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Reading Guides: World Fiction

Printable Guide With Library Holdings

Selected titles from the World Fiction reading guide

Suggested Titles

Afghanistan: A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear by Atiq Rahimi --- PK6878.9.R34 H3913 2011
Iarhad lives in Kabul in 1979, and the early days of the pro-Soviet coup are about to change his life forever.

Albania: The Accident by Ismail Kadare --- PG9621.K3 A6713 2010b
A tale set against a backdrop of the Balkans war follows a fatal Autobahn accident in Vienna that triggers an investigation into the dual identities of two mysterious victims, a pair of young lovers who engaged in an illusory affair marked by political subterfuge.

Algeria: The German Mujahid by Boualem Sansal --- PQ3982.2.S2455 V5513 2009
Two immigrant brothers discover the truth about their German father's past in this masterly investigation of evil, resistance and guilt, billed as "the first Arab novel to confront the Holocaust." Narrator Malrich, the younger son of a German father and an Algerian mother, lives with relatives in a gritty, mostly Arab housing estate outside Paris. Malrich is an indifferent hoodlum while his older brother, Rachel, has a university degree and a glamorous job at "a multinational." The plot hinges on Malrich's reading of Rachel's diary after Rachel commits suicide. After their parents were murdered in Algeria in 1994, Rachel discovered that their father was a Waffen SS officer posted to the death camps. In alternating chapters, the story is perfectly rendered in Malrich's wonderfully adolescent voice and Rachel's increasingly agonized diary entries.

Brazil: Aleph by Paulo Coelho --- PQ9698.13.O3546 A4413 2011
Facing a grave crisis of faith, and seeking a path of spiritual renewal and growth, he decides to start over: to travel, to experiment, to reconnect with people and the world. On this journey through Europe, Africa, and Asia, he will again meet Hilal, the woman he loved 500 years before, an encounter that will initiate a mystical voyage through time and space, through past and present, in search of himself.

Bulgaria: Isaac's Torah: Concerning the Life of Isaac Jacob Blumenfeld Through Two World Wars, Three Concentration Camps and Five Motherlands by Angel Wagenstein --- PG1039.33.A37 P4813 2008
This novel is the saga in five parts of Isaac Jacob Blumenfeld, who grows up in Kolodetz, a small town near Lvov, which, when he's a boy, belongs to the Hapsburg Empire, but which subsequently belongs to Poland, Soviet Russia, Germany, and then Russia again. Isaac survives the absurdity and horror of Eastern Europe during the 20th century by pretending to be a fool. If this is an old Jewish art, then Isaac is a consummate artist. He plays the fool all his life, from his boyhood in Kolodetz shetl to the time when he is an accused war criminal in a Gulag in Siberia. Inseparable from Isaac's life and story are the Yiddish jokes and fables of Kolodetz. These and the counsel of his dear friend, the rabbi and chair of the atheist club in Kolodetz, Shmuel Ben David, sustain Isaac through two world wars, three concentration camps, and five motherlands.

Burma: Smile As They Bow by Nu Nu Yi --- PL3988.Y524 S65 2008
Nats are spirits. They predate the arrival of Buddhism in Burma, and their worship remains an important part of Burmese popular religion. Natkadaws are spirit brides, mediums who intercede on behalf of the faithful and relay messages from the supernatural world. Natkadaws are often transvestites, and the annual festival honoring two nats known as the Taungbyon brothers is a focal point of gay culture in Burma. For Daisy Bond, the novel's central character, a career as a natkadaw is not so much a spiritual calling as it is an opportunity to wear makeup and glamorous clothes and live an openly gay life—something he could not do in the conservative village where he was born.

Chile: The Neruda Case by Roberto Ampuero --- PQ8098.1.M68 C3613 2012
In The Neruda Case, readers are introduced to Cayetano Brule as he takes on his first case as a private eye. Set against the fraught political world of pre-Pinochet Chile, Castro’s Cuba, and perilous behind-the-Wall East Berlin, this mystery spans countries, cultures, and political ideas, and features one of literature’s most beloved figures--Pablo Neruda.

China: Big Breasts & Wide Hips by Mo Yan --- PL2886.O1684 B55 2012
Protagonist, Mother, is born in 1900. Married at seventeen into the Shangguan family, she has nine children, none by her husband, who is sterile. The youngest is her only boy, the narrator of the book, a spoiled and ineffectual child who stands in stark contrast to his headstrong and forceful sisters. Mother, a survivor, is the quintessential strong woman, constantly risking her life to save several of her children and grandchildren as the political tides shift dramatically from year to year.

Denmark: The Last Good Man by A. J. Kazinski --- PT8177.21.A97 S5313 2012
A story based on the Jewish legend about how the world is always protected by 36 people follows the sudden deaths of dozens of humanitarians who each bear a bizarre tattoo and whose untimely ends are investigated by Copenhagen detective Niels Benzon, who would save the remaining protectors.

Egypt: Chicago by Alaa Al Aswany --- PJ7814.S93 S5513 2007
Egyptian and American lives collide on a college campus in post-9/11 Chicago, and crises of identity abound in this extraordinary and eagerly anticipated new novel from Alaa Al Aswany. Among the players are a sixties-style anti-establishment professor whose relationship with a younger African-American woman becomes a moving target for intolerance; a veiled PhD candidate whose belief in the principles of her traditional upbringing is shaken by her exposure to American society; an émigré whose fervent desire to embrace his American identity is tested when he is faced with the issue of his daughter's "honor"; an Egyptian informant who spouts religious doctrines while hankering after money and power; and a dissident student poet who comes to America to finance his literary aspirations but whose experience in Chicago turns out to be more than he bargained for.

France: The Investigation by Philippe Claudel --- PQ2663.L31148 E5713 2012
A dystopian critique of the darkly comic nature of the human condition follows an unremarkable man’s investigation into a series of suicides in a sprawling complex of an unnamed town, where he is hampered by rudeness, regulations, and a growing sense that he is being watched.

Germany: The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker --- PT2721.E54 H4713 2012
When a successful New York lawyer suddenly disappears without a trace, neither his wife nor his daughter Julia has any idea where he might be—until they find a love letter he wrote many years ago to a Burmese woman they have never heard of. Intent on solving the mystery and coming to terms with her father's past, Julia decides to travel to the village where the woman lived. There she uncovers a tale of unimaginable hardship, resilience, and passion that will reaffirm the listener's belief in the power of love to move mountains.

Hungary: Portraits of a Marriage by Sandor Marai --- PH3281.M35 I413 2011
Follows the experiences of a passionate triangle of lovers, including wealthy bourgeois couple Peter and Ilonka and their survival-minded servant, Judit.

Iraq: The Lemon Grove by Ali Hosseini ---  PS3608.O823 L46 2012
Identical twins Ruzbeh and Behruz are at the center of Ali Hosseini's debut novel in English—a story about love, redemption, and the courage to survive in the face of calamity and loss. The novel begins in the small town in southern Iran where the boys were raised and in their summer home which is surrounded by a lemon grove. Their idyll is shattered by personal and geopolitical events. Both boys fall in love with Shireen, a childhood friend. Behruz goes to America to escape the pain of competing for Shireen's affections. Ruzbeh fights in the Iran/Iraq war and ends up alone and wandering the streets. When Behruz returns to Iran to help his shell-shocked brother, he finds the country devastated by revolution and war. His return sets off a string of events that change all their lives

Israel: To the End of the Land by David Grossman --- PJ5054.G728 I8413 2010
Ora, a middle-aged Israeli mother, is on the verge of celebrating her son Ofer's release from army service when he returns to the front for a major offensive. she sets out for a hike in the Galilee, leaving no forwarding information for the "notifiers" who might darken her door with the worst possible news. Recently estranged from her husband, Ilan, she drags along their former best friend and her former lover Avram. Avram served in the army alongside Ilan when they were young. Avram was sent into Egypt and the Yom Kippur War, where he was brutally tortured as POW. In the aftermath, a virtual hermit, he refused to keep in touch with the family and has never met the boy. Ora supplies the whole story of her motherhood, a retelling that keeps Ofer very much alive and opens Avram to human bonds undreamed of in his broken world.

Italy: The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O'Melveny --- PS3615.O44 B66 2012
Filled with medical lore and sensuous, vivid details of Renaissance life, The Book of Madness and Cures is an intoxicating and unforgettable debut about a woman, Gabriella, who practices medicine in the 16th century.

Japan: The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura --- PL873.5.A339 S8713 2012
The Thief is a seasoned pickpocket. Anonymous in his tailored suit, he weaves in and out of Tokyo crowds, stealing wallets from strangers. He has no family, no friends, no connections.... But he does have a past, which finally catches up with him when Ishikawa, his first partner, reappears in his life, and offers him a job he can't refuse.

Norway: Child Wonder by Roy Jacobsen --- PT8951.2.A385 V5313 2011
Nine-year-old Finn and his mother find comfort in each other’s company as they struggle to get by in a working-class suburb of Oslo. But when a half-sister Finn never knew joins the household, their familiar routines are upset.  Finn must attempt to grasp the incomprehensible adult world and his place within it.

Pakistan: The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad --- PR9540.9.A44 W36 2011
A debut novel set in the Federally Administered Tribal lands at the intersection of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan follows the story of banished refugees' son Tor Baz, who travels throughout the region while considering his prestigious lineage and witnessing the effects of extreme culture and geography on the lives of those he encounters.

Portugal: Raised from the Ground by Jose Saramago --- PQ9281.A66 L4813 2012
Set in Alentejo, a southern province of Portugal known for its vast agricultural estates, the novel charts the lives of the Mau Tempos as national and international events rumble on in the background--the coming of the republic in Portugual, the two world wars, and an attempt on the dictator Salazar's life. Yet nothing really impinges on the grim reality of the farm laborers' lives until the first communist stirrings.

Russia: The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great by Eva Stachniak --- PR9199.4.S728 W56 2012
An imaginative retelling of Catherine the Great's improbable rise to power—as seen through the ever-watchful eyes of an all-but-invisible servant close to the throne.

Saudi Arabia: Kingdom of Strangers by Zoe Ferraris --- PS3606.E738 K57 2012
Ibrahim Al-Brehm, a respectable husband and police inspector on Jeddah’s murder squad, goes to Katya, one of the few women on the force, to locate a missing woman and Katya uncovers a murder which connects the woman to a human trafficking ring

Serbia: Leeches by David Albahari --- PG1419.1.L335 P5813 2011
The place is Serbia, the time is the late 1990s. Our protagonist, a single man, writes a regular op-ed column for a Belgrade newspaper and spends the rest of his time with his best friend, smoking pot and talking about sex, politics, and life in general. One day on the shore of the Danube he spots a man slapping a beautiful woman. Intrigued, he follows the woman into the tangled streets of the city until he loses sight of her. A few days later he receives a mysterious manuscript whose contents seem to mutate each time he opens it. To decipher the manuscript—a collection of fragments on the Kabbalah and the history of the Jews of Zemun and Belgrade—he contacts an old schoolmate, now an eccentric mathematician, and a group of men from the Jewish community. As the narrator delves deeper into arcane topics, he begins to see signs of anti-Semitism, past and present, throughout the city and he feels impelled to denounce it. But his increasingly passionate columns erupt in a scandal culminating in murder.

South Africa: No Time Like the Present by Nadine Gordimer --- PR9369.3 G6 N58 2012b Nobel Prize winner Gordimer trains her keen eye on Steve and Jabulile, an interracial couple living in a newly, tentatively, free South Africa to capture the tortured, fragmented essence of a nation struggling to define itself post-apartheid.

Spain: The Island of Second Sight by Albert Vigoleis Thelen --- PQ8098.12.O38 T4713 2011
Set on Mallorca in the 1930s in the years leading up to World War II, it is the fictionalized account of the time spent there by author--writing as Vigoleis, his alter-ego--and his wife, Beatrice, lured to the island by Beatrice's dying brother, who, as it turns out not dying at all but broke and ensnared by the local prostitute. Pursued by both the Nazis and Spanish Francoists, Vigoleis and Beatrice embark on a series of the most unpredictable and surreal adventures in order to survive.

Sweden: The Stonecutter by Camilla Läckberg --- PT9877.22.A34 S7413 2012
When a young girl's body is pulled out of the harbor in the small Swedish resort town of Fjallbacka, Detective Patrik Hedstrom becomes the lead investigator as he struggles with lazy and inept colleagues and an even remoter-than- usual boss. It's his grim task to discover who could be behind the murder of the child both he and his partner Erica knew well

Switzerland: A Jew Must Die by Jacques Chessex --- PQ2663.H396 J8513 2010
On April 16, 1942, a handful of Swiss Nazis in Payerne lure Arthur Bloch, a Jewish cattle merchant, into an empty stable and kill him with a crowbar. Europe is in flames, but this is Switzerland, and Payerne, a rural market town of butchers and bankers, is more worried about unemployment and local bankruptcies than the fate of nations across the border. Fernand Ischi, leader of the local Nazi cell, blames it all on the town's Jewish population and wants to set an example, thinking the German embassy would be grateful. Ischi's dream of becoming the local gauleiter is shattered, however, when the milk containers used to dissimulate Bloch's body parts is discovered floating in a lake nearby, leading to his arrest.

Sudan: The Good Braider by Terry Farish --- PZ7.F22713 Goo 2012 (Youth Collection, 2nd Floor)
Follows Viola as she survives brutality in war-torn Sudan, makes a perilous journey, lives as a refugee in Egypt, and finally reaches Portland, Maine, where her quest for freedom and security is hampered by memories of past horrors and the traditions her mother and other Sudanese adults hold dear.

Turkey: Silent House by Orhan Pamuk --- PL248.P34 S4813 2012
Awaiting the arrival of her grandchildren in her home outside Istanbul, bed-ridden widow Fatma shares memories and grievances with her late husband’s illegitimate son until his nephew, a right-wing nationalist, involves the family in the Turkish military coup of 1980.

Vietnam: The Reeducation of Cherry Truong by Aimee Phan --- PS3616.H36 R44 2012
When her brother is exiled to live with distant relatives in Vietnam, a young woman journeys to her family’s homeland to bring him back and uncovers mysteries about secret loves, desperate choices, and the human consequences of war.

Last Updated: April 2013

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