Foreign exchange students share books from their homelands

Have you ever considered an idea of meeting with a new country through reading about its culture?

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Foreign exchange students share books from their homelands

Ulyana Pyrlik, Photographer

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Have you ever considered an idea of meeting with a new country not through the travelling but reading about its culture? Our foreign exchange students want to share with you some books which are filled with stories about the origins of their cultures, reflect the lives of the countries, and their identical features what might be engrossing and cognitive. Translation may give contents a twist, but it’s very subtle and only adds to the authenticity of the text. 

For example, people from Thailand have a distinctive communication. Sirikanya Sripat, also known as Meemee, said, “We have five different tones of voices and each varies depending on the person we talk to. There are also contrasting words to highlight people’s position in a society, our attitude towards and relationship with them.” This part of Thai culture also makes marks on the national literature. Meemee considered “Four Reigns,” a novel by Kukrit Pramoj, a Thai politician, prominent writer, and journalist, quite feasible for reading in English. Its events occur in the regime of absolute monarchy in led of King Chulalongkorn (King Rama V) and unveil the true feelings of people in time of the national tragedy, when his grandson dies.

Sirikanya shared, “When we experience the death of the king, there is mourning: everyone wears black the whole year long. People pray for the ruler in front of his palace.” There are plenty of political changes and periods of reigns of four Chakri Kings described in the book. “Along with that, Phloi, a young girl, and her family who had to entirely change their lifestyle, take the main focus of the novel.” The beginning of Japanese presence, new constitutional monarchy and outbreak of World War II draw historical background. “This book may provide insights into the culture of Thailand and extent of our loyalty to the king,” she assumed.

Riccardo Frangipane shared his thoughts about the “Divine Comedy,” a piece by the best Italian author Dante Alighieri. “I enjoyed the structure of the poem and hidden meaning behind the words. Dante Alighieri is making a trip though the hell, purgatory and heaven. Simultaneously, the poem embraced a lot of culture of the 1300s. It is more about people and their separation on the ground of social classes: there was a big division in Italia,” Riccardo said. The poem critiques various famous figures from that time and, as a fact, helped to establish Tuscan dialect of Italian language. Riccardo suggests to rely on the footnotes for a better understanding.

“These two nations, Jews and Armenians, with the same seal of sadness upon their foreheads, wanderers all over the world, scattered across all the seven seas, always persecuted and constantly the victim of foreign ambition, and both with an iron will to live, peoples of endless patience” (“The Forty Days of Musa Dagh”). History cannot avoid lamentable occurrences. Armenia, Marina Mirzoyan’s native country, was one of the subjects of crimes against humanity. The Armenian Holocaust, also known as Armenian Genocide, took place in 1915 and claimed the lives of more than 1.5 million people. Hence, a lot of authors mentioned this calamity in books about Armenia. “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh” by Franz Werfel describes the ways Armenian people were seeking in order to escape from doom.

Ondřej Zahradník chose a book of another genre which left a big impression on him —a satirical science fiction novel “War with the Newts.”

“It is not a historical book, obviously”, he said. It was recognized as a “classic work” of science fiction by science fiction author and critic Damon Knight. “Karel Čapek’s narrates about the discovery of an underwater civilization, a breed of newts, which lived in the oceans and used to look for pearls and exchange them for machinery. But once people became aware of their existence, they started to use them as a cheap labor force and Newts rebelled.” Andrew noted that the story shows the apprehension of everything humans discovered and the way it was treated by people. “It could also point out to the slavery in the past,” he remarked.

As there are two official languages (Kazakh and Russian) in Kazakhstan, my home country, a culture in which both nationalities are equally valued. The most influential authors of Kazakh nation are Mukhtar Auezov, Shoqan Walikhanov, who was also a father of Kazakh historiography, Saken Seifullin, Olzhas Suleimenov, and others. Ilyas Yesenberlin, a Kazakhstan historical writer, depicted life of Kazakh people in his trilogy “The Nomads.” Being translated into many languages, the chronological novel reflects the traditions and society foundations of a Kazakh khanate, and its five hundred years of history. Works of a remarkable Kazakh poet and philosopher Abai Qunanbaiuly constitute not only the national cultural treasure, but also part of the world public domain, and are honored by people. One of Abai’s biggest imprints on the trove of literature is presented as a “Book of Words”, forty five parables of which diffuse learning about morality, world outlook and are based on the history of Kazakhs, author’s personal experience. Besides his own creations, Abai translated masterpieces of Russian and European authors into Kazakh language.

Not only in Kazakhstan did Russian writers hold a great attention of people, but in the whole world, too, having made an essential contribution to its storehouse of knowledge. Alexander Blok, Nikolay Nekrasov, Anna Akhmatova, Mikhail Bulgakov, and other splendid poets and writers stay in hearts of people to this day. The establishment of Russian literary language in particular happened in the nineteenth century. This period also stands out due to the names which glorified Russian literature worldwide and is called “Golden Age of Russian Literature.” I believe that core moral values extracted from many classical fiction works will never lose their relevance.

One of the brilliant Russian authors I admire the most is Leo Tolstoy, who has succeeded not only in highlighting historical events in his stories, but also in describing perfectly cardinal diversity among social classes and its consequences. Probably, after “War and Peace”, a tremendous world known novel with more that five hundred characters in it, “Anna Karenina” is another Tolstoy’s eminent work in which, under the veil of labile family relations, author meets a reader with spirit of aristocratic Russia. You might like to visit the pompous balls and secular salons; meet with top ranks of society and those who are less successful.

Nikolai Gogol was gifted to inscribe the nature of a common Russian clerk of the nineteenth century. He did not devoid his great novel “Dead Souls” of humor. In his amazing adventures, astute Chichikov, the core character of the story, visits five dwellings to make dutiable business with their inhabitants. Gogol added more uniqueness to his novel describing precisely the compatibility of those people’s souls with their living environment. Taking place in time of Nikolai II ruling, the story will not leave you without a chance for speculations. Gogol’s play “The Government Inspector,” which was written in 1836, ironically tells about tinges of injustices in those places of Russia where it is the most necessary to have equity.

Anton Chekhov was the master of short stories: the more you think about his plots, the more ideas appear in your head. “The Death of a Clerk” will make you laugh at the end despite of the fatality described. And that would be the sign that Chekhov succeeded in his “comical and tragical” type of a story, didn’t he?

We hope our choices attracted your attention and you’ll enjoy the journey into the world of foreign books!