One of the things I miss most about travelling overseas for work, is the chance to ask my colleagues for recommendations of books to read from their countries.
I loved doing this because it gave me ideas of authors that I’d never heard of previously. It’s how I got to read Amelie Nothomb’s Fear and Trembling and Dom Casmurro by Joachim Maria Machado de Assis for example. I still have a lot of recommendations lingering on my shelves so I thought I’d make a list of these as part of this week’s Top Ten Tuesday hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.
Some – but not all – of these are books that are considered classics in the author’s homeland. Others are simply novels that my former colleagues enjoyed.
1. France: The Ice People by René Barjavel
This is a science fiction novel from 1968 so wouldn’t normally hold much appeal for me. But I was reassured by a team member that Barjavel often wove themes about the durability of love into narratives about the collapse of civilisation. That combination sounds intriguing.
2. Brazil: : The Girl in The Photograph by Lygia Fagundes Telles
I’ve had a copy of this since 2016 so its long overdue a read. It’s a novel about three young women who live in a boarding house somewhere in Brazil. The intense friendship that’s developed between them is severely tested by the political upheaval resulting from a coup in 1964.
3. Colombia: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Unquestionably the most famous title in this list, Marquez’s 1985 novel is one I’ve meant to get around to for years. I’ve hesitated because it took my three attempts to read his earlier novel One Hundred Years of Solitude.
4. China: Red Sorghum by Mo Yan
5. China: Red Azalea by Anchee Min
The only work of non fiction in my list, Red Azalea is a memoir about growing up in the last years of Mao’s China. Forbidden to speak, dress, read, write, or love as she pleased, Anchee Min found a lifeline in a secret love affair with another woman. Selected to appear in a film version of one of Madame Mao’s political operas, Min’s life changed overnight. Then Chairman Mao suddenly died, taking with him an entire world.
It’s going to be interesting to compare this with two other memoirs about life in China in the Mao era – Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin and Wild Swans by Jung Chang.
6. Japan: The Makioka Sisters by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
Described as one of the greatest Japanese novels of the twentieth century, this is the story of four aristocratic women living in Osaka in the years immediately before World War II and trying to preserve a way of life that is vanishing.
7. Turkey: My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk
Pamuk’s best known novel is a murder mystery set amid the splendour of Istanbul and the Ottoman Empire. It’s also part fantasy and part philosophical puzzle, with themes about love, artistic devotion and the tensions between East and West.
8. South Africa : The Way of the Women by Marlene van Niekerk
This could well be the year I read van Niekerk’s novel about an old woman, confined to her bed by a deadly paralysing illness, struggles to make herself heard by her maidservant and now nurse, Agaat. As death draws near, she looks back on good intentions and soured dreams, on a brutal marriage and a longed-for only son scarred by his parents’ battles, and on a lifetime’s tug-of-war with Agaat.
9. Portugal: Raised From the Ground by José Saramago
An early work by this Nobel prize winner, this is also Saramango’s most autobiographical work. It follows the changing fortunes of a family of poor, landless peasants as national and international events rumble on in the background
10. USA: Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
I avoided Steinbeck for years but having now read (and enjoyed immensely) Cannery Row and Of Mice and Men, I’m now ready to tackle the book that’s probably his most celebrated work. Set during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on the plight of poor tenant farmers who are driven out home by drought, economic hardship, agricultural industry changes, and bank foreclosures.