The Southern Common Themes Dilemma
There are certain common themes in literature from certain countries that get written (and published) again and again. Especially from the view of English speaking readers, the themes became “emblematic” of the countries they represent. In Indonesia, the theme is the mass killings of 1965-1966 (among the works recently translated into English): Home by Leila Chudori, The Question of Red by Laksmi Pamuntjak, and to some degree Beauty is a wound by Eka Kurniawan, all talked about this theme. Or maybe “dictatorship” in Latin American novels, or “famine and poverty” in African novels.
We have to deal with how the West sees us and how we see ourselves in this issue. For example, in 2014 there was a funny article in The Atlantic on why most books about Africa have the same silhouette acacia tree on the cover.https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/05/why-every-book-about-africa-has-the-same-cover/362101/
Sure it’s not just about laziness from the designers or publishers, but also a more deep-seated “Orientalist” view on how to portray Africa. This is what we mean by “common themes trap”. Why does this pattern keep getting repeated? Is it a curse or a blessing?
Legodile Seganabeng (BOT)
Sharlene Teo (SGP)
Intan Paramaditha (IDN)
Nukila Amal (IDN)