, intelligent people I’ve encountered in the U.S. have been unusually hedging in their expression of support for Charlie Hebdo, questioning the taste of some of its cartoons while the bodies are still warm, as if this has anything to do with taking a stand against the assassination of 17 people over a drawing. But to your larger point, yes, making the effort to understand different points of view is to be applauded – is critically important, even.


  13. I, too, was shocked that we did not send one of our top leaders to Paris. While I believe in the freedom of speech, I also do not believe in hate speech, which is pretty much what these cartoonists were depicting. So while I do not “stand with Charlie”, I still think that we should be united against terrorist attacks. I began to feel better about being American in the past five years as we have looked to repair long-term damages to our global reputation. But I have to say that this sets us back again. I just do not understand us not being represented against terrorism. France may not feel slighted but knowing we have been in their shoes, we should’ve been like sorry you’ve been initiated into the Extremist Terrorism Victim Club.


  14. Beautiful and timely post! It is so important to read more about people and countries we have very little knowledge of. Just as much as I despise terrorism and people who think violence is the way to get what they want, it bothers me more that every terrorist incident leads to so much ill-will against one particular community. It is a vicious cycle that will never end. Books will certainly help. Unfortunately, books are viewed with distrust in some countries / communities because it can “propagate ideas”.


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