It's kind of crazy to what extent geography can inform an author's work. Jack London spent most of his life at sea, dog-sledding across Alaska, boxing and generally being an adventurous guy who would put today's REI crowd to shame. Would he have penned some of the greatest American novels otherwise? especially ones concerned primarily with man battling the elements for survival in both a mental and physical sense? Very probably not, which explains why Oscar Wilde didn't write about wolves and crazy ship captains.
No, Oscar Wilde wrote primarily about fops and society people parrying witticisms incessantly. That's not to say his work has no place in a serious consideration of literature—au contraire, The Picture of Dorian Grey is one of the finest novels written in English. It's just more evidence that if you're an author who lives in the Candian mountains or the clubs of London, your writing will reflect that.
Physical terrain isn't the only consideration. Sartre wrote about people lolling about with no real sense of purpose except to drink wine and smoke cigarettes and look languorous because he lived in France in the 1940s. Friedrich Nietzsche had immense mustaches and espoused a form of nihilism because he was German. The Russians wrote impossibly long novels because they lived in Russia. And Chinua Achebe was almost entirely influenced by his African upbringing.
That's not to say no one can write well about a context they haven't experienced firsthand. I'm pretty sure Robert Heinlein never visited Mars, and even if he did it wasn't as his books describe; the same goes for Bradbury. And no, Roald Dahl was never lost in a delightfully (though at times, terrifyingly) absurd chocolate factory. Yet even with these examples, the authors conveyed essentially the attitudes of the countries they came from—Heinlein and Bradbury from the U.S., Dahl from the U.K.
Our Literature by Place subcategories are admittedly Anglo-centric. North American literature features, well, American literature, and you can be pretty sure British literature reflects the same system; everything else goes in world literature. We have plenty of non-American or -British literature, we just don't have much from any one place besides those two. At any rate, we hope these categories are helpful, and if they guide you toward one book you're looking for (or maybe one you didn't even know existed), they've done their job.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
Did you find this review helpful?