My older brother does me the biggest favor by sending me articles that he selects very carefully. He knows I am fanatic about leMonde and that I have the attention span of a biased reader: the topic has to be addressed to my interest and the style has to pass the test.
He sent me an article from the Guardian that would have otherwise sounded banal: "There is Progress in Afghanistan even if the Afghans don't want to admit it." I gave it a chance and soon enjoyed the reading immensely. I thought the writer had wit and an inner understanding of the mentality. There was a small autobiographical reference where she mentions that she had lived in Afghanistan in the past. This lead me to believe that Nushin Arbabzadah is Afghan. But had she not mentioned it, I would have still known that only an Afghan has the references she has.
Foreign experts, even SouthWest Asians, like Iranians and Pakistanis, cannot write about Afghanistan the way Arbabzadah does. They may know their facts, but as foreigners, like their Western colleagues, they are careful in their criticism, respectful in describing what they observe if they are good journalists or otherwise sensationalist if they are not.
Native journalists and experts, of any SouthAsian country usually have too much pride to "wash their dirty laundry in public" and rarely, though unconsicously, criticize their own country. Here on the other hand, is a self deprecating journalist who is astonished at the attitude of her compatriots. Afghans have never "had it better" is what she says, almost using that straight foreword lingo, and they "dare complain" is how I would paraphrase her thesis sentence for that article. Her writing style is very AngloSaxon bordering on Americanized. I therefore guessed that she is a Westernized Afghan. She has been trained to think and express herself in a Western way, yet her knowledge of the subject matter is intimate and different from the Western expert on SouthAsia.
I encountered another Westernized Third Worlder. A friend of my husband sent him an Economist article about an emerging talent in French literature: a native of Congo-Brazzaville. My husband, like my brother, knew that I would be interested, so I got the email eventually. I ran to the bookstore and have read Alain Mabanckou's novel Black Bazar in 2 days flat (granted its my Ramadan reading, I stay up late reading).
His writing is very engaging, his style flows. I am not engrossed in the narrative as much as I am impressed with his language. He has mastered French to perfection, without sounding erudite. French is therefore his mother tongue. As for the Afghan journalist, I can tell that his soul is African, but his tool of expression, his sarcasm and self criticism is very French. A white Frenchman would not have been able to write about the cocktail of African emigres and how they interact in France in the same fashion. But an African intellectual, without his francostyle, would not have sounded the same either.
I know there is a former generation of Indian writers who have written novels in perfect literary English. I have applauded Salman Rushdie and Jumpha Lahiri in this blog, but their voices are Indian down to their prouesse in English. Only Americanized Vikram Seth, and this applies only to his Golden Gate (Suitable Boy had an Indian voice) could fit in this group made of the Afghan Nushin Arbabzadah and the Congolese Alain Mabanckou.