There's a reason why comparing books to windows — or doors, or portals — to other worlds is such a common metaphor; literature is both a transformation and transportation, the journey itself and the boat that takes you through it. And as books often reflect the countries from which they come, there seems a constant competition to name the one book that represents your country.
Yesterday, Reddit user /r/mjmc521 posted a simple question on the /r/books Reddit board: "What book do you think would best represent your country or would be considered 'The Great (Country) Novel,'" they asked. "I feel like for some countries there are fairly easy choices, like for the Philippines...Noli Me Tangere, Spain with Don Quixote, and Iceland with Independent People. What are your thoughts on these and other countries?"
Readers from across the world flocked to answer the ever-debatable question, from Kenya to Indonesia, Serbia to the United States, of what one, singular book fully embodies the spirit of an entire country. Of their country. Is it a novel? A collection of short stories? A play? And who writes it? Who reads it?
It's a tall order, and it's important to acknowledge that a number of the suggested books are by men. And particularly in the United States category, white men. Another trend? The majority of books were written at least 50 years ago. These results, and their implication —‚that we place a greater significance on works by a specific subset of the population - is hardly a secret in the publishing world.
And as you consider which book you would pick as #1 The Most [Insert Country] Ever, consider that when we give a leg up to one narrative, marginalized voices are subsequently lost in the annals of history. What stories were told, or sung, or shouted, and never made it to a country's ears?