By: Danielle Fahey
Often in English classes, professors will go over the typical breadth of American and British literature for their students to focus on. Shakespeare, Chaucer, Hawthorne, Fitzgerald, Lee— the popular bunch. In both History and English courses, we learn about the economic, social, and political impacts of imperialism around the world, but rarely are we ever exposed to the wide array of astounding postcolonial literature. Authors all over the world have been telling their stories of colonialism— stories of economic hardship, drastic social change, political turmoil, and psychological impact— for over a hundred years. Unfortunately, these great books and great authors often get glossed over or ignored completely in certain academia.
However, a few semesters ago I took a course called World Literature, and our professor introduced us to incredible postcolonial authors from Zimbabwe, India, Sri Lanka, and other colonized areas, as well as the important themes surrounding their works. Here, I will give you a list of notable postcolonial works that you should absolutely look into, and why they are crucial to the postcolonial realm.
Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai
Funny Boy received the Lambda Literary Award in September 1994 for gay male fiction, as well as the Books in Canada First Novel Award that same year. It tells the coming-of-age story of a young boy living in a wealthy Tamil family in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He struggles with his sexuality as he slowly realizes the impact of the Sinhalese-Tamil conflict leading up to the riots of 1983, and deals with the homophobic attitudes of postcolonial Sri Lanka. Powerful, engaging, and full of life, Selvadurai captures political tension and social change with enough detail and potency to grab the reader’s attention and leave them thinking at the novel’s close.
Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga
Nervous Conditions is a semi-autobiographical novel written by Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga in 1988 in the United Kingdom. It tells the story of a Rhodesian family in 1960s postcolonial Zimbabwe, told from the perspective of Tambu, a young Rhodesian girl whose dream is to go to school and escape from poverty. It also has a sequel, The Book of Not, published in 2006. Dangerembga tells a deep and powerful narrative of the effects that postcolonialism has on gender, race, class, nationality, and culture within industrial and preindustrial societies. Tambu handles racist classmates, deals with the loss of her brother, and feels the weight of imperialism among the culture of Zimbabwe. It’s a moving and highly recommended read for anyone looking to learn more about the postcolonial world.
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
The God of Small Things has to be one of my favorite works in postcolonial literature, if not one of my favorite books of all time. It tells the incredibly powerful and tragic story of a poor family living in Ayemenem, India, and follows two fraternal twins who struggle with the imperialistic oppression that ran across Indian society between the late 1950s and early 1990s. It deals heavily with Indian history and politics, forbidden love between castes, social discrimination, and betrayal. The injustice of the caste system is brought to light with the destruction of many characters’ lives, and after you finish reading, you can’t help but feel sadness and rage at the social inequalities. Overall, it’s an educational and extremely recommended read.
The world of postcolonial literature is much more vast and rich than just this short list. It occupies a range of topics and teaches readers about the historical and political significance of colonialism. Even if you aren’t particularly interested in imperialism, these notable books are strong enough stories to move anyone emotionally, and to spark a passion for social justice.