Fiction v Nonfiction – English Literature’s Made-Up Divide (from The Guardian)

Bookshelf smallAs readers in the English-speaking world debate about the merits of fiction over non-fiction, this distinction does not even exist in several cultures. In this article from The Guardian’s website, Richard Lea writes about how Bosnian, Arabic, Gikuyu and other languages label (or don’t label) genres.

“There’s a mighty canyon that runs down the middle of the world of the word, carving through bookshops, libraries and literary prizes, splitting them into fiction and nonfiction….

“…according to the writer Aleksandar Hemon, this strange chasm doesn’t even exist in the language of his birth. In Bosnian, says Hemon, ‘there are no words for fiction and nonfiction, or the distinction thereof’.

“’This is not to say that there is no truth or untruth,’ he continues. ‘It’s just that a literary text is not defined by its relation to truth or imagination.’ When Bosnian speakers try to articulate this distinction they have to reach for awkward constructions or terms from other languages, he explains. …

“The split between fiction and nonfiction is equally mysterious in languages as different from Bosnian as Arabic and Gĩkuyu. According to the Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, the ‘key word’ in Gĩkuyu is rũgano – ‘story’ or ‘narrative’. Rũgano is the nearest thing to fiction, Ngũgĩ explains, but it could also mean or suggest a historical narrative.”

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