An average of five pages is allotted to each influential thinker, both male and female, from 600BC until the present. Included are philosophers like Confucius, mystic theologians like India’s Aurobindo, and political and social thinkers such as Gandhi and Mao Tse-tung.
In many Western countries, a right-wing mindset is associated with an increasingly inward-looking, fortress attitude towards ideas from the outside world. Some right-wing ideologists are pushing for an emphasis in schools on studies of western civilization and Judeo-Christian values and McGrealy’s companion tome, Great Thinkers of the Western World, is perfect for those studies. Wider-ranging educational establishments will continue to cherish books about thinkers from Africa, South and Central America, and Oceania.
Another important McGrealy work is Great Literature of the Eastern World.
Optimism and Reality
A new fiction release that tackles the identity crises that some of those western countries are experiencing is Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West which was short-listed for the 2016 Booker Prize.
In his book Hamid skips the traumatic migrant journey from catastrophized homelands to new refuge and goes straight to the collision of cultures which results when refugees appear to be becoming overwhelming to the native inhabitants.
In the novel the angst and anger gradually gives way to a new and richer world once the migrants settle — though in reality, as Hamid says in a Guardian interview: “Most migrants are kept at bay in camps, in what I see as an attempt to impose a condition that humanity has never known before, which is an end to migration.” The only way to achieve that goal, he says, is to militarise borders and “mete out on the migrants a level of horror that counterbalances the horror facing them where they’re from so they don’t come any more.”
Hamid says that such controls reveal the limits of the western humanist notion of universal equality.
“We say we believe that if you’re black or white, you’re equal, or if you’re male or female, you’re equal, if you’re gay or straight, you’re equal. But one of the subversive questions that fiction can ask, and that Exit West in particular tries to ask, is why are the child born in Mogadishu, and the one born in Milan or Minneapolis, not equal?”
Hamid argues that humanity will see a movement for migrants’ rights, similar to those for women, African-Americans and gay people and that the alternative will wreak such monstrous havoc both on migrants and those denying them their rights, that it becomes unsustainable.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is Hamid’s other thoughtful novel.
Children’s novels and picture stories about the universal migration movement often focus on Hamid’s optimistic premise that migrant settlement influences a new and richer experience for both migrant and natives.
One young adult novel, Outcasts United: The Story of a refugee soccer team that changed a town, by Warren St John, tackles this theme. It’s adapted from a true story.
Set in small town Georgia, US — an area to which fiction often attaches a label of intolerance and where a group of ‘good ol’ boys’ attempts to promote discrimination — a team of recent, adolescent, immigrant refugees from war-torn places in the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe, form a winning football team, the Fugees.
The coach is a Jordanian woman who brings this mob of unruly boys under control and influences their futures and the attitudes of white townsfolk.
The intended feeling promoted by the book is one of optimistic fuzziness — as is the movie made from the book. But a quote from the pastor of a major church in the town encapsulates the theme of acceptance: “Jesus says heaven is a place for people of all nations. So if you don’t like Clarkston, you won’t like heaven.”
Two Wild Ducks
An award-winning picture book by Australian, David Miller, tries to explain the refugee migration trauma to young kids.
Two wild ducks become Refugees when their swamp is drained. Their journey in search of a safe refuge exposes them to danger, rejection and violence before compassion provides them a new place to live
The three-dimensional, paper cut-out illustrations are distinctive and immersive for both kids and adults.
Truong Hoang is behind the bookshop, Bookworm. For more info click on bookwormhanoi.com or visit their shop at 44 Chau Long, Ba Dinh, Hanoi.