Angela Carter, 1940 - 1992

Little Known Novelists of the 20th Century

The field of popular literature is a strange one. Authors who write amazingly well and deserve acclaim for their literary works often go unnoticed by the public, while certain authors with less technical skill can shoot to fame almost immediately. This can happen when a particular novel is well promoted and embraced by a publishing house, or by someone famous. For example, the authors selected by Oprah Winfrey on her well known American television talk show became immediately well-known in America, the UK, and other foreign countries. These books shot to fame due to her celebrity status and promotion. Were these authors she selected truly worthy of such international acclaim? The question is debatable.

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What happens to the books and authors who have no such celebrity or powerful publisher backing and promoting them? They often slip through the cracks and never become known to the public on a large scale. This is an unfortunate tragedy, since many of these authors have written amazing masterpieces which deserve better publicity and to be read by a wider audience.

An amazingly skilled author from the 20th century who never had his books promoted on an international scale is Arthur Koestler, who was born in Budapest in 1905. He was the author of "Darkness at Noon," which was first published in 1940. It is a masterpiece, a classic novel which exposes the insanity and madness behind Stalin's purges of Russia under the Bolsheviks. It is a grim look at the madness behind torture, betrayal, and political intrigue. Amazingly, many people have never read this classic. It deserves to be read by a larger audience.

Another author who is often overlooked and neglected in the annals of 20th century writing is Vikram Seth. He was born in Calcutta, India, in the 1950s. He has never achieved such levels of fame as his countryman Salman Rushdie, who shot to political fame when he became the center of a religious controversy. Vikram Seth never garnered as much publicity as Rushdie, but is an equally talented Indian author. His 1989 novel, "The Golden Gate," which is set in California, is a masterwork. It is a verse-inspired novel, at once charming, magical, and lyrically written in a unique style of prose.

Alejo Carpentier, a Cuban novelist, was born in 1904. In the 1950s, he helped create and pioneer the field of writing called "magical realism." This would be taken up by authors like Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Carpentier wrote "The Lost Steps" in 1953. It's a winding, twisted tale of a disillusioned journalist who takes a journey into the wilds of South America. The style of writing, the Latin-American flavour of the novel, and the magical backdrop are startling. Sadly, Carpentier never achieved the same levels of fame as Allende or Garcia Marquez, but this is not reflective of his fantastic writing ability.

Pursuing the writing of lesser known 20th century novelists is immensely rewarding; many novels without popular acclaim are untouched gems, masterpieces waiting for discovery.

Angela Carter