Loving Literature From Other Countries

With Trump spouting his “America First” nonsense, I’ve thought about how much I love numerous fictional works written by authors from countries other than the United States.

Many of those books — in addition to being compelling and entertaining — open our minds, teach us about the differences between various cultures, and also teach us how people everywhere share similarities: love of family, the desire to be happy, dealing with life’s difficulties, etc.

So, while I usually avoid lists, I’m going to list some (but by no means all) of my favorite novels and short stories by writers from non-American countries. (Novels in italics, stories in quotes.) Then I’ll ask for some of your favorites. The countries are listed alphabetically, and the writers listed next to them were either born there and/or spent much of their lives there and/or are often associated with that nation.

Argentina: “The Aleph” by Jorge Luis Borges.

Australia: Shogun (James Clavell). On the Beach (Nevil Shute). Grand Days (Frank Moorhouse).

Canada: The Robber Bride, Alias Grace, and The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood). Anne of Green Gables, The Blue Castle, and the Emily trilogy (L.M. Montgomery).

Chile: The House of the Spirits (Isabel Allende).

Colombia: One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez).

England: Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë). Daniel Deronda, Middlemarch, Silas Marner, and The Mill on the Floss (George Eliot). Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen). The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, Great Expectations, and David Copperfield (Charles Dickens). The Woman in White (Wilkie Collins). The Last Man (Mary Shelley). Possession (A.S. Byatt). White Teeth (Zadie Smith). The Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling). The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien). (What can I say — I majored in English.  🙂 )

France: Germinal and The Drinking Den (Emile Zola), Old Goriot and Eugene Grandet (Honoré de Balzac). The Vagabond and Claudine at School (Colette). The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas). The Plague (Albert Camus). Candide (Voltaire). (What can I say — my wife is a French professor.  🙂 )

Germany: The Night in Lisbon, Arch of Triumph, All Quiet on the Western Front, and A Time to Love and a Time to Die (Erich Maria Remarque).

India: The God of Small Things (Arundhati Roy).

Ireland: “The Dead” (James Joyce). “The Canterville Ghost” (Oscar Wilde). Gulliver’s Travels (Jonathan Swift). Dracula (Bram Stoker).

Italy: History (Elsa Morante). The Leopard (Giuseppe di Lampedusa). The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco).

New Zealand: The Luminaries (Eleanor Catton). Yellow Flowers in the Antipodean Room (Janet Frame).

Nigeria: The Interpreters (Wole Soyinka).

Russia: Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoyevsky). The Kreutzer Sonata (Leo Tolstoy). (Heck, Trump adores Russia’s authoritarian leader — wonder if the U.S. prez ever read any lit from that country? Probably not…)

Scotland: The Heart of Midlothian and Old Mortality (Sir Walter Scott). Weir of Hermiston (Robert Louis Stevenson).

Spain: Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes).

Sweden: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and the other two Millennium Trilogy books (Stieg Larsson).

What are some of your favorite fictional works from other countries? (You can of course also name nations I didn’t list.) And if you’re a commenter from outside the U.S., please feel free to include favorite works by American authors among your mentions.

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108 thoughts on “Loving Literature From Other Countries

    • Thank you, M.J.! Glad you like the list! “The God of Small Things” and “The House of the Spirits” are novels very worth reading — often-depressing but riveting.

      I definitely want to read “The Alchemist,” which has been recommended to me by several people. Your enthusiastic recommendation adds to my intent to get to it!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Read It! It is a quick, easy read and something you will never regret. The beginning is the best part of the book. I felt like it trailed off a bit as the pages got larger. Their are lines in The Alchemist that are absolutely sublime. It is a story I tell children, just like 1000 Nights and Gilgamesh, yet it has this beautiful insight and poetically prosed one-liners like no other book I can remember. I read this book for the first time, out loud to my family on a road trip. I can’t tell you how many times we stopped, took pause, and said out loud “Wow”. (like the Invisible Man, but for a different reason) Now, every time we see one at a used book store, we pick it up and give it to some one.
        Thank you MJ, I thought the same thing and was glad to see your comment all ready here. These are great Dave! Thank you!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. “Hello, excuse me,” (clearing throat) you have forgotten the small country of Austria and I am crushed. (That’s where I am from; I was born and raised in the Alps right between Italy and Austria).

    We can write too 🙂 Franz Kafka, Stefen Zweig, Rainer Maria Rilke and so many others, some even cuckcoo like Siegmund Freud. Crushed I am 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oops — a big omission on my part, nonsmokingladybug. (And one of my grandparents was from Austria!) Thanks for pointing out that omission so graciously and so drolly, and for mentioning those authors you know so well — and who are from where you live or lived. I’ve certainly read a lot of Kafka, and love his work.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post. I haven’t read many non-English novels, but one that I really enjoyed that I just finished reading was Josephus, by Lion Fuchtwanger, a German-Jewish author who wrote in the 1930s. …I would also recommend Children of the Alley, by Egyptian author Naguib Mafouz

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Joseph, for your comment and the mention of those two novels! Both sound well worth reading. Both now on my list! Just read a bit about Lion Feuchtwanger — being an anti-Nazi, German-Jewish author in the 1930s was incredibly courageous and harrowing. 😦

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  3. I would add to the list “An Indian Boyhood,” by Noel Sircar, a 1948 books that rings with my own experience as a boy in India in 1956 and 1957. Also, anything by Selma Lagerlöf, the great Swedish writer about whom my mother, whose first language was Swedish, was going to write her master’s thesis at the U. of Illinois but who got married before she could finish it.

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  4. India :
    Rabindranath Tagore, Known mostly for his poetry in other parts of the World, Won Nobel prize in literature in 1913.
    But Tagore wrote novels, essays, short stories, travelogues, dramas, and thousands of songs. Of Tagore’s prose, his short stories are perhaps most highly regarded. His works were translated in many languages and is still read all over the World.

    Trinidad :
    Sir V. S. Naipaul. known for Novel, essay,otable works A House for Mr Biswas, In a Free State, A Bend in the River,The Enigma of Arrival.
    Won Booker prize in 1971 and Nobel prize in literature in 2001 now 84.

    China :
    Pearl S. Buck known also known by her Chinese name Sai Zhenzhu.
    American writer who lived in China and wrote The Good earth, peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces won her Nobel prize in literature in 1938, also Pulitzer Prize in 1932.

    Just a few Dave, and also the wonderful list you and others have listed.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Here’s a list of favorites, which I hope does not repeat any favorites listed by others here—- ENJOY!

    Argentina: Adolfo Bioy Casares, The Invention of Morel”

    Germany: ETA Hoffmann, “The Golden Flower Pot”, “The Nutcracker”

    Italy: Giuseppe di Lampedusa, “The Leopard”

    Czechoslovakia: Jaroslav Hasek, “The Good Soldier Schweik”

    France: Stendahl, “The Charterhouse of Parma”, “The Red and the Black”

    Poland: Bruno Schulz “The Street of Crocodiles”, “Sanatorium in the Sign of the Hourglass”

    Switzerland: Robert Walzer, “The Assistant”, “The Notebooks of Jakob Von Gunten”

    Austria: Josef Roth, “The Rudetsky March”, “The Tale of the 1002nd Night”

    England: Algernon Blackwood, “Best Ghost Stories”

    Ireland: Sheridan Le Fanu, “Carmilla”, “Uncle Silas”

    Denmark: Isak Dinesen, “Seven Gothic Tales”

    Mexico: Fernandez de Lizardi, “The Itching Parrot”

    Russia: Sigismund Krzhizhanovsky, “Autobiography of a Corpse

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    • Thank you, jhNY! Given your wide reading in non-U.S. literature, I expected a great list from you — and you posted one! 🙂

      You recommended “The Leopard” to me a year or two ago, and I must say it’s one of the most beautifully written novels I’ve ever read. Lampedusa’s use of language is extraordinary.

      “The Assistant” was also a riveting read.

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    • jhNY, the depth and breadth of your knowledge never ceases to amaze me. While some of the titles are familiar to me, the only one I’ve actually read was Stendhal’s “The Red and the Black,” which I’d intended to mention in my own post, because I did like it so much that I also bought “The Charterhouse of Parma,” but it was, alas, one I never got to before much of my paperback collection was lost to a basement flood in the early 1980’s. While I’ve been able to replace many of those books, I still remember the Signet classic paperback editions, which if I recall correctly, were priced around 75 cents.

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      • The Charterhouse of Parma is a book that moves adroitly and at great speed across a fictional Lombard landscape filled with nobles, princes, poets, courtiers, servants and wardens, all beneath the long oppressive shadow of a massive prison tower, but contains beneath its glittering surface a sort of exhortation to the spontaneous exertion of vitality in pursuit of one’s desires, illusory and transitory as they are. I’ve read it twice over the last decade, each time in a different translation, and own three copies, two for the texts, one because it contains Balzac’s letter of praise for the book, which is seldom reprinted, and Stendahl’s reply, which is easier to find.

        Hope you find time and inclination to read it, as I am always happy to see another Stendahl reader among us here.

        And thanks for the compliment!

        Liked by 1 person

        • You’re quite welcome, and I’ll definitely add that to my ever-growing list of books I need to obtain. I seem to have this compulsion to actually buy a book rather than put it on an e-reader, which is fine for thrillers and even some mysteries, but there’s nothing like holding a book within one’s grasp to make it more interesting and special. I do tend to buy a book rather than get it from the library, perhaps because I have this penchant to re-read books I really love. Hence, my obsessive reading of all of Jane Austen’s books at least six times. Even now, I have at least 3 books containing “Pride and Prejudice” in my library.

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  6. Dave, as I’ve said many times, this blog is an oasis of sanity in a world that has been getting increasingly crazier by the moment. Sorry to keep harping on this disaster we’re living through right now, but I don’t honestly ever recall feeling as frightened as I was at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and how I thought we were all going to die.

    I had lunch today with one of my girlfriends who went to the March on Washington a few weekends ago (they ended up standing near Rhea Perlman and her daughters), so we spoke at length about Trump, Conway, Spicer, but the scariest one of all is Steve Bannon. I don’t know if you saw any clips from SNL last Saturday, but both the cold open with Trump and Bannon, as well as Mellissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer, were both hilarious! I saw John Oliver on Stephen Colbert’s show last night, who said we’re all running on adrenaline right now — I just hope we can keep the pressure on and not become complacent as if it really were the new normal.

    One if the bad things about being disabled and now retired is that I have more time than most to read the news and comment on it (too much perhaps). So I end up being both “Chicken Little” and then wanting to put my head in the sand, neither of which is very productive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Kat Lib! Any oasis is welcome these days. And I don’t mind at all you mentioning the alarming nature of the Trump administration. It’s what we’re all thinking about and what we’re all in despair about, and I’ve certainly mentioned Trump many times in recent blog posts after having written a mostly apolitical literature blog prior to that. He and his ilk are unavoidable. 😦

      I saw both the Trump and Spicer “SNL” clips. Absolutely hilarious and pointed — and it’s a good feeling knowing that those clips got under Trump and Spicer’s skin!

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      • I was pleasantly surprised this morning when I saw a woman stopping her car and coming up to my mailbox with a flyer in her hands. I went out to talk to her, and she turned out to be from one of two groups in my community that are forming as an “Indivisible” entity (which I hope will merge together for just one). She stopped by my place, because I have one of those “Hate Does Not Live Here” signs up to announce a kickoff meeting next weekend in the local public library. I know you mentioned before that one of your daughter’s friends had such a sign in her yard. It was reported that perhaps the borough I lived in would ban such signs, but (1) I have mine in my picture window, and (2) the American Friends Meeting place has one in their front yard, so I can’t see the Borough supporting such a ban. But who knows these days?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Nice, Kat Lib, that you had that visit — and that “Hate Does Not Live Here” signs are allowed in your borough (at least for now). I love the idea of that sign!

          My town has become a hotbed of anti-Trump, anti-extreme-Republican action, and I’ve very happy about that. 🙂

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  7. Dave, a kind of random, off-topic comment…

    The other night, for whatever reason, I wasn’t reading, and decided to see what was on TV. “Sunset Boulevard” was about to begin, so I thought why not. I’d never seen it before, knew nothing about it, and was probably expecting some kind of over the top love story. Early on there were mentions of Dickens and Dostoyevsky and Margaret Mitchell and I thought well that’s not bad. The movie of course was brilliant, and it got me thinking about when literature and film and TV and music might cross over. Have you ever done a blog about it? Considering the depth of knowledge that you and other commenters share, I think it would be fun and fascinating.

    Some other random books that I’ve thought of this week:

    Russia – “Master and Man” (Leo Tolstoy). Dave, thanks so much for recommending this. A much less tedious way of getting to Tolstoy than something like “War and Peace”.

    China – “Pavilion of Women” (Pearl S Buck). Buck is technically American, however spent a lot of her life in China, and “Pavilion of Women” is a beautiful look into twentieth century China.

    England – “Cloud Atlas” (David Mitchell). Very English in some places, very ‘different’ in others.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Sue!

      I’ve written blog posts on literary references in music, and on novels made into movies, but perhaps not quite on the cross-over topic you mentioned. (If you want to see the links to the two pieces, I’m sure I can find them — let me know. 🙂 )

      I saw “Sunset Boulevard” a long time ago (maybe in college?). It IS a brilliant, iconic movie.

      Yes, some of Tolstoy’s short stories and novellas are very powerful — without having to read many hundreds of pages. “Master and Man” is an outstanding tale.

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      • Sunset Boulevard provides most of us with the opportunity to see two silent stars for the first time: Gloria Swanson and Erich von Stroheim.

        It was not their first time working together. In the late 1920’s, Joseph Kennedy had bankrolled Von to direct Queen Kelly, starring his mistress at the time, Gloria Swanson. The plot, as conceived by the director was a twisted sort of affair, and costs were, as was standard with Von Stroheim, high. Von was fired, a sordid storyline edited out, and another ending was shot– directed by Swanson. The film was never screened in the US, but was released in Europe, with the Swanson ending. Did not recoup its costs…nowadays, there is a version sold by Kino that’s about as complete as time and clips and stills allow…

        Amazingly, amusingly– a short segment of Queen Kelly is shown in Sunset Boulevard during a Desmond screening session. It must have been hard on Von Stroheim to appear in the picture as a butler-once-director to Swanson– but perhaps by that time so many humiliations had been heaped on him that he chose one that paid him– and kept his name and image in the public eye. According to wikipedia, “by some accounts, Von Stroheim suggested the clip be used for its heavy irony.”

        Von Stroheim is my favorite director from the silent era, though many of his pictures have suffered from neglect over time. The Wedding March is excellent, and I worship at the feet of Foolish Wives. I’ve seen the Kino edition at least three times without a second being bored, and even now, after several scenes have been lost, it runs over 3 hours!

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        • jhNY, thank you so much for that info! I had no idea that so much of “Sunset Boulevard” was kind of reality. But I must confess, I’ve never even seen a silent film, and didn’t realise that they were actually successful, picturing them as kind of filling a hole until they ‘real’ things came along. I never thought of them as being ‘Hollywood’. Swanson was incredible though, and I can only imagine how much more striking she must have been without all the talking.

          Dave, I’d love a link to those other blogs if it’s no trouble for you to find them.

          Liked by 1 person

            • Thanks for those links, Dave! Sad to see no comments under the HP link, but perhaps the less said about that, the better. The other link has some great conversation about Idris Elba which I personally find fascinating, as he’s about to portray the protagonist from “The Dark Tower” which I may have mentioned in a previous comment 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

          • I recommend, if you’re interested in learning whether or not you could develop a taste for silent pictures, these films:

            The Gold Rush
            Metropolis
            The Phantom of the Opera
            Nosferatu
            The Passion of Joan of Arc
            Don Juan
            The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
            The Wedding March
            Spies
            The General

            Kino has dedicated itself to producing the most complete and clear pictures possible, and has restored many of the films above. To form your most accurate impression, it really pays to seek out the best version of a title– and in cases of pictures like Metropolis, anything available years ago was an incoherent butchery as compared to current restored versions.

            Your impressions as to the state of motion pictures before sound are understandable, and rest on a model of forward progress which was most of all fostered by the motion picture industry, but silent films were extremely successful in their time, all over the world, affording pleasure and diversion to millions, and millions to their makers.

            The list I made above is an introductory one, the films listed for their powers to attract and entertain.

            If I had to pick just one to try, it would be The Phantom of the Opera. It’s not necessarily the best one, but it’s put together like modern film in the way the plot advances, and is more than occasionally spectacular visually. Seek out the Kino, and be amazed at the early color sequences, most especially when the figure of Death strides down the Opera stairs, among other delights.

            Liked by 1 person

            • From the titles above, “Phantom” jumped out at me as I’ve enjoyed reading the novel a few times. Sadly, when it comes to obtaining movies, my technical skills reach as far as being able to turn the TV on. I also have the adaptation of “Woman in White” on my to watch list, which I think you recommended to me some time back. Eventually I will increase the skill level so I can figure out the best way to watch the movies that I really want to see, which now includes a few silent films. Thanks again

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              • It is a comfort to know someone else, anyplace, is more or less on my wavelength re the blinking devices all around us, the computer I’m typing this on excepted. I may know how to put a disc into a player, but otherwise, the present mania of eye glued to phone glued to hand has passed me happily by. I have yet to download a single iTune, nor have I ever owned a telephone unattached to the wall by wire. I do own a 78 rpm record player. In fact, I own two. Also a VCR and a couple hundred videotapes. And about 1300 lp’s. Of course, you need some 78’s to play on those players, so I’ve got a couple. Hundred.

                Truth be told, many of the silents I listed have been available to me through TCM and CUNY’s local broadcasts– in other words, I got cable. If you can see TCM, keep a weather eye open. Most, if not all the films I listed have been broadcast on that channel, and will be, sometime, again.

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  8. I love lists!

    Favourite Australians (because that’s where I’m from) include “The Life” (Malcolm Knox), “Wake in Fright” (Kenneth Cook) and “The Isles of Glory” trilogy (Glenda Larke).

    Favourite American (because that’s where you’re from) is “The Grapes of Wrath”. By a lot.

    Favourite Russian (because that’s where my favourite novel is from) is “Crime and Punishment”.

    I was going to include “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” because I thought it was from Greece or Italy or Spain, but it turns out Louis de Bernières is plain old English despite having an exotic sounding name, and writing some exotic (and quite beautiful) literature.

    Bebe, thanks for your follow up comment on last week’s topic. Unfortunately the link that you posted didn’t work, however I’m sure it was the same parody that I’ve heard on the radio. It will be interesting to see how our PM deals with your very blunt President. Of course, being politicians, I only know as much as they (and the media) want me to know. What I do find quite sad is a few months ago, this particular topic was about finally stopping the unfair detainment of people who haven’t done anything wrong, and now it’s about temper tantrums and childishness.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Glad you like lists, Sue! And thanks for listing some of your favorites — including several from your home country of Australia.

      “The Grapes of Wrath” might be my favorite American novel, too!

      As we’ve discussed, “Crime and Punishment” is absolutely riveting.

      Some author names do fool us, nationality-wise. Heck, Emile Zola, for instance, sounds as much Italian as French — and I believe one of his parents may have been originally from Italy before moving to The Land of the Croissant.

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  9. Dave, back again with my favorite novels from English writers:
    “David Copperfield,” “Bleak House” (Charles Dickens)
    “Howards End,” “A Room with a View” (E.M. Forster)
    “Brideshead Revisited” (Evelyn Waugh
    “Jane Eyre” (Charlotte Bronte)

    These are all mystery writers, and I’ll try to come up with my favorite book in each of their very extensive oeuvre (which is constantly changing):
    Agatha Christie – “And Then There Were None” because it was the first real adult mystery I remember reading other than Edgar Allan Poe’s works
    Josephine Tey – “The Daughter of Time”
    Ngaio Marsh – “Artists in Crime”
    Dorothy L. Sayers – “Gaudy Night”
    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – “Hound of the Baskervilles”

    However, my very favorite books are, of course, all six of Jane Austen’s, listed somewhat in order:
    “Persuasion”
    “Pride and Prejudice”
    “Sense and Sensibility”
    “Mansfield Park”
    “Emma”
    “Northanger Abbey”
    If I was stuck on a deserted island or somewhere and could only have one book, it would be the one that contains all six of her novels in a lovely leather-bound edition. So I guess you could call me a Janeite as well as an Anglophile!

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    • Loved your list and comment, Kat Lib — including your clever plan of having six Austen novels in one volume as your “one” island book!

      I should add that I rank Austen’s novels in the exact same order as you do. 🙂

      You mentioned many memorable books and authors. Thanks!

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  10. Hi Dave, after reading your column on Sunday night, I fell asleep trying to come up with my own list of favorite books by country. Mine will be nowhere near as extensive or varied as yours, and I’ll include my fair share of crime writers. However, I often think of these exercises as brain-teasers and a way to help keep my mind and memory from atrophying even further than it already has. :)

    Russia: “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina” (Leo Tolstoy)
    France: “The Stranger” (Albert Camus)
    Canada: The Chief Inspector Gamache series (Louise Penny) – one of my personal favorites is “How the Light Gets In”
    South Africa: “Disgrace” (J.M. Coetzee)
    Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) / Scotland: “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” and “The Sunday Philosophy Club” series (Alexander McCall Smith)
    Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) / England: “The Grass is Singing” and The Golden Notebook” (Doris Lessing)
    Norway: The Harry Hole series (Jo Nesbo)
    Sweden: “The Book of a Crime” series (Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö)
    Denmark: “Smilla’s Sense of Snow” (Peter Hoeg)
    The Netherlands: “The Dinner” (Herman Koch)

    I’m going to sign off now with this list and go to another just on England alone. I told you before that I’m an Anglophile and nowhere is that more evident than in the books I love most!

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    • Terrific list, Kat Lib! And I’m glad you named some countries I didn’t. My post definitely needed more Asia and more Africa. Most of the black writers I’ve read (and I’ve read many of them) are African-American authors.

      I’m now remembering that I’ve read two other (white) South African writers: Nadine Gordimer and Alan Paton (“Cry, the Beloved Country”).

      “Smilla’s Sense of Snow,” which you recommended a while back, was absolutely fascinating and quirky.

      I look forward to your comment containing novels by English authors!

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      • Kat Lib, I’ve also read at least two novels by Japanese authors: Murasaki Shikibu’s “The Tale of Genji” and Haruki Murakami’s “After Dark,” but didn’t include them in the post. “Genji” is very historic (a novel written about 1,000 years ago!) but kind of boring at times. And “After Dark” was good not great; I’m sure some of Murakami’s other, better-known novels are more compelling.

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        • Yes, I was also trying to come up with books from Asia, and I first looked up “Memoirs of a Geisha,” but that was written by an American and then “The Joy Luck Club,” written by a Chinese-American. There was also a crime novel written by a Japanese author (I think) called “Out!” or something like that, but I didn’t finish it so I guess it doesn’t really matter.

          This is totally off-topic, but have you read the book by Dave Barry entitled “Book of Bad Songs”? My best friend sent me her copy of it, which is her go-to book when she’s feeling stressed and/or depressed, because it’s laugh-out-loud funny. It arrived in the mail yesterday, but I didn’t start reading it until this morning and then couldn’t stop because it was so hilarious (and it’s not very long). I know we’ve talked before about how songs start playing in our heads in a loop, which is OK unless it’s a really bad one, which unfortunately there are so many of. Barry conducted a survey of the readers of his column as to what were the worst songs (pop or rock between the years 1960 and 1990) and the winner was “MacArthur Park” sung by Richard Harris with these amazing lyrics:
          “Someone left the cake out in the rain
          I don’t think I can TAKE it!
          ’cause it took so long to BAKE it!
          And I’ll never have the recipe againnn…
          Oh NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”

          You can tell how much my girlfriend and I are trying to get through this new Trumpian era by seizing on anything we can to alleviate some of the pain and make us laugh! 🙂

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          • I know there’s some great Asian literature out there, but I’ve also read so little of it, Kat Lib. I’ve gotten to two Amy Tan novels, but, as you say, that’s a Chinese-American author.

            I’ve never read a Dave Barry book, but I’ve read many, many of his columns (and have interviewed and met him a few times). He IS an absolutely hilarious writer, and, as you note, we certainly need stuff like that now.

            Some of the “MacArthur Park” lyrics are indeed corny, but overall I think it’s an excellent song. I actually have the 45 rpm single from when it came out in 1968. And of course Richard Harris had an excellent acting career — capped by playing Dumbledore in the first two “Harry Potter” movies just before he died.

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            • Well, Dave, true confession time, something I didn’t even tell my best friend. Back in 1968, I had a huge crush on Richard Harris, so I did buy the album that contained MacArthur Park (even though the lyrics were goofy). I couldn’t understand how in “Camelot” Vanessa Redgrave could choose Franco Nero over Richard Harris. Although I don’t know how I hoped this movie would have an alternate ending, especially knowing the story so well. 🙂 And he definitely made a great Dumbledore!

              By the way, I forgot that this song was written by the very prolific Jimmy Webb. Two of his songs I really love are “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress” and “If These Walls Could Speak.”

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              • Well, Richard Harris was definitely crush-worthy! I also liked him in another very late career role — playing Abbé Faria in the 2002 “Count of Monte Cristo” movie.

                Jimmy Webb did write many songs, some of them terrific. In addition to the ones you mentioned, there’s also “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman,” “The Worst That Could Happen,” “Up, Up, and Away,” etc.

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              • An older running buddy of mine was going through much pain as his wife divorced him, and I’d like to think it was distress, and not merely questionable taste, that inspired him to take MacArthur Park to his breast that long summer when every hour you could count on the radio to broadcast another play– at which point he’d look out the car window wistfully and mouth along to just those clumsy lyrics about the rainy cake. I have always been proud, as a mere teen, to have resisted laughing nearly every time the faraway look came into his eyes as Richard Harris sorta sang (he seems to have learned much about singing as rhythmic declaration from Rex Harrison) his unlikely hit.

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                • jhNY, a wry comment with an element of sadness (your friend’s reaction to his divorce). Yes, “MacArthur Park” was far from a “cool” song, but somehow it worked for me. I was also impressed that a single getting lots of radio airplay in 1968 could be that long (more than seven minutes). Most singles in those days were still in the 2-3-minute range.

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                  • ‘Twas a bit much, that one, an emotional baroquism that stretched metaphorically, more than it should have, I always thought. Proof: the fusion of cake and park– ‘MacArthur Park is melting in the dark/ all the sweet green icing flowing down’ leaving the listener with what I think he’d be wise to dread, whatever the occasion: a green cake or worse, by far, a melting park.

                    Yes it was seven long minutes, a rarity. (The first big hit that sneaked past the old 3 minutes and a few seconds rule was The Animals’ House of the Rising Sun– and they did it by falsifying the time of their recording on the label.)

                    from wikipedia:
                    ‘The Jimmy Webb-penned “MacArthur Park” is popularly held as the worst song ever written.In 1992, Miami Herald journalist Dave Barry conducted a poll among his readers who selected the Harris original as the worst track ever recorded, both in terms of “Worst Lyrics” and “Worst Overall Song”. Barry commented: “[I]t’s hard to argue with survey respondents who chose it as the worst.”‘

                    Of course, that was before most of our present crop of warbling emoters and emotional shouters were penning the hits whose names I don’t even know, and whose melodies, if any, I cannot recall even after several uninvited hearings. I have every faith a worse song has been written since 1992.

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                    • Interesting, jhNY, and I loved the droll writing. “MacArthur Park” is definitely deserving of some ridicule, but, if I thought about it long enough, I think I could come up with hundreds of worse songs. 🙂

                      Didn’t know that about “House of the Rising Sun”! Great piece of musical trivia!

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                • jhNY, you were a good friend to let those moments pass by. I happened to check out Donna Summer’s version of the song, which was another Billboard chart topper. I’m not a big fan of disco music, but I always thought she was a great singer and did much more justice to that song than Harris.

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                  • I spent a half hour with Donna Summer in 1976 at designer Norma Kamali’s studio, during the little while I was involved in fashion photography. Summer was at the height of her fame, yet seemed unaffected and even sweet as she leafed through my partner’s book of shoots, commenting whenever she saw something she liked, sometimes only with a lovely smile. She was a fine singer, certainly, but even in that half hour I sensed there was a little more to her than was on public view, then or later.

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                    • How interesting.
                      We moved to nashville in 2002 from Overland park Kansas City. Before we moved , the first time we visited Nashville, the driver could not stop talking about Donna Summer , what a sweet lady she was . friendly, kind and what not. That time Ms. Summer moved to Nashville.

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      • Hi Sue, No, I haven’t read him, although I do have a copy of “The Brothers Karamazov” on the shelf right in back of me. Through the years I’ve tried to make it a point to have a library of classic literature, but of course I’ve yet to get to some of them. I chose this one over “Crime and Punishment,” because it was one of my father’s favorites, back in the day when he read really long novels such as Michener. I think these days, particularly since I’ve had so many medical problems the past six years, my attention span isn’t as good as it used to be, and I also feel intimidated by long novels (even though I’m a fast reader). Perhaps I feel anxious about the plight of the country, and its future, under a certifiably insane narcissist,

        Anyway, if I should ever read Dostoevsky, which one would you recommend? I’m sure you’ve mentioned before, but I can’t remember. 🙂

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        • I realize you’re asking Sue, Kat Lib, but I’d go with “Crime and Punishment.” More intense and more compact than “The Brothers Karamazov” — which is fantastic but kind of uneven. I look forward to hearing Sue’s take!

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          • I see above that Sue mentioned “Crime and Punishment” as her favorite; however, I know that sometimes I’ll recommend to someone another book by an author over one of my personal favorites. Thanks, Dave, for you input as well!

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            • You’re welcome, Kat Lib! And I know what you mean about sometimes recommending a novel by an author other than one’s favorite novel by that author — perhaps a shorter one to see first if the “recommendee” likes that author.

              BTW, I was just at the library and finally found a Liane Moriarty novel there — “The Hynotist’s Love Story”! You, Sue, Ana, and others recommended that author, if I’m remembering right. Beautiful sky-blue cover. 🙂 Looking forward to reading it!

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              • Goodness, Dave. I knew there was one country I missed — Australia, of course! I was going to mention Liane Moriarty and say anything written by her. The book you got from the library isn’t one of my favorites, but it was very intriguing and it should give you a flavor of her writing style that keeps me glued to the pages from start to finish.

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                • Of all the countries to forget!! Once I’m done with my Stephen King fix, I’ll be reading my first Moriarty, as well as Thomas Keneally’s “Schindler’s Ark”. I didn’t plan to have an Aussie binge, but it’s funny how that works out sometimes.

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        • Kat Lib, I completely understand about being intimidated by particular novels. Until recently the only Russian I’d read was Tolstoy, who I just don’t get. So when “Crime and Punishment” came up on a To Read list, I was apprehensive, but it’s BRILLIANT. I seriously can’t recommend it enough. It is long, and it is intense, but it was so easy and pleasurable to read. In fact probably the most pleasurable classic I’ve ever read, with perhaps “Pride and Prejudice” being second. I found that I had to keep a character list in the beginning, mostly because the Russian names can be confusing, but the pages quickly started to turn themselves. I haven’t read “The Brothers Karamazov yet, however the worst thing I’ve ever heard about it is that it’s not quite as good as “C&P” so that’s pretty high on my list too!

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          • Sue (and Dave), that’s quite a recommendation, and I’ll put “C&P” on my “wish list” at Barnes & Noble the next time I earn a gift card, although I’ve spent (in my head) that $25.00 about 10 times since I got my last one. As I’ve mentioned before, I took a course in Tolstoy in college so I was very motivated to read many of his works and somehow remember all the names and enjoyed them all very much, especially “War and Peace.” Though I must admit that the military passages could get tedious at times. I seem to recall that my professor for that course had done a translation of another Russian author’s work and it may well have been Dostoevsky. For the life of me I can’t remember his name. From just a little bit I read on Dostoevsky novels, the translator happens to mean quite a lot. Sue and Dave, is there a specific translation you’d recommend? The copy of “The Brothers Karamazov” is done by Constance Garnett.

            Sue, so sorry I didn’t remember Australia in my original list. I can’t believe that I did that! 🙂 BTW, have you heard anything there about possible film adaptions of Moriarty’s novels. I read somewhere that Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon had optioned the rights to “Big Little Lies.”

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            • Wish I could recommend a specific translated version of “Crime and Punishment,” but I don’t own the book. I borrowed it from the library a year or two ago when I reread it, but don’t remember the translator. Actually, it might have been a wife-and-husband team? Whoever it was, a great job was done!

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            • It’s ok. I, and the rest of my country will forgive you 🙂

              I’ve actually seen ads for a TV show (I think) adaptation of “Big Little Lies”. It’s on a channel that I don’t have access to, so I won’t be able to watch it, but it looks quite glamourous. Not that Kidman or Witherspoon look like trolls so that probably helps!

              I have both a paper and electronic copy of “Crime and Punishment” but I’m not sure who translated either of them. It will be interesting when I come to the paperback whether it reads any differently than the electronic copy.

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            • I am almost certain scholars would recommend another, more recent translation than Constance Garnett’s. I have such a one, but can’t get at it, as it’s stuck behind stuff.

              Constance Garnett’s work though, while not necessarily the best available, often has historical significance. That’s certainly the case with her version of Turgenev’s A Sportsman’s Sketches– that book affected Hemingway deeply, and it’s good to have it (I do), if just to see what got Hemingway going. I’d guess her translation of C+P was likewise influential when it first appeared, but like I said, it’s probably not the best translation out by now.

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              • The version of “C&P” that I’ve read is translated by Constance Garnett. I haven’t read any others, so can’t compare, however I know that it was brilliant, though Dostoevsky may have had something to do with that!

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                • Not long ago, in a review of recent translations from Russian, I think in the Times Literary Supplement, Garnett’s name came up, and someone gave her a compliment of sorts: her translations, the interviewee opined were works of art on their own, but not particularly good as translations.

                  Of course, youth must have its day, and in part Garnett suffers today from having done nearly all her work– and there is a lot of it– before 1930. Surely, the argument would go, someone could do/ has done a better job, which should supplant hers. She also has her defenders in our own time, more or less, so Garnett is hardly unappreciated, as I learned from her wikipedia entry.

                  But she suffers, critically, from the low opinion of at least two Russians of note: Vladimir Nabokov and Joseph Brodsky, the latter writing, as I also learned from the wikipedia entry,

                  “The reason English-speaking readers can barely tell the difference between Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky is that they aren’t reading the prose of either one. They’re reading Constance Garnett.”

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                  • My copy of “Anna Karenina” is also translated by Garnett, and I must confess, it reads VERY differently to “Crime and Punishment”. Sadly, there is no translator acknowledged on my copy of “War and Peace” which I know I really didn’t enjoy. But I wonder if it was a bad translation? Sadly, with its length, and difficulty to read, I won’t ever try again, even if I learnt Russian and the translation didn’t matter. And if I recall correctly, Nabokov wasn’t a fan of Dostoyesky, so I take his opinions with a grain of salt.

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                    • No doubt Nabokov was no fan at all of Mr. D., but on the topic at hand, his objections had to do with the translator.

                      I have a few prints in my house collected over the years on a common theme: illustrations of things unseen by the illustrator, who nonetheless represents his conception, usually derived from reading– I’ve got a print from 1705 of a pyramid and the sphinx, but neither really looks like either. I’ve got another of Egyptian hieroglyphics, as imagined by an illustrator who had never glimpsed the real things. And another, of the Hindu god Ganesha, again made without benefit of the artist having seen any Indian art representation of the deity. Let’s just say you can tell what these items are meant to be, all of them, but they only vaguely resemble the items themselves– sometimes to somewhat comic effect. I’ve spent as much time reading things in translation from many parts of the world as I have spent reading things originally in English, my sole language. I sometimes think, a little fearfully, that translations, even good ones, are more than a little like my little collection of prints.

                      It’s certainly possible to prefer so-called inferior translations to those considered better by experts. My wife has never enjoyed The Tales of Genji more than when she read Arthur Whaley’s abridged translation. She’s tried newer better ones, but they took something away from her enjoyment of Whaley’s, without adding much to her appreciation of Murasaki.

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                    • Hmm…maybe I didn’t read a great translation of “The Tale of Genji,” which for me had its interesting moments and its boring moments. Of course, that might also have had something to do with the author penning that novel a thousand years ago with perhaps not a lot of writing experience.

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              • Yes, I think you’re right, jhNY; I’ve not read anything good about Constance Garnett’s translations. I no longer have the paperback editions of most of the works I read in my course on Tolstoy back in 1970 (can it possibly be that long ago?), but I’d suspect they were translated by Aylmer and Louise Maude.

                Dave, as I was looking up my reference to J.M. Coetzee’s book “Disgrace,” I saw that he actually attended my alma mater as a grad student (on a Fulbright program) at the University of Texas at Austin, earning his PhD in 1969, just as I transferred there as an English major. I did start out as a History major, because UT didn’t accept my having passed out of Freshman English at Drake University, so they insisted on my taking that for a year before I could take any upper level courses. This of course would have added another year before I could graduate, so I switched my major to something that needed fewer credits. Just my own piece of literary trivia. 🙂

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  11. My Name is Red; Orhan Pamuk. The Nobel Prize, two years before I read the book. I read it in April ’08: http://www.librarything.com/work/2744/summary/29368760, gave it 4.5 / 5. where only (5 books get a 5, 20 a 4.5, etc.. no rating inflation here) and I said then:

    ! i was attracted to this author as i’d two years in Turkey, and wanted to believe literature could happen there. a fantastic insight to what troubles the mid-east about the west; the notion we (the west) still represent those “frankish views” must still trouble a great deal of the population. i remember, duing my stay, a farmer who received hail damage attributed his hail-damage crop failure to the russians and americans poking holes in the sky with all our space probes. the story received national coverage, and while poling wasn’t anything like we have today, it was reported as widely believed to be true.

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  12. Hi Dave … Thank you for the very well-rounded list (I’ve always been a chronic list-maker, so that format is fine with me). The first work that came to mind as I read your post was Oscar Wilde’s “The Portrait of Dorian Gray” (England). It was first published in 1890. I find this book as relevant today as when it was published. However narcissistic the world may have been back then, self-absorption seems to be pervasive nowadays, Maybe it’s always been that way, and now it’s just more blatant. I’m not sure. Anyway, for whatever reason, “The Portrait of Dorian Gray” seemed to be right at the front of my brain this morning.

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    • Thanks, Pat! I wouldn’t make a habit of lists, but maybe once in a great while…

      The Oscar Wilde novel you mentioned IS memorable, and it seems ripe for rereading with today’s relevance in mind. Compared to 1890, there are so many more avenues — social media, TV, etc. — to express narcissism in 2017. Perhaps that’s why it seems more blatant today. As you allude to, there have always been self-absorbed people — with the more powerful ones (such as kings) doing incredible damage even before the world became wired.

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    • Thanks, Frank! I agree about Tolkien’s work. So engrossing. Also hilarious at times — especially “The Hobbit.” I’ve reread “The Hobbit” and the even better “The Lord of the Rings” several times, and was never bored.

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  13. The Elegance of the Hedgehog (French: L’Élégance du hérisson) is a novel by the French novelist and professor of philosophy Muriel Barbery

    Beautiful, touching story about a widowed concierge called Rene and a very smart 13 year old girl Paloma he befriends in his building in Paris.

    Also thinking of an important book on my bookshelf that I will read at some point. “Suite Francaise” The author, Irene Nemirovsky, was a Russian Jew who wrote this while living in occupied France. This is an unfinished work by a Russian-French author who died in Auschwitz before she could complete what she was hoping would be a novel-opus written in the style of a piece of music.

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    • Thank you for the interesting mentions of those two books, Michele!

      I love the title of “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” — and it does sound like that novel has a wonderful story line. On my to-read list!

      What a tragedy — the killings of Irene Nemirovsky and millions of others in Nazi concentration camps. And the U.S. in 2017 now has its own white supremacist “Christian” leader always looking for bogus scapegoats. 😦

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    • I’ve read Suite Francaise, and enjoyed it, though not as well as I had hoped– yes, it is written by a Russian Jew, but a highly assimilated one, who wrote in French, and managed over the course of several hundred pages (admittedly, unedited, unexpanded pages from what were likely to have been early drafts, had she more time) to not write about a single Jewish person, young, old , rich or poor.

      Her most famous novel in her own lifetime was a harsh portrait of a Jewish banker and his family. Her father was a banker. In the late 1930’s, Irene Nemerovsky converted to Catholicism, and wrote for ultra-nationalist French periodicals. The state eventually proved ungrateful, and she was sent to a camp. Seems to me she was most uncomfortable in her own skin, possibly because she was made to be, by society and historical circumstance.

      BUT there is no other fictional account of the great movement of the sensibly fearful away from the sound of German guns in the early days of the invasion, or so I’ve read. And she does manage to capture very well the extemporaneous, anarchic, desperate actions of many very different sorts of people in that period on paper, and after, when the novel concerns itself with the doings of French citizens and German occupiers in a small town.

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  14. Loved your list, Dave, and agree with it.

    It is hard to imagine that a nation with so much promise and opportunities for being excellent could have done such an ignorant, foolish thing as elect a pawn of the far right, ignorant, self-serving, self-enriching extremists. Those who pretend to themselves and lie to themselves that they “believe in” something coming out of the minds of these extremists in Congress and now the White House, will not be served up on a singular platter as the only edible red meat, but the rest of us will be served up, too. That is the main horror to come out of this election nightmare. This nation may not ever recover from what “his” buzz word ruling is already doing, but most certainly will do to us in the coming months. I don’t know whether to pull my money out of the market now, and take my cash and belongings up to Canada or to stay and try and weather the storm. But one thing I know for sure, this COUNTRY is FIRST only in stupidity right now. I am ashamed of my Congress and this President. God help us. We are a nation on the brink, and don’t even understand that fact. How much more foolish and ignorant can we become? The world is laughing and then crying for us. I am only crying.

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    • Thank you, hopewfaith, for both your kind words and for your eloquent take on what’s happening in the U.S. I totally agree. I was particularly taken by your line “this COUNTRY is FIRST only in stupidity right now.” So true. Trump, the people in his administration, the Republican-controlled Congress, etc., are a toxic combination of unqualified and heartless. And any non-rich Trump voter who believed that Trump was a real populist was delusional. The guy lives in gilded mansions, stiffed his workers, is against increasing the minimum wage, didn’t pay federal taxes that could have helped pay for this country’s necessary services, etc. Some populist.

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