What the Dickens!
So, Jimmy, Newsweek International
Byline: Jimmy So
Who have been called the Bozes of the world?
This year's bicentennial of the birth of Charles Dickens has fixed the world's imagination on one of the greatest English writers of all time. Like Shakespeare, Dickens (a.k.a. "Boz") is that rare literary luminary who is beyond peer, yet inspires countless comparisons. Other writers--from Dickens's day right up to our own--have been crowned the Dickens of Denmark, of Egypt, even of Detroit. Wherever an author is found chronicling the lives of ordinary folk with gripping prose and sprawling plots, a Dickens parallel is rarely far behind.
V.S. Naipaul said Premchand's stories "would have made our Indian village past real to us." Novels like Nirmala, which was first serialized in a Hindi women's magazine, brought contemporary evils like child marriage, degradation of women, feudal corruption, and caste and religious hypocrisies to the modern Indian psyche as he helped to form the national consciousness.
Benito Perez Galdos
Galdos said that men who sat listening in Madrid's cafes "can reveal a considerable wealth of knowledge without ever having opened a book." Open one of Galdos's novels, and an entire world will spill out. He was the champion of the all-inclusive novel of manners.
The greatest novelist of the proto-modern Meiji period was also a scholar in British literature and resided in London for two years, though he said he "lived in misery, like a poor dog that had strayed among a pack of wolves." His major theme was something very similar: he portrayed ordinary and estranged folk living difficult lives as Japan industrialized.
Honore de Balzac
They were both men with extraordinary energy, appetites, ambition, and the keenest eyes for telling observations, which positioned them as founders of realism and fueled their obsession to render the panorama of the world as they see it. Curiously, they were both apprentices in a law office and reacted to the inhumanity they perceived to be inherent in the practice.
Lu had wanted to be a doctor. But one day in medical school he saw a war film that showed the Japanese executing a Chinese man suspected of spying for the Russians, while the crowd that had gathered watched apathetically. …