You are what you read, right? Thought I would share (Listmania-like) a few suggestions for students interested in exploring non-U.S. fiction. If you enjoy a particular author listed here, I'll be happy to recommend "further reading," but for now I'm listing a single work by each writer. This is not meant to be a ranking, btw. Also, no Salman Rushdie, I'm afraid: we've tired of each other (call it the Professor's Last Sigh).

Yu HuaRoberto BolañoNaguib MahfouzOrhan Pamuk

James KelmanCan XueW. G. SebaldSu Tong, Ma Jian


Yu Hua

For Yu Hua, start with "Brothers": a long book, but it will sweep you up in its gritty humanity, bawdiness, pathos, extravagant humor, and general portrayal of conflicts within a rapidly modernizing China (there's a love story, too).
If you'd like to see what you're getting yourself into:
Yu Hua page (Paper Republic)


Roberto Bolaño

Sorry, but you must begin with "2666" (900 pages), the "Ulysses" of our time; absolutely mystifying, absolutely absorbing; special prize to whoever figures out the symbolism of the geometry textbook hanging from the clothesline . . .

Again, here's some intro info to help you decide, entice you, whatever:
"Why Roberto Bolaño Haunts Latin Literature" by Mac Margolis for The Daily Beast

If you want just a taste, listen to this sensitive reading of RB's "Clara"
"Fiction Podcast: Francisco Goldman Reads Roberto Bolaño" from the New Yorker


Naguib Mahfouz

OK, I'm cheating here, since the one book I'd urge students to start with is "The Cairo Trilogy" ("Palace Walk," "Palace of Desire," "Sugar Street"). In this multi-generational family saga, Mahfouz proves himself a profound and compassionate analyst of human strivings after goodness and rightness (and of the many pitfalls along the way).

If you don't believe me (or the Nobel Prize committee), check out the accolades:
Naguib Mahfouz page at The American University in Cairo Press


Orhan Pamuk

Probably the best place to begin is "My Name Is Red," an exotic fable, a clever whodunit (murder! sex! chivalry!), and a work of readable length after you've tackled Bolano and Mahfouz . . .

Everything you need to know, one-stop shopping:
Orhan Pamuk's website


James Kelman

There's lots to be said for his Booker-prize book ("How Late It Was . . ."), but I was charmed by "Kieron Smith, Boy," a sort of Huck-Finn-in-Glasgow story and a feat of narrative magic that leaves you speaking Glaswegian.

For a potpourri of articles about the cantankerous (that's a good thing) author:
Articles about James Kelman from The Guardian


Can Xue

Her nom de plume translates as something like "unmeltable dirty snow," which perhaps tells you about her character. Read "Five Spice Street," and you will see why many have dubbed her the Chinese Kafka, although "magical realism" may be a better fit. Anyway, the novel is a sly, outrageous, erotic, narratively mind-blowing inquiry into the power dynamics and functional dysfunction of modern social life.
Can Xue's website


W. G. Sebald

"Austerlitz": piquant, deeply moving, about suffering he was never wrong; a supersubtle stylist . . . you'll never catch him weaving the spell (even in the midst of that 9-page-long sentence). WGS delineates why Benjamin's Angel of History is so terrible and what led Gertrude Stein to proclaim that "Europe is finished."

For "why you should read Sebald," go to:
"Why You Should Read W.G. Sebald" by Mark O'Connell for the New Yorker


Su Tong, Ma Jian

Squeezing in two final Chinese novelists (apologies to Mo Yan), I'd say "My Life as Emperor" (Su Tong) and "Beijing Coma" (Ma Jian) would be good places to start. The first is a fantastic meditation on the wellsprings of imperial power in China's past; the second is arguably the best history of the Tiananmen Square massacre imaginable.
Su Tong (Paper Republic) | Ma Jian (MacMillan)

Department of English, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-5350 - Undergraduate: 631 632-7400 | Graduate: 631 632-7373

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