- Literature of the Global Age: A Critical Study of Transcultural Narratives
Literature of the Global Age: A Critical Study of Transcultural Narratives delivers an interesting and accomplished account of the interrelatedness of different kinds of current cultural agenda in literary studies; however, its readings of eight seminal contemporary novels from around the world use the framework only sparingly. Writers with a complex cultural background, migrants or children of migrants, and writers engaged in transnational cultural exchanges have become increasingly visible in the past decade as a category of writers that has been able to accommodate those formerly labeled as postcolonial alongside those once considered to belong primarily within their original national framework. Reading discussions of authors such as W. G. Sebald, Azar Nafisi, and Jonathan Safran Foer in the same study offers many insights, and the act of bringing them together with well-known authors such as Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan as well as lesser known writers such as Magda Szabó, demonstrates a significant change in the shape of literary connections in the global literary circuit. By wisely speaking of “transcultural narratives,” Ascari does not limit himself to the biography of the writer, although this is allowed to play a role when relevant. Instead, he presents a stage of world literature whose essential features are migration [End Page 179] and the complex cultural orientations that influence both the thematic contents of novels and their form.
Ascari opens with a lengthy introduction to the field of transcultural narratives which accounts for both the influence of postmodernism in the 1980s and the paths that have swerved away from this highly influential literary and cultural paradigm. While acknowledging the complexity of what for better or for worse is called postmodern literature, Ascari deftly presents a plethora of current interests in literary studies without amalgamating them into a new overarching paradigm. The newfound interest in memory is seen in the light of the confusion after 9/11 as well as the desire for literature to become more responsible without losing its edge, and the recent prominence of Holocaust literature adds further nuances. In these instances, the complexes of memories can only be understood in a supranational framework.
Ascari also observes that another dimension of the overall interest in literary studies in this age, which stands in need of more definite characterizations than “global,” is the transcultural movements taking place on many levels, from people and groups to global media and cultural products — even if Ascari himself overstates the degree of change in the present situation by speaking of “world citizenship.” In the Introduction, Ascari delivers what is largely an interesting and well-conceived collage of the cultural outlook on the world as seen from literature, partly through a moving account of his personal experiences with the division of Cyprus, which stands out as a counter-example to all the qualities that constitute a transcultural outlook.
The greater part of the book consists of readings of eight works written from the 1980s to the 2000s which have proved to “communicate effectively over cultural lines.” Some works, such as Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran or W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz, easily open up to the transcultural theme, as does Jonathan Safran Foer’s tale of travel back to Eastern Europe in Everything is Illuminated. Haruki Murakami, Japanese writer of the greatest international renown, belongs to the same category: his Kafka on the Shore, as well as Norwegian Wood, contain in their very title references that point far beyond the Japanese setting. More intricate efforts are made to show how Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot, dealing with the life of Gustave Flaubert and with much more, is informed by North African and Oriental references, as well as to show how Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement draws on World War II. However, the transcultural elements of the latter novel are not as obvious as those of the other works in Ascari’s selection, although its International reception has been particularly welcoming.
While there are many interesting observations in the...