It’s X day and I’m late. But today I bring on not one but three eXophoric authors. That is, multilingual authors who grew up speaking one language yet chose to write in another. India has lots of authors who write in English, so it really doesn’t seem like such a big deal. However the authors I have picked for today have not just written in their adopted language but have crafted works that have gone onto become Internationally loved.
Ha Jin (Born February 1956)
From a young teen who didn’t know a word of English to teaching it as a professor in an English speaking country and becoming an award winning author.. how’s that for progress? As a young boy Ha Jin joined the People’s Liberation Army. By the time he was 17 he was teaching himself the high-school course. In his late teens he joined an English Learner’s Programme only because he wanted to read, in original, Friedrich Engels’ book ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844′. At the University he was assigned English as a major despite it being his last choice. Later he went on to study in America and stayed on after the Tienanmen Massacre. His books ‘Waiting’ and ‘War Trash’ won various awards.
Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)
He was a true multilinguist. Born an Irishman he is one of the most famous novelist, poet, playwrite and theatre director. He had degrees in French and Italian. His works, at least initially were very strongly influenced by friend and fellow Irishman James Joyce who was similarly qualified and equally well-known. Beckett is known for his black comedy and a rather tragic take on human nature. He began writing in English. After the Second World War he switched to French. He said French allowed him to write in much simpler form and let him ‘escape the habits’ of English writing. His French works are thus rather minimalistic. In 1956 he returned to English and then on wrote his works in both languages. He translated his own works too. He is perhaps the only author whose entire works exist in two languages and also one who wrote simultaneously in two languages. Each time he translated his works, he revised them. What an interesting read it would be if one were to compare the same works in the two different languages!
Joseph Conrad (1857 – 1954)
He was Polish by birth and couldn’t even speak English fluently till his late twenties and even then with a strong Polish accent (which is why he could never take on teaching assignments). It was his third language after Polish and French. Conrad never finished school however he left with a knowledge of Latin, German and Greek along with Polish and French. He was fluent in the the latter two. He picked up English while working aboard a British ship from his shipmates. He was hired to take a steamship to Africa and was so appalled by the horrors inflicted by colonial rule that he felt he had to write about them and the fictional account turned into a book – Heart of Darkness. His works offer glimpses of French, Polish and Russian literature. He once commented, “English is so plastic – if you haven’t got a word you need you can make it, but to write French you have to be an artist.”
Isn’t that just the opposite of what Beckett said? And this is what I find so very interesting about authors. I love the way they perceive languages, the way they find their comfortable linguistic corners and come with startling works.
Personally, since I do not know French, I would go with Conrad. Living in India learning English has come to me quite as naturally as Hindi, my mother tongue and our national language. It is indeed one of the most pliant languages, absorbing diverse slangs, adapting multilingual words making them it’s own and allowing people world over to make it their own too. And so we have American English, British English and Australian English. Back home in India we have Hinglish, Punglish and scores of South Indian versions.
Tomorrow I bring for you another Exophoric author from China. Her books are rather dark, even gory yet the glimpse of China they offer is priceless. Stay tuned.
Also linking to the Ultimate Blog Challenge.