Multicultural interests shine in best-selling books of 1993


In her lecture as recipient of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature, Toni Morrison said it is language -- "in its reach toward the ineffable" -- that allows us to make sense of our existence.

"We die. That may be the meaning of life," said Ms. Morrison, who became the first black woman to win the world's most prestigious literary award in October. "But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives."

Ms. Morrison's prize may be the best measure of what happened in books in 1993, a watershed year not only for the author of powerful, lyrical novels such as "Jazz" and "Beloved" but for other multicultural writers as well.

Maya Angelou became the first poet since Robert Frost in 1961 to write a verse and deliver it at a presidential inauguration. Her ringing, celebratory poem, "On the Pulse of the Morning," continued to resonate when it was published in book form and became a best seller -- along with her most recent book, a collection of essays called "Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now" and the paperback "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," memoirs about her childhood and adolescence originally published in 1970.

Another success was Laura Equivel's "Like Water for Chocolate," a novel about food, love, magic and family that spent a good part of the year on best-seller lists. Originally published in the author's native Mexico, the novel spawned a movie that became one of the most successful foreign-language films ever.

Also praised were Ana Castillo's "So Far From God," a novel of magical realism set in New Mexico; Fae Myenne Ng's "Bone," a novel about youth in San Francisco's Chinatown; and Sherman Alexie's "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven," a short-story collection by a young American-Indian poet and prose writer set on the reservation.

Words passing from the page to the screen was another big trend. "The Joy Luck Club," Amy Tan's 1989 novel about Chinese mothers and their American daughters, was transformed into a moving, evocative film by director Wayne Wang. Edith Wharton's "The Age of Innocence" inspired Martin Scorsese's film; the movie, in turn, boosted the book onto best-seller lists -- more than a half century after the author's death.

British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro's award-winning 1989 novel, "The Remains of the Day," was adapted by director James Ivory and screenwriter-novelist Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, and several stories by the late Raymond Carver were transformed by Robert Altman into "Short Cuts."

Perhaps the most deeply reverential translation is "Schindler's List," Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the novel about the Holocaust by the Australian writer Thomas Keneally.

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