World Literature: A Reading List from Open Book Night
It’s August and it is time to travel, so we invited our readers at Open Book Night to share their favorite World Literature. Readers recommended books from Norway to Egypt, and Japan to the Dominican Republic. Please share your favorite international reading with us in the comments section below.
Coming up September 9, we will be recommending Game Changers. What books have changed how you read or what you look for in a book? Open Book Night meets on the second Friday of the month at Mid-Manhattan Library. We hope you’ll come and talk about books with us!
Pelina took us to the Dominican Republic by recommending In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez. She described it as having “beautiful, lyrical writing” about the coming-of-age of four sisters, which “gives us a glimpse of ordinary people’s lives during Trujillo’s dictatorship.” For more of the world created by Alvarez, also check out How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents.
Laura brought us a story from Egypt, In Camera by Nawal El Saadawi, whose strong female character drew her in. Leila, the protagonist, is held in jail and is brutalized by her captors, but she also manages to frustrate her captors with her resilience. Laura told us that she “makes poignant remarks about what women really possess, which I understood as a strength that surpasses all and endures.” El-Saadawi writes both fiction and non-fiction dealing with the oppression of women. Her most famous novel, Woman at Point Zero, is available in the library.
Natsume Soseki’s Kokoro (meaning “heart”) is a novel that serves as an introduction to modern Japanese literature. The story marks a generational shift in Japan as the friendship between an older gentleman and a younger student explores the heart of things that define the shifting cultural landscape. It provides a wonderful representation of everyday activities in Japanese culture while also revealing the complexity of mores and ideals of the society at the time.
Elizabeth recommended a book about a woman who lives through world literature. Aaliya Sohbi, the protagonist in Rabih Alameddine's An Unnecessary Woman lives a seemingly isolated existence in her Beirut apartment but this avid seventy-two year old reader has traveled widely in her mind through the great works of literature she reads and translates. Aaliya's voice is sharp and witty as she recounts her experiences surviving civil war and family estrangement with the help of her literary adventures. Elizabeth added several books to her To Read list based on Aaliya's recommendation. The first will be The Emigrants by German writer W. G. Sebald.
The Netherlands (via the United States)
The Dutch Girl: Renegades of the American Revolution by Donna Thorland was enjoyed for the perspective of a strong female figure in history. Set in the Hudson River Valley of 1778, as the wills of warring nations threaten to upset the delicate balance of feudal Dutch patroons versus seditious tenant farms, Moriba found this novel to be a compelling historical fiction romance. Who’s to benefit -- British, Dutch and American Rebels or a strong resourceful woman?
From Norway we heard about Jo Nesbo’s The Son, where a young man takes vengeance after he has spent years in prison taking the fall for crimes he didn’t commit. Our reader described it as “a page turning thriller, full of twists and turns, with gorgeous descriptions of the Norwegian landscape.”
Spain and France
Matilda chose an American author who lived abroad and wrote about his experiences in other countries. Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls follows an American fighting with an antifascist group during the Spanish Civil War. She liked that it is a historical novel full of courage and ideals, but also a love story. Likewise, Elizabeth mentioned that she found Hemingway’s descriptions of Paris in A Moveable Feast fascinating when she read it while living there.
There is a library in Brooklyn called The Sketchbook Project, where people from all over the world have ordered a sketchbook, filled it up, and sent it back to be made available for anyone to browse their art. The Sketchbook Project World Tour, a book documenting a large sampling of the books in the library, by Steven Peterman and Sara Elands Peterman, exemplifies the daily ritual, contemplated beauty, and creative output of collecting artistic ideas on paper.
Any Open Book Night can be a world literature night! Here are a some books by international authors recommended at past Open Book Nights.
Ali and Nino by Kurban Said. Translated from the German by Jenia Graman.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adiche Ngozi.
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. Translated from the Italian by William Weaver.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. Translated from the Swedish by Henning Koch.
Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar. Translated from the French by by Grace Frick in collaboration with the author.
Mood Indigo by Boris Vian. Translated from the French by Stanley Chapman.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein.
Night Flight by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Translated from the French by Stuart Gilbert.
A Poet in New York / Poeta en Nueva York by Federico García Lorca. Translated from the Spanish by translated by Pablo Medina and Mark Statman.
The Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong zhu. Various translation from the Chinese.
A Season in Hell by Arthur Rimbaud. Multiple translations from the French available.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.
The historical epics of Geling Yan. Translated from the Chinese by various.
Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis. Translated from the Greek by Carl Wildman in 1952. Newly translated by in 2014.
If you find a book you love, try searching the NoveList Plus database available at the library to find similar authors. A search in Novelist on The Dutch Girl brought Moriba to a few similar titles that she also enjoyed. Also, visit Elizabeth’s blog post on authors from each of the countries competing in this summer’s Olympics for more world literature suggestions! Several of our colleagues have also written about authors in translation with great recommendations - try Anon’s or Amanda’s recent posts.
Thank you for the wonderful recommendations by our readers. Those who just come to listen and hear recommendations for books they might enjoy are also welcome at Open Book Night. Check out these other reading lists for books recommended at past Open Book Night Sessions.