Writing beyond English: The Challenges of Inventing Non-English Worlds in English-Language Novels

Writing beyond English: The Challenges of Inventing Non-English Worlds in English-Language Novels

Writing beyond English: The Challenges of Inventing Non-English Worlds in English-Language Novels

I write novels set in South India. In English, I invent characters shaped by other languages, primarily Tamil, but also sometimes Hindi. Many of my characters don’t just not speak English, they don’t think or feel English; which is to say, their interiority, the infinite and often occult world of their minds and hearts, is not English. Of course, neither the speech of my characters nor their interiority can be seen as separate from their society and their history. To imagine my non-English-speaking characters in English I must translate not just their speech—their dialogue—but entire worlds, internal and external.