There are so many books written in English that we tend to get cut off from the wonderful books of the very many countries where English isn’t the lingua franca.
Translation is tricky, and you never know when you read something that’s been translated if the writing represents even a fraction of the meaning, tone, and humour of the original. Yet even bad translation is better than having no exposure to the words of other cultures.
Stories are, after all, a type of cultural memory imbued with themes, historical markers and the ‘personality’ of a country.
We see this in books by English speaking authors too of course, but as we come from the same root culture, we are more alike in our storytelling than we are different as a rule. Pick up a book translated from Swedish, French, Japanese, or Hindi and you will find aspects stories that we wouldn’t write.
Here are some examples from film:
- Watch enough anime from Japan and you begin to see a philosophical angle seeping into the violent and gory stories. They ask what is existence?
- Watch more than one Bollywood movie and you’ll find that the characters of the protective uncle and the wise man/ascetic, pop up often.
- Watch Chinese martial arts movies and you’ll find epic political drama and a whole lot of magic.
Exposing yourself to other cultures through their storytelling traditions can only inform us as authors, I think, and help us to build more interesting worlds.