The Year in World Literature by William Riggan
Significant new works by three German classics, important new fiction in French by a half-dozen major writers from outside France proper, a plethora of new titles in English from leading authors of Eastern Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East, and blockbuster returns by such literary icons as Salman Rushdie, Umberto Eco, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, the late Italo Calvino, and Nobel laureates Wole Soyinka, Kenzaburō Ōe, and Naguib Mahfouz highlighted the literary year 1995.
Two of the three German publications in question were posthumous. From the late great Uwe Johnson (d. 1984) came Insel-Geschichten (Island Stories), a collection of brief, whimsical, insightful, previously unpublished tales about the author's life of self-exile on the English coast and written primarily in an effort to overcome a serious case of writer's block which had halted progress on his massive tetralogy, Jahrestage (Anniversaries). The twelve stories by the late Nobel Prize winner Heinrich Böll (d. 1985) collected and issued for the first time in Der blasse Hund (The Pale Dog) date mostly from the immediate postwar years but also include one prewar piece from 1938; though stylistically different from his longer later works, they all bear the unmistakable mark of the author's critically detached engagement with current events, particularly with the social and psychological aftereffects of the war. Ein weites Feld (A Broad Field), Günter Grass's 781-page attempt at writing the Great German Historical Novel, sparked prolonged and heated controversy with its dark, bitter-edged portrait of German life and culture following the unifications of both 1989 and 1871. Grass is one of the few remaining unreconstructed leftists in Germany, and one of the few public figures who continue to view the latest effort at unification as a dangerous and utter failure, as nothing more than a campaign of plunder in which Western industrialists have enriched themselves by looting and destroying the poorer, weaker East. Using a modern-day counterpart of the nineteenth-century novelist (and chronicler of Prussia's rise to glory and power after the first unification) Theodor Fontane as his protagonist and alter ego, Grass takes particular aim at the Treuhand agency, which Bonn established to oversee the sale of the thousands of farms, factories, and businesses in the East that were "the people's" property under communist rule. For such a provocative infusion of politically unpopular views into his novel, Grass has been brutally savaged by critics across the entire ideological spectrum, from Western critical potentates like Marcel Reich-Ranicki to long-suffering Eastern writers such as Walter Kempowski. Despite all the furor, the book has ridden high on the bestseller list since its release in April.
Africa and the West Indies
Francophone writing dominated the year's literary production from Africa and the Caribbean. Tahar Ben Jelloun of Morocco, a former Goncourt Prize winner, gathered twenty-one of his short stories from the last two decades in Le premier amour est toujours le dernier (The First Love Is Always the Last). As the title indicates, the focus here is not on politics or colonial oppression, as might be expected, but on love and tormented male-female relationships. Curiously, perhaps, for such an acclaimed author and persistent opponent of the oppression of women in North African and South European societies, Ben Jelloun here proves guilty of an insidious sexism, failing utterly to distance himself from the pronounced gender stereotyping and patronizing chauvinism of his various male protagonists, many of whom are even writers, no less. In L'homme du livre (The Book Man) Driss Chraïbi, also of Morocco, treads on potentially dangerous ground by offering an imaginary and personal account of the life of the Prophet Mohammed at the time of his first revelation; the overlay of a twentieth-century sensibility—Mohammed is shy, tolerant, introspective, sensitive,...
(The entire section is 3,179 words.)