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September 1996 - Issue No. #24


Explorations in World Literature

by Carole Shaffer-Koros & Jessie M. Reppy (1994)

St. Martins Press, New York. pp. x+218 ISBN: 0-521-65744-X

"Explorations in World Literature" is an introductory world literature anthology for advanced learners of English as well as English native speakers. The text comprises complete and excerpted authentic literary selections. The overall purpose of the book is to make students more aware of diverse cultures through literature. Traditional works of Western literature have been selected, such as Sophocles, Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Dickens, as well as modern literary works by such authors as Alice Munro, Anita Desai, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Kobo Abe.

The book comprises 26 chapters in all, with excerpts arranged in chronological order. The first chapter, for example, begins with "The Huluppu Tree", from a Sumerian epic of 2000 BC. This is followed by the story of Genesis from the Bible, then a creation story by the Pima Papago Indians from the south-west United States. After contrasting these; students are asked to write their own creation story. The book's final reading selection is from Paule Marshall's "Praisesong for the Widow", a 1983 novel describing the journey of an African-American woman who relives the terrible Middle Passage her ancestors experienced when they were brought across the Atlantic to the New World as slaves.

The design of each chapter is as follows: (1) a background section, which gives information about the reading selection, (2) pre-reading activities, (3) key terms, (4) the reading selection itself, (5) vocabulary, (6) post-reading activities and (7) further reading, which gives bibliographical information concerning the author and the work. The book is influenced by several teaching approaches as stated in the Preface, including reader-response theory and content-based instruction. Peer work in collaborative study groups is emphasized, though how the teacher should do this is not mentioned.

One thing I like about the book is that it has world maps, regional maps and time lines in it. The book can also be used in a flexible way. The instructor can choose stories according to either (1) themes, (2) genre or (3) geographical area. The geography category shows the wide cultural range of literary selections from Africa (Nigeria, Egypt), Asia (China, Japan, India), the Middle East and Europe (Russia, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Greece, Germany, France). The book includes a good balance of genres: poetry (free verse, odes, sonnets, sacred texts, verse narrative, epic/heroic poems), drama (comedy and tragedy), and fiction (novel, novella, short story). As for theme, perhaps this could be left to the students' interpretation. If I could ask for more, I would like to see a short story on the theme of the holocaust (i.e. Elie Wiesel) and on apartheid (i.e. Athol Fugard, Nadime Gordimer) added to this anthology.

Another strength of the book is that journal assignments are recommended to help students interact with the reading selections. Journals are important for the instructor to see how sometimes students' questions can be quite different from the instructor's. I've found this to be so in my own classes when teaching Orwell's "1984" and Kazuo Ishiguro's "An Artist of the Floating World".

One weakness of the book is that some pre-reading activities are too vague, abstract or broad. These also depend on the students' background information and the mini-lecture provided by the instructor. Since I don't have the instructor's manual, I can't judge here. However, some additional historical and cultural information would have to be provided for students to be able to answer some questions. For example, a pre-reading activity for Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" reads: "What techniques might an author use to reveal the innermost thoughts of a character? Would we know whether or not these thoughts were 'normal'? How?" I wonder, reflecting on my own teaching, if students would be able to answer these questions. I also wonder if a tape is provided, since the Preface mentions how the book gives students an opportunity to improve critical thinking skills in all four language areas, including listening.

On the whole, though, I recommend this book to students with a high level of English, whether university students or high school returnees. I also feel the suggested additional readings are important. If I were to use this textbook in my own teaching, one possibility would be to have students read three works of their own choice throughout the academic year, in their complete and original forms, from the thirty selections given in the text.

Reviewed by Ms. Kayo Ozawa
2-28-25-102 Kyonan-cho, Musashino-shi, Tokyo 180-0023 JAPAN
Tel/Fax: 0422-34-7824


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Kip A. Cates, Tottori University, Koyama, Tottori City, JAPAN 680-8551
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