If such complex problems as globalization and the war in Afghanistan seem difficult to grasp, simplified figures could come in handy.
That is the approach adopted by Kayoko Ikeda, a translator of German literature and an expert in oral literature, in her latest work, “If the World were a Village of 100 People.”
The picture book is Ikeda’s account of a globally circulated e-mail message, which appeared in various versions but whose ultimate origin is believed to have been a column written in 1990 by the late Donella Meadows, joint author of the controversial book “The Limits to Growth,” published in 1972.
“If this world were shrunk to the size of a village, what would it look like if 100 people lived in the village?” says the book, which, in Japanese and English, summarizes the Earth’s essential social makeup.
“Sixty-one would be Asians, 13 Africans, 13 from North and South America, 12 Europeans, and the remaining one from the South Pacific,” it says. “Of the wealth in this village, six people own 59 percent — all of them from the United States — 74 people own 39 percent and 20 people share the remaining 2 percent.”
“When I first came across the messages in Japanese through a friend on Oct. 4, I felt as though what was going on in Afghanistan and the rest of the world really involved me,” said Ikeda, who is noted for her translation of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales and “Sophie’s World,” a best-selling novel about the history of philosophy written by Jostein Gaarder.
“It was the starting figure of 100 that did the trick. Although the figures were roughly drawn, they gave an ordinary woman like me some idea of what the world looks like,” she said.
In deciding to put the e-mail messages in book form, the 53-year-old translator said she wanted to convey to her readers how important it is for people to care about themselves and others, learning to love their “village.”
Ikeda intended to contribute the proceeds to Peshawar-kai — a nonprofit organization providing medical services in Pakistan and Afghanistan since 1984.
“This work came as the result of my reaction to what happened on Sept. 11,” when terrorists attacked targets in the United States, she recalled.
“(The attacks) entirely changed my perspective on life,” she said. “Working in the publishing world, I started wondering how best I could contribute to the solution of problems concerning Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world.”
Until that time, the extent of her charity involvement was purchasing postcards issued by UNICEF and giving monthly donations to Medecins Sans Frontieres, an international nonprofit relief organization established in France in 1971, Ikeda said.
But since the book has sold more than 1 million copies since its release in December, Ikeda set up the “100-people Village Fund,” pooling the tens of millions of yen in publishing royalties to make contributions to Peshawar-kai and other grassroots groups working to alleviate the plight of refugees and others who have suffered from war and human rights violations.
Asked why she thought the book has proved to be an instant success, Ikeda suggested that accessibility was the key to understanding the state of the world, adding that the Grimm fairy tales served to introduce the notion of industry and integrity to Germany and elsewhere during a period of rapid modernization.
“I call the compilation ‘Netlore,’ in which human wisdom is conveyed through the Internet, whereas conventional folklore and legends were handed down by word of mouth,” Ikeda said.
“The book must have touched the hearts of many people who felt that something is wrong with today’s world after watching live TV footage of the terrorist attacks in the U.S. and the sorry plight of women and children in Afghanistan.”
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