Saturday, 12 June 2010

Literature's World Cup...

The world cup kicked off yesterday in spectacular style, with the hosts playing out a thrilling 1-1 draw with Mexico, amid the swathes of colour and clamour of those, now famous, vuvuzelas. As this is the first time an African nation has ever hosted this magnificent football tournament, it seemed an apt opportunity to explore the continent's literature - as diverse as the lands themselves.

Situated in England's group, the Algerians have produced one of the most famous existentialist writers in Albert Camus. Author of 'L'√Čtranger', Camus became the first African-born writer to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, which he achieved in 1957.

Egypt, beaten by the Algerians in the play-offs, also boast a Nobel Laureate - Naguib Mahfouz, who swept to glory in 1988. A writer of a similarly existentialist bent, Mahfouz is considered as one of the first writers of contemporary Arabic literature to explore such themes.

The Nigerians, who find tricky first match opponents in Argentina, have arguably more recognisable names to a British audience, due to the commonality of language. Chinua Achebe, who famously once called Joseph Conrad 'a racist', is author of 'Things Fall Apart', the most widely read book in modern African literature. More recently, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has come to the fore for her two prize-winning works, 'Purple Hibiscus', and 'Half of a Yellow Sun'.

Zimbabwe, nicknamed 'the warriors', have never managed to qualify for World Cup finals, and this time finished third in their group behind Angola and Nigeria. Yet despite their footballers falling slightly short of world-class, their adopted writers most certainly do not. Multi-national author Doris Lessing, has called Zimbabwe her home for much of her life, and the writer of 'The Golden Notebook' is another of Africa's children to receive the coveted Nobel Prize. Scotsman Alexander McCall Smith, most famous for 'The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency', was born in Zimbabwe, and also has ties with other African countries having co-founded the University of Botswana. 

Finally, we turn to the proud hosts South Africa, who sit in possibly one of the most open groups in the competition. Two more Nobel Laureates hail from this country, with both J.M. Coetzee and Nadine Grodimer calling it their birthplace, despite the former's recently acquired Australian citizenship. Their wealth of literary talent also includes poet and anti-apartheid campaigner Tatamkulu Afrika and the author of 'Cry, The Beloved Country', Alan Paton. Possibly the most famous to British audiences, is novelist Wilbur Smith, nearly all of whose books are centred on Africa and its peoples and traditions.

Thus we have a contintent united and diverse, of sporting and literary tradition. The world cup has begun. May the best team win.

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