Forewards, Politics, and How ‘Foreign’ Books are Framed

Bravo to Cameroonian author Léonora Miano for speaking up for how she believes her book should be framed in English. What she complains of is not the translation (from French), and not so much the cover (she calls it ugly), nor the title (which, she says, unnecessarily echoes Conrad) but the foreward by poet Terese Svoboda.

Miano says, quite bluntly, that it’s “full of lies.” She defends herself, her work, and Cameroon on The Complete Review.

I haven’t read the foreward or the book, but the the debate does remind me of a lovely-funny Granta essay by Binyavanga Wainaina, “How to Write About Africa.” Rainbows! Mandela! Big animals!

And I find the disagreement, unfortunately, not so surprising. Celebrated Somali author Nuruddin Farah talks about a foreward to one of his books that gave him hives. Still, it’s a nice surprise that the (foreign) author would have her views publicized (in the non-foreign world) and that the publisher and foreward-writer would be (at least a little) shamed.

Surely there are a number of Arabic-writing authors who cringe at their forewards, afterwards, glossaries, and other ways the book is sold to an English-reading public. Nothing cringe-worthy catapults to mind, but I know they’re out there.

Note: I once took a poetry workshop from Svoboda, while a university undergraduate approximately 10,000 years ago, but cannot remember a blessed thing about it.