I am sure all of us are aware of the frustration of accessing major writers from other parts of the world which are either far removed from our own or do not appear in local bookshops due to the economics of publishing. How does one manage to read and access such authors?
I live in New Delhi, India, where I can access most authors. But never was I able to find a book by the great Cuban Alejo Carpentier in any bookshop or library that I have used. This is something that relates more to the marketing of translation. Garcia Marquez can be seen anywhere.
How did I come to know of Carpentier? I teach English Literature in a University and none of my teachers in MA or MPhil ever mentioned Carpentier. I first learnt about him reading about Marquez out of sheer hobby. If I recollect clearly, I probably learnt a lot about culturally diverse authors from Linda Hutcheon's book, Poetics of Postmodernism. Also, going through literary journals helps in the beginning in the sense that it 'registers' a name in the mind. In that respect, the journal PMLA published by the MLA http://www.mla.org was helpful. The Times Literary Supplement would help as well.
After this exercise is complete, it would be gainful to look up articles in major encyclopaedias dealing with 'genres'. So, a write up, in say a good encyclopaedia on magic realism would help a person who has read Marquez and knows nothing else about his contemporaries. By now, one would have registered few names. The next step is to carry out specific internet searches on these writers. First, it would be fine to begin with simple author profiles such as those found at www.encarta.com. If Encarta is not helpful, it might be helpful to do a simple Google search on the author and only 'trust' results coming from 'authentic' sites such as well known universities or organisations such as the BBC or National Academies of various countries, so that the information collected is not necessarily 'spurious' in nature.
For specific searches, it is best to go to websites that specialise in Search Engines such as http://www.searchenginewatch.com which will guide you to regional search engines. An intelligent search will easily throw up http://www.bartleby.com/65/ca/Carpenti.html which is an extract from Columbia Encyclopedia on Alejo Carpentier along with the pronunciation of his name. Also, a link such as http://www.ups.edu/faculty/velez/FL380/Carmain.htm will tell you that it is hosted at an .edu site, which is a University site and even if it is a personal page of a Professor or a Research Scholar, it is most likely to be somewhat 'authentic' in nature. The same link also gets you to http://www.emory.edu/ENGLISH/Bahri/MagicalRealism.html which is the well known site on Postcolonial studies run by Deepkia Bahri of Brown University. This way, one is able to collect informed preliminary information on an author. The links above were thrown up when I did a plain search on Carpentier at Google.
I do not claim to be an expert on Carpentier and I haven't been fortunate enough to read his complete works. But I have read two of his novels till today, August 24, 2003. They are The Kingdom of This World, which recounts the bloody events in Haiti after the collapse of the French rule through the eyes of the slave, Ti-Noel, and The Lost Steps, where an disillusioned musicologist flees listless life in New York city to go to new surroundings and a new existence in the Amazonian jungle.
I also remember doing searches on www.amazon.com on Carpentier, which was a great help. After the preliminary exercise, it is indeed a great help to go to online book sites to search on the same writers. One gets to know more by way of blurbs and what other readers have felt. For those who find ordering books expensive from abroad, one can experiment with used books as well and use a vairety of sites such as Barnes and Noble, Amazon, as also http://www.alibris.com and http://www.powells.com and a comparison of shipping rates would do the trick.
I know why I found Carpentier's novel The Kingdom of This World really fascinating because earlier to reading it, I had read the Cuban writer Mayra Montero's novel In the Palm of Darkness which also had Haiti as its locale. Incidentally, I got that book as 'payment' for editing a doctoral dissertation on economics for someone in Bangkok, Thailand.
So, atleast, I believe that searching for books and authors all over the world in today's times is not really difficult if one has the will to do so. Reading Carpentier has been very rewarding. I loved The Lost Steps and I realize the knowledge that the author must have possessed while writing it. I already have his novel, The Harp and the Shadow at my house and I plan to begin reading it soon.
Best wishes to all book lovers. Soon, I'll try to include more experiences about other authors.