The MHS World Cup of Literature 2019

Blair Mahoney
Jul 31, 2019 · 5 min read

This is now my second year of teaching a course at Year 10 called ‘World Literature’. Our Year 10 electives address different ‘capabilities’ that are identified in the Victorian Curriculum and the World Literature Course targets the ‘intercultural’ capability, which aims to develop an awareness of and respect for cultural diversity, amongst other things. Once again, I want to get the students reading a wide variety of literature from other countries and short stories and poems are an excellent way to achieve that.

Last year I looked at my own reading and came up with this breakdown of books by country of author (from 122 books for the year):

Australia: 34
USA: 32
UK: 18
Italy: 9
Canada: 5
France: 4
NZ: 3
Switzerland: 2
Argentina: 2
Ireland: 2
China: 1
Germany: 1
India: 1
Nigeria: 1
Brazil: 1
Mexico: 1
Spain: 1
Chile: 1

22 of those books were in translation. The large number of Italian books is explained by the fact that I travelled there earlier in 2018 and like to read books from a place that I’m going to. But it was a little disappointing to me to discover that the vast majority of my reading comes from just three countries even if I read books from 18 different countries.

So how does this year compare? I’ve read 80 books so far this year and this is the breakdown:

Australia: 27
USA: 25
UK: 9
France: 4
NZ: 3
Poland: 2
Germany: 2
Argentina: 2
Canada: 1
Iraq: 1
Oman: 1
Russia: 1
Brazil: 1
Italy: 1
Iran: 1

15 of those books have been in translation, so I’m reading translations at almost exactly the same rate as last year, coming in at 18.75% of my total. I’m up to 15 different countries total so far this year, with Australians and Americans again dominating. Interestingly, my gender split so far this year is exactly 50/50.

Last year I was riffing on the FIFA World Cup when I decided to run my own tournament where the students would read stories from different countries and have them face off against each other, making judgements about which ones they prefer and explaining why. This year this is no shortage of sporting World Cups to provide inspiration: the FIFA Women’s World Cup, The Cricket World Cup, The Netball World Cup and coming up in the next few months the Rugby World Cup and FIBA Basketball World Cup.

Once again I’m doing it with short stories and they are not all countries that were represented at this year’s various world cups. I have 18 students in my class and in the first round I want them to read two stories each, choosing one to advance to the second round, making 36 stories. The stories have been mostly taken from the pages of World Literature Today and Words Without Borders and they’re all stories published there since 2010 (although some stories were originally written earlier than that).

36 stories is an awkward number to fit into a knockout tournament format, so I’m going to make it work like this:

First round:
Each student randomly draws two stories, reads both and decides which one is better and why.

They will write posts on Medium with their verdicts and then deliver short oral presentations to the class.

Second round:
This leaves 18 countries still in play. There will be two groups of three and six groups of two. Each student reads the other stories in their group and the group has to reach consensus on who goes through to the quarter finals.

Quarter finals:
With eight countries still remaining, the whole class will read each of those stories they haven’t yet read. The eight countries will be drawn against each other, and the entire class will vote for which country/story wins the four match-ups.

Semi finals:
The remaining four countries will be drawn against each other and the entire class will again vote in each of the two match-ups.

Just two stories will remain and we will choose the winner of the 2019 World Cup of Literature!

These are the participating nations and stories, with links to World Literature Today (they have a limit on how much you can read for free, but it’s cheap to get a digital membership and they’re worthy of support, so why not give them a boost if you’d like to read the stories?) and Words Without Borders (all free to read).

Australia: ‘Anything Remarkable’ — Josephine Rowe
Azerbaijan: ‘Auntie Nabat’s Bread’ — Nariman Hasanzade
Canada: ‘In Nocere’ — Laura Legge
Chile: ‘A Bitter Pill’ — Alia Trabucco Zerán
China: ‘Scissors, Shining’ — Lu Min
Croatia: ‘The Talus of Madame Liken’ — Asja Bakić
Cuba: ‘The Pendulous Death of Raimundo Manzanero’ — Leonardo Padura
Egypt: ‘Checking out the Apartment’ — Montasser Al-Qaffash
Faroe Islands: ‘Summer with Halla’ — Sólrún Michelsen
France: ‘Our Lady of the Scales’ — Mélanie Fazi
Germany: ‘Beginners’ — Mika Seifert
Hungary: ‘The Pillar of Salt’ — Zsuzsa Takács
Iceland: ‘Abel’s Autobiography’ — Kári Tulinius
India: ‘Gujji’ — Suraj Badtiya
Indonesia: ‘The Biography of a Newborn Baby’ — Raudal Tanjung Banua
Iran: ‘The Wig’ — Sepideh Zamani
Iraq: ‘Lizard’s Colony’ — Mahmoud Saeed
Israel: ‘De Beauvoir and Sartre on the Kibbutz’ — Moshe Sakal
Italy: ‘Holes’ — Clelia Farris
Japan: ‘In the Palace of the Dragon King’ — Hiromi Kawakami
Madagascar: ‘Auntie’s Eggs’ — Iharilanto Patrick Andriamangatiana
Mexico: ‘Black Cadillac’ — Milena Solot
Montenegro: ‘White Dogs’ — Milovan Radojević
Morocco: ‘Turning Thirty’ — Abdellah Taïa
New Zealand: ‘If You Work Late Enough, Eventually It’s Early’ — Pip Adam
Oman: ‘Bitter Orange’ — Jokha Alharthi
Puerto Rico: ‘Bruises’ — Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro
Republic of Macedonia: ‘A Creature of Habit’ — Rumena Bužarovska
Russia: ‘Three Flash Fictions’ — Olga Zilberbourg
Serbia: ‘The Teashop’ — Zoran Živković
South Africa: ‘FOR SALE: Set of secondhand IMPORTED Momo mags for TOYOTA COROLLA (mint condition), bargain’ — Nick Mulgrew
South Korea: ‘Customer’ — Lee Jong San
Spain: ‘In Search of a Man for Friendship and Possibly More’ — Empar Moliner
Sweden: ‘Event Horizon’ — Balsam Karam
Uganda: ‘Baking the National Cake’ — Hilda Twongyeirwe
Vietnam: ‘Endless Universe’ — Bùi Ngọc Tấn

In my next post I’ll reveal the draw for the first round match-ups and as we go I’ll try to keep things updated with further posts. I’m very interested to see what my students make of these stories and most of the authors are new to me as well. I’ve read novels by Pip Adam from New Zealand and Jokha Alharthi from Oman, but nothing by the others.

It’s a tournament format that pits stories against each other and comes up with an overall winner, but most of all it’s a voyage of discovery. The point is not the points that get awarded for each match-up but what we can learn about other ways of seeing the world.

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