“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Leo Tolstoy is the king of the Russian greats and his over 1200 page book War and Peace is one of the longest novels in the world which deserves anyone applause when completed. The book is set in 1812 when Napoleon unsuccessfully attempted to invade Russia. The story follows 2 couples as they get married, husbands go to war and the feelings of the Russian aristocracy during this period.
“The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience.”
Gutave Flaubert’s was put on trial for obscenity when Madame Bovary first came out in 1856 but the trial only made the book more popular and it became a best seller by 1857. It is a poignant book about a woman who wants more from life yet in 19th century France the only alternative open to her was to move from man to man to achieve this.
“Deep down, all the while, she was waiting for something to happen. Like a sailor in distress, she kept casting desperate glances over the solitary waster of her life, seeking some white sail in the distant mists of the horizon. She had no idea by what wind it would reach her, toward what shore it would bear her, or what kind of craft it would be – tiny boat or towering vessel, laden with heartbreaks or filled to the gunwhales with rapture.”
Dostoyevsky is the second Russian author on this list with Crime and Punishment written around the same time as Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The book is about a student who kills a devious pawnbroker for her cash. He does this to prove his theory that some people are naturally capable of murder and that some murders are justifiable if they result in good.
“Power is given only to him who dares to stoop and take it … one must have the courage to dare.”
Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things deals with those perpetual themes that have existed since the beginning of time. In this sensitive attempt to touch the forbidden topics of social discrimination, social caste system, and non-acceptable love, she – the social activist in her -brings alive how these issues are still deeply intertwined in current day India.
“lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much”
Naguib Mahfouz is a Nobel prize winner in Literature and the Cairo Trilogy is one of his prime works. The series consists of; Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Walk which were all published in the 1950’s. The story revolves around three family generations and through them the reader is exposed to the changes – political and religious turmoil – that happened in Egyptian society in that period from the Egyptian revolution to overthrow the British colonial rule in 1919 till the second World war in 1944.
“I believe in life and in people. I feel obliged to advocate their highest ideals as long as I believe them to be true. I also see myself compelled to revolt against ideals I believe to be false, since recoiling from rebellion would be a form of treason”
Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Grey epitomizes self love or amour proper as Rousseau described it in its most complete form. In this case the young aristocrat sells his soul to the devil to stay eternally young and beautiful. The book was used as evidence against Oscar Wilde a couple of years later when he was put on trial for homosexuality and imprisoned. Oscar Wilde’s witty compositions cheer up any winter evening.
“There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
Harper Lee’s American classic To kill a Mocking bird has inspired generations of social activists and reformers within the USA and outside. It is on many school boards required reading list for children. Ahead of its time when it came out -as a pitch for progressive thought – blacks in many parts of the USA were still living in segregation.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
Temple of the Golden Pavilian was written in 1956 by Yukio Mishima, one of Japan’s leading fiction writers. The story is based on the 1950 burning of the Golden temple in Kyoto. The story revolves around a young man, Mizoguchi, a devoted acolyte – who has been ostracized from society because he stutters – who becomes obsessed with the beauty and perfection of the temple. He burns down the temple when he discovers its imperfections.
“Anything can become excusable when seen from the standpoint of the result”
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang If there is one Chinese book you must pick then this is the one. Over thirteen million copies have been sold and it has been translated into 37 languages. The book was first published in 1991 and is based on Jung Chang own family over three generations starting out with her grandmother who was the concubine of a warlord in the 1920’s, to her mother’s life as a communist during Mao’s period to the present as an autobiography of her own life. It provides a fascinating insight into Chinese history as experienced by the family during this period.
“I could understand ignorance, but I could not accept its glorification, still less its right to rule”