It is pretty well known that when it comes to choosing the works you will study in your syllabus, teachers are in control, in most cases, of the process. Many considerations play into this: the school situation in terms of boards which have oversight of schools, budgets, personal preferences, and school aims and philosophy.

Nevertheless, sometimes teachers can be invited and nudged to go in new directions and sometimes, just sometimes, you can have a role in that. So let’s say there is a possibility of this happening; maybe we can look at some works that can be used in your study of the works that lead to the Written Assignment: Works in translation, works that are written in a different language to the chief language of instruction in your school. There is a list of works that may be chosen for this part of your syllabus, but there are some that never seem to be chosen and that may have considerable interest for you.

There’s a Japanese work that might be a nice change since it’s a narrative that doesn’t foreground only the grim or existential issues, the unhappy events and outcomes, that you will find in many of the works you will be asked to read. In fact, as some of you say: ‘Why do we have to read so many depressing works?’ It’s interesting that in a survey of inmates of a prison who were taking a literature course, they said the same thing!

The other possibly intriguing aspect about a work I’m about to suggest is that it is a graphic novel. It is also in the tradition of manga.

‘What?! We can read manga? As part of our syllabus?

Yes, and here’s the one I’m going to suggest: A Distant Neighborhood by Jiro Tanaguchi.

I’m unwilling to tell you too much, except that the work raises interesting questions about time travel, unsolved mysteries, whether you can change history, and other intriguing matters. In the narrative, a middle-aged businessman, Hiroshi Nakahara, intending to travel to Tokyo, ends up in the town where he grew up and visits his mother’s grave. From that point he starts time traveling back to who he was at the time of her death and lives his life as when he was 14—but with his adult consciousness.

Like Persepolis, a much more popular graphic novel in the IB program, the story is told in two volumes, but it’s possible to study just one.

Check it out. You might also find a useful introduction to the work by seeing a bit from the French film, Quartier Lointain, which is based on A Distant Neighborhood. There are 7 extracts from the film on YouTube in French, below is a short sample with subtitles.