World Languages, Popular Music, The Ticketless Traveler
Travel Around the World in 80 Checkouts
As a librarian working with the World Languages Collection, I consider myself an Ambassador of Global Cultural Heritage. Over the years working with our multilingual collections, I have fallen in love with a number of international authors and, despite encountering striking differences in circumstances and perspectives across many translated books, I am always struck by the universality of human experiences.
In addition to providing a much-needed perspective on my own life, foreign literature can always be used as a conversation opener in our multicultural city. Below is an extensive list of my recommendations and a link for each book or film; I hope these will challenge you to embark on your own international journeys and make new friends along the way.
My favorite books from the World Languages Collection include two autobiographical novels from Russia and a tale from an unreliable narrator from Congo.
The first, Bury Me Behind a Baseboard, has been a bestseller since its initial publication more than 20 years ago. In addition to having a cult following in Russia, the novel was published in Germany, Italy, France, Poland, Israel, China, and Taiwan. This unforgettable story of a boy and his overbearing grandmother will resonate with any readers familiar with dysfunctional families.
The second, written by Ruben Gallego Gonzales, documents a totalitarian state's indifference to individual human life—White on Black details a childldhood spent in Soviet oprhanages for disabled children. Translated into mulitpe languages, White on Black can be requested from the Mid-Manhattan Library in English, Russian, Spanish, and Polish.
Broken Glass is written by Alain Mabanckou, a Congolese recipient of Académie Française's grand prix for lifetime achievement., and it's everything a great novel should be: entertaining, thought-provoking, and deeply moving. A denizen of a shady Brazzaville bar, the narrator, nicknamed Broken Glass, is on a mission to secure his place in a literary canon. Armed with a truly encyclopedic learning and fueled by red wine and "bicycle chicken," he takes us on a wild ride through history.
In the past few years I have enjoyed reading translations of Argentinean Federico Andahazi , Hungarian László Krasznahorkai, and Korean Kyung-sook Shin. I also believe that books written by Ivan Klima, Tove Jansson, Kōbō Abe, Clarice Lispector, and Jorge Amado deserve a wider audience, as well.
A couple of years ago, I finally read popular Neopolitan novels from Elena Ferrante, and you can request them in Mandarin, French, Spanish, Polish, Hebrew, Italian, and English. After you complete the series, I highly recommend Ferrante's Days of Abandonment; I can't think of any other modern writer that addresses the immediate aftermath of marital dissolution with such unrestrained candor.
Current and Upcoming Reads
For current reading, I'm back to Russian novels, reading a bestseller as bizzare and enticing as its title: iPhuck 10. It's the latest savage satire from a bad boy of Russian literature, Victor Pelevin.
I am next looking forward to reading:
- 2084 : the end of the world, a dystopian novel by Algerian writer Boualem Sansal
- the newly translated Oblivion by Segei Lebedev
- Three Daughers of Eve by Elif Shafak
In the near future, l am determined to get a hold of the The llustrious House of Ramires by José Maria de Eça de Queirós; plan to read a book by frequently requested Algerian author Ahlam Mosteghanemil; and, by summer, I might get to My Struggle, a multi-volume autobiographical opus by Karl Ove Knausgaard.
My favorite film from the World Languages Collection is an Academy Award nominee from Argentina, Relatos Salvages (Wild Tales), which catches up with characters each on the verge of an approaching nervous breakdown. Other contenders for my favorite Spanish-spoken film are from some of the industry's most highly-regarded filmmakers: Pedro Almodóvar's Volver, El laberinto del fauno (Pan's Labyrinth), an earlier film from The Shape of Water writer-director Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro Gonzáles Iñnáritu's Amores Perros and Alfonso Cuaron's Y Tu Mamá También.
Under-the-radar Russian movies that I have liked include the eerie Silent Souls (directed by Aleksei Fedorchenko), gloomy Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev), brutal The Major and brilliant The Fool (both by Yuri Bykov).
French Village is a well-researched period drama television series from France, starring the stunning, flawless Audrey Fleurot as a bored housewife, hopelessly in love with a charismatic Nazi sociopath played by Richard Sammel. Some of my favorite French movies in our collections include comedies The Dinner Game (directed by Francis Veber), The Class (Laurent Cantet), Penny Pincher (Fred Cavayé) and The Closet (Veber), plus drama Leaving by director Catherine Corsini.
Cesare deve morire (Caesar Must Die) is an unforgettable Italian documentary filmed in a maximum security prison, about the staging of a production of Julius Caesar. Golden Door (directed by Emanuele Crialese) follows a Sicilian immigrant family on a journey to the land of giant onions, rivers of milk, and incomprehensible immigration policies. And the Italian thriller I'm Not Scared (Gabriele Salvatores) should not be watched alone.
Among my favorite Scandinavian movies in our collections:
- Norwegian Kitchen Stories from director Ben Hamer
- Danish drama After the Wedding, directed by Susanne Bier
- Icelandic award-winning drama Rams, from Grímur Hákonorson
- Swedish coming-of-age tale My Life as a Dog, an early film from director Lasse Hallström
Additional Film Suggestions
- My favorite Akira Kurosawa film, Dodes'ka-den
- A brilliant film on the subject of resignation, Suna no onna (The Woman in the Dunes), based on the novel by the great Kobo Abe, and directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara
- The animated films of Hayao Miyazaki, which continue to enchant audiences of all ages, including my top three: Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and My Neighbor Totoro
- Casa de Areia (The House of Sand), a Brazilian film in our collection
- The delighfully bizzare Chinese comedy, Mermaid, about a community of merfolk fighting against a greedy developer
- The Square, 2017 Cannes Palme d’Or winner from Swedish director Ruben Östlund.
- Quest for Fire, one of the most remarkable films in the World Languages Collection, whose language is classified as "Undetermined"
Films by Deepa Mehta have been on my watchlist for a few weeks, including NH10, a frequently requested thriller that will keep on the edge of your couch. For a light and charming reflection on serendipity, request Mehta's The Lunchbox. In the film, an unusual mix-up by a usually efficient dabbawalla, popular lunchbox delivery system in Mumbai, results in an epistolary exchange between a widower and a neglected wife. As they get to know each other, both decide that drastic changes must free them from a lonely and unfulfilled existence.
My desert island disc collection includes Djavan ao vivo, Bom tempo by Sergio Mendes, and the assorted works of Gilberto Gil and Paulinho Mosca . Also: Brazilian-born, Paris-based singer Flavia Coehlo, who has travelled many of the world's roads, and whose collaboration with Senegalese musician Cheikh Lô results in a very addictive musical composition. The music of Astor Piazzolla suits many of my moods and, in the past few weeks, I have been listening to Buika, queen of flamenco, jazz, and anything else that comes her way.
To release my inner Cinderella , I turn to popular Lebanase singer Nancy Ajram, and know that my taste for Henry Salvador, Serge Gainsbourg, and Joe Dassin definitely shows my age. (In addition to singing, Joe Dassin wrote a book of short stories, and World Languages has a copy in Russian.) Zaz, Cœur de pirate and Stomae are members of the new generation of talented francophone performers.
Gogol Bordello is a band known for its effortless blend of gypsy punk and irreverant lyrics—you might remember the band's irresistible Ukrainian-born , Brazilian-based frontman from the film Everything is Illuminated. Gogol Bordello's latest release, Seekers and Finders, reminds us that some things are illuminated for all those who actively seek to understand the world.
We invite you to share the titles of your favorite works of world literature, international movies, and world musicians in the comments below!