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No One Writes to the Colonel (El coronel no tiene quien le escriba) and Other Stories by Gabriel García Márquez (1961, M) – GGM is famous for magical realism, but that doesn’t mean that he’s only as good as One Hundred Years of Solitude. Try this collection of realist short stories (no insomniac towns, traveling blood, or women rising up to the heavens above) and you’ll realize that the man is indeed a master of the written word. The last story can’t help
Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) by José Rizal (1887, H) – I had a little trouble with this entry because this is required reading in Philippine high schools. But this isn’t internationally popular like those European or Latin American or Japanese novels. And how about reading this for pleasure and in a translation other than Filipino (in my case, English)? Or better yet, how about in Spanish?
Number9Dream by David Mitchell (2001, M) – Eiji Miyake has never met his father. He goes on a journey to come to good terms with his past. This coming of age novel intersperses reality with fantasy. Plot narration is interwoven with journal entries and children’s stories. Any David Mitchell novel would perfectly fit on this list, but there’s an added bonus for this book: you’d find yourself humming “Was it all a dream, it seems so real to me….”
Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald (1979, H) – A small, tightly knit community of people living on boats. People who don’t belong to the land or to the sea. People who are displaced. It’s a short novel that packs a wallop, like a tidal wave arriving so suddenly and leaving you rather senseless on a shore of awe.
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Odin den’ Ivana Denisovicha) by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1962, L) – A prison novel that shows us the daily humdrum in the life of the eponymous character. From day to night, the reader gets a tour of what’s it like to work in frigid temperatures with stomachs fed only by stale bread and tepid soup. This is a tale of the human spirit’s resilience despite the seemingly insurmountable adversities minus the melodrama.
A Personal Matter (Kojinteki na taiken) by Kenzaburō Ōe (1964, H) – Bird is about to be a father. When his son is finally born, he finds out that the infant is severely deformed. He runs away from the responsibility of raising the child. He loses his job, wastes himself on alcohol, revives an affair with a former lover, and spirals down to the abyss of his unknown dark self. This is made of pretty strong stuff and is a definite representative of great Japanese literature.
The Piano Teacher (Die Klavierspielerin) by Elfriede Jelinek (1983, H) – Erika Kohut teaches the piano at the Vienna Conservatory. She is strict, austere, and rather conservative. But that’s just the surface. When she is left to herself, outside the circle of music teachers and students, she goes to peep shows and seeks to rebel. She writes a long letter to one of her students, telling him of her masochistic desires. Pornographic or not, the tension it gives the reader is worth the time.
Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion (1970, M) – Maria Wyeth is a so-so actress who is now recovering in a mental institution. The novel is made up of short chapters as if they were snippets of conversations or flashes of memory. Decadence surrounds Maria, and this doesn’t help as she spirals down to her breakdown. What is her purpose? Don’t ask.
Possession by A. S. Byatt (1990, L) – What would this list be if there were no entry about literary scholars researching the private lives of literary heroes? Present day academicians Roland and Maud discover a seemingly innocuous letter that leads them to unearth the secret love affair between Victorian poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte. This is a real thrill of a literary mystery, replete with all the requisite Victorian poetry.
Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow (1975, L) – A big novel with at least three plot lines, this is a fun book where you get to see historical figures from the 1900s interact with fictional characters. There’s Houdini meditating on his fame, JP Morgan being told off by Henry Ford, Freud and Jung in Coney Island, and more. It almost resists interpretation and this is why it’s irresistible.
Stay tuned for Part 7.
Format: [Title] ([Original Title]) by [Author] ([Publication Year, LSS Meter Level])
This is part of the Literary Snobbery Series (LSS).