By Amy Wright, Ana Matute and Sam Chambers
It is World Cup Final weekend, and this Sunday, the ninth ever Women’s tournament draws to a close after five weeks of spectacular football in Australia and New Zealand. To celebrate the occasion, we’re shining a light on fiction from around the globe and those nations who outdid themselves this year. These recommendations are a great way to look at how culture is different around the world and appreciate the diversity this event brings together.
Nigeria: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Nigerian literature is huge and one of the most known in literature studies, especially thanks to authors like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Chinua Achebe. Nevertheless, Things Fall Apart is our recommendation to read now with the Women’s World Cup season as it introduces us to the history of the country, the time when everything changed and the British Empire made them a colony. Achebe makes an image of the countryside of Nigeria with a unique narrative that includes Igbo words and also shows how tradition changes according to each historical context. This novel talks about the inside and outside conflicts in the country and how it has marked the history of this country.
Vietnam: Chinatown by Thuân
The very presence of Vietnam at the World Cup for the first time was remarkable, even if they did get totally thumped in the group stage. More propitious has been recent Viet fiction. Since Thanh Nguyen won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Sympathiser in 2016, several more emigré Viet novelists have come to the fore, including fellow Viet-American Ocean Vuong and Thuân, whose ninth novel Chinatown (2022) is her first to be translated into English. The plot consists of two hours on a Métro train delayed by a bomb scare. In the main, however, action erupts in the narrator’s memories: Paris, Hà Nội, Sài Gòn, Leningrad and two lovers, one Chinese, one French. A thirty-nine-year-old single mother living in France, the narrator wrestles with her identity as an immigrant Vietnamese writer and how she should attest to a literary tradition that is demonstrably more than just “war and poverty”.
The Philippines: Forgiving Imelda Marcos by Nathan Go
It would probably be best to pass over the Philippines’ performance at their debut World Cup in silence. But in a pattern reflected across Southeast Asia, the country has been putting out some great novels lately. Nathan Go’s debut novel begins with a letter by a dying father, Lito, to his son, a journalist living in the USA. Lito is the former chauffeur of president Corazon Aquino who acceded to the presidency after her husband was famously shot dead as he returned from exile to oppose the Philippines’ then dictator, Ferdinand Marcos. Lito is called upon to make one final trip. Forgiving Imelda Marcos (2023) is a fantastic novel: a truly gripping exploration of how past misunderstandings, slights and resentment can change the course of relationships – and history.
Portugal: Point of Honour: Selected Poems of Maria Teresa Horta by Maria Teresa Horta, translated by Lesley Saunders
Maria Teresa Horta is a Portuguese feminist writer and activist who was involved in the Portuguese Feminist Movement. Horta was one of the Three Marias who wrote New Portuguese Letters, a controversial literary work denouncing the oppression of women during a period of extreme dictatorial repression in twentieth century Portugal. Horta’s poetry is just as groundbreaking. The poems in Point of Honour, an anthology of the contemporary writer’s work, explore themes of love and sexuality, many of which challenge societal norms and traditional gender roles. The anthology is an interesting and powerful read for anyone interested in feminist or political poetry.
Canada: A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Towes
A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Towes is an extraordinary and moving coming-of-age novel set in a small Canadian Mennonite community. The book tells the story of Nomi, a teenage girl from a troubled family whose sister and mother suddenly, yet separately, disappear. Through Nomi’s observations, we follow the protagonist as she grows up and begins to understand how deeply her family and religious community have betrayed her. Nomi’s views begin to change and she starts to reject and rebel against the system. Whilst this is a devastating story, Nomi’s sense of humour makes this a humorous and engaging read. If you enjoyed The Catcher in the Rye, you may find A Complicated Kindness to be just as enjoyable.