Willis Barnstone, Tony Barnstone, eds. Literatures of Asia, Africa, and Latin America: From Antiquity to the Present. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1999. viii + 1990 pp. $48.65 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-02-306065-6.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Blakesley Lindsay (University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth)
Published on H-AfrLitCine (April, 1999)
This textbook is intended to serve as a companion to Prentice Hall's two-volume Literature of the Western World. Edited by Willis Barnstone and Tony Barnstone, this volume provides instructors with a wide array of choices for teaching non-Western, or "world," literatures. The Barnstones have done a fine editing job, and provide many superb translations. They note the works of more than 30 translators were selected for their literary qualities, and the anthology does deliver in this area. Another nice touch includes an alternate table of contents arranged by genre.
This volume takes us beyond the traditional "world literature" anthologies which often ignore Africa, Latin America, and much of much of Asia. The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, for instance, focuses mainly on Europe, Russia, and the U.S. And while the second volume of Norton's sixth edition does include a section called "Contemporary Explorations;" this covers only eleven authors, including Borges, Mahfouz, Achebe, and Garcia Marquez alongside Robbe-Grillet, Dumas and Becket.
Literatures of Asia, Africa, and Latin America's section covering Asian literature is organized regionally (i.e., India, Pakistan, Bangladesh; China; Japan) and then chronologically within each region. Buddhist and Hindu texts are included, as are classical Sanksrit and Tamil literatures. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries are also represented, from Ghalib to Salman Rushdie. The Chinese selections are arranged by dynasty (Zhou through Qing), with an additional section for "modern era" writers. Coverage of Japanese literature ranges from ancient texts through the various historical periods, inlcuding works by Dogen, Zeami Motokiyo, Matsuo Basho and Issa. The modern period includes excerpts from a number of writers, such as Shiki and Oe Kenzaburo.
The second section of the anthology is devoted to the Near East and North Africa. Here the Barnstones include Sumerian, Akkadian, and ancient Egyptian texts, excerpts from various epics and oral poetry (e.g., The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Book of the Dead). Biblical literature is included here; offerings range from Old and New Testaments to Gnostic scripture and The Dead Sea Scrolls. Early Arabic and Persian literatures are strongly represented, writings from Arab Andalucia are included, and the section on the modern period offers poetry and excerpts from more than twenty writers, including Naguib Mahfouz and Nawal al-Saadawi.
Sub-Saharan Africa is represented by the third section. Texts range from oral creation myths to the literature of the modern period. The "pre-modern" era is represented by three creation myths, collected from Barbara Sproul's 1979 Primal Myths. Excerpts from the Sundiata epic (Niane's version, English translation by G.D. Pickett) and Emperor Shaka the Great (Kunene's version) are presented. A few song texts and a lengthy excerpt from Olaudah Equiano's slave narrative round out the collection.
The "modern" period offerings include excerpts from well-known writers such as Ngugi, Soyinka, Achebe, Laye, Gordimer and Coetzee. However, those less frequently anthologized do appear, such as younger writers like Ben Okri (b. 1951) or somewhat obscure poets like Arthur Nortje (1942-1970). The Barnstones pass my personal test of including Anglophone, Francophone, and Lusophone writers. This section is much shorter than those representing the other regions, though. As Asian and Latin American literatures are two of the Barnstones' specialties, this is not surprising, but readers and instructors who may be primarily interested in African literature should keep this in mind.
Section Four covers Precolumbian America, Latin America and the Caribbean. The Precolumbian selections include translations from Quechua and Maya. Moving into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, one finds the expected entries from Borges, Amada, Paz, and Fuentes, but the Barnstones do include a number of women writers, including Clarice Lispector, Isabel Allende, Luisa Valenzuela and Jamaica Kincaid.
Instructors who have been seeking an anthology to cover all of these continents will be pleased. The Barnstones have delivered an inclusive volume, with a much wider variety of texts and broader geographic coverage than any other anthology available. This anthology is recommended for survey courses, either on its own or in conjunction with the Prentice Hall Western literature volumes, although those specifically teaching African literatures would likely need supplemental texts to round out the course.
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Elizabeth Blakesley Lindsay. Review of Barnstone, Willis; Barnstone, Tony, eds., Literatures of Asia, Africa, and Latin America: From Antiquity to the Present.
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