Virtual travel and travelling through books and movies are the thing now. Understandable, since our options to get out and have fun reduced dramatically while quarantined in our homes. (Well, first of all, our reasons to have fun are reduced dramatically.) So let me add to that eternal list of great reads – that’s just as never-ending as the places to visit on our bucket list – with my 12 favorite books from 12 countries.
Because I’m a bookworm. And I’m quite good at escaping into reading when I can’t take reality any more. Like on some of these days. Many of these days. So while Csaba is killing zombies (virtually) and Tomi, our eight months old boy is taking our flat apart (not virtually), I’m going on adventures with my beloved books.
What kind of books do I recommend? Classic novels. Contemporary fiction. Children’s novels. Short stories. Stories about love, adventure, endurance, courage, heartbreaks, new chances and everyday life. Definitely no dystopias. Not now when our lives look like a really bad one, anyway. So let’s see them – in alphabetical order by country:
Australia – Colleen McCullough: The Thorn Birds
Genre: romance novel, family saga
“When we press the thorn to our chest we know, we understand, and still we do it.”
The main reason that this book is on the list is the scene: Australia! The story is about the Cleary family who settles down in a sheep station in the Australian Outback. We see the Australian landscape as it is: beautiful, unique, whimsical and dangerous. Sometimes there are hordes of kangaroos, sometimes devastating bushfires.
Besides Australia, I also liked the story of the three women from three generations: Fee, Meggie and Justine. Fee is a traditional wife and mother, her daughter, Meggie has more freedom to choose how she lives, and the granddaughter, Justine is a true feminist, strong and independent.
The only thing I didn’t really like? The romance of Meggie and Ralph, the young, handsome, and ambitious priest. Surprised? Well, the book is famous for this romance. But I don’t see a man and a woman who are in love with each other here. I only see a girl who feels a desperate desire to be loved and mistakes it for romantic love. It’s not love that determines Meggie’s destiny but the lack of love. And we don’t know too much about Ralph, his feelings or intentions. Altogether I liked Fee’s and Justine’s characters more than Meggie’s. And I loved the Australian scenes above all.
Get a copy of The Thorn Birds here!
Canada – L. M. Montgomery: Anne of Green Gables
Genre: children’s novel
“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are white frosts, aren’t you?”
This heartwarming novel is about Anne Shirley, an 11-year-old orphan girl, and it takes place on Prince Edward Island in Canada. Anne stands out from other children. She’s imaginative, talkative, brave and quite sensitive about her red hair. She’s mistakenly sent to Matthew and Marilla, two middle-aged siblings who had originally intended to adopt a boy to get a helping hand on their farm. But they got Anne.
This book filled my heart with joy whilst reading it – even though I read it as an adult. It encourages you to have faith and makes you feel warm and cosy. Isn’t it the exact kind of book we need to read these days? I think so.
Get a copy of Anne of Green Gables here!
France – Anna Gavalda: Hunting and Gathering
Genre: contemporary fiction, novel
“I never knew a sorrow that an hour of reading could not assuage, a great man had once said. Let’s put it to the test.”
Anna Gavalda’s novel takes place in contemporary Paris, and its characters are quirky and loveable. Camille, the anorexic young woman who works as a cleaner but is an artist at heart. Franck, the obnoxious but talented chef who feels guilty about putting his beloved granny in a home. Philibert Marquet de La Durbelliere, a shy aristocrat who sells postcards outside a museum. What happens when you put such characters together? You get a captivating, quirky, ironic story. At least if it’s written by Anna Gavalda.
Get a copy of Hunting and Gathering here!
Germany & Poland – Günter Grass: The Tin Drum
Genre: classic post-World War II fiction, magical realism
“If Jesus had been a hunchback, they could hardly have nailed him to the cross.”
A great novel of the 20th century. It defines an era – and does it with cynicism. It’s grotesque and odd, and after reading the first couple of pages I knew that it got me.
The Tin Drum tells the story of Oskar Matzerath, a grotesque figure who decides never to grow up, has supernatural gifts, and is the beater of the tin drum. But this novel also tells about the atmosphere, streams and history of an era: Second World War Poland and Germany, and our 20th century world. The storyteller is Oskar itself – and we can never figure out whether he’s sane or insane, but he’s definitely not reliable and contradicts himself several times throughout the story.
What do I love the most about this novel? Its style! Sometimes I read parts of it out loud to Csaba – like the history of Danzig (Gdansk) told by Oskar. If you like grotesque, it’s written for you. If you’re not sure, go figure.
Get a copy of The Tin Drum here!
Hungary – Krisztina Tóth: Pixel
Genre: short stories, contemporary fiction
It’s one of my favorite reads from last year! Also, it’s a great piece of Hungarian contemporary fiction – and Krisztina Tóth’s only book translated into English. Pixel is a chain of short stories that are connected by their characters. And these stories create an image: the image of everyday life in contemporary Hungary.
Its characters and happenings are so simple and well-written that it hurts because it feels so real. These are the people we see every day. The people with everyday struggles that can take comic and tragic turns. Would you like to read from a contemporary Hungarian woman writer? Pixel is a great book to start with.
India – Arundhati Roy: The God of Small Things
Genre: contemporary fiction novel, psychological fiction
“That’s what careless words do. They make people love you a little less.”
Set in rural India, Arundhati Roy’s novel has a magical and mysterious atmosphere. It’s about forbidden love and betrayal. Innocence and injustice. The setting shifts 23 years back and forth, but both storylines are centered around the tragedy that we only got to know at the end.
At first glance, this novel looks like a crime story, but it’s much more than that. It tells about the story of a Syrian Christian family, about the deep and complicated relationship of the twins, Rahel and Estha, and also about their mother, Ammu who tries to break free from the rules that determine her fate as an Indian woman.
What makes this novel so special? For me it’s the 7 years old twins’ innocent viewpoint and the powerful portrait of social and political issues in rural India.
Get a copy of The God of Small Things here!
Italy – Alessandro Baricco: Ocean Sea
Genre: contemporary fiction
“This is the seashore. Neither land nor sea. It’s a place that does not exist.”
Baricco’s novel is beautifully written and speaks to your heart, not to your mind. With that said, you need to be prepared to let go of rationality when reading it. Parts of this novel are like a fairy tale. Some characters have strange abilities or odd habits. Parts of it are like a picaresque, and sometimes it’s brutal and naturalistic. Its characters are connected by a remote seaside hotel where they stay or work – and they’re also connected by the ocean.
The ocean. It’s in the center of the novel and connects every scene and character. The water of life. Endless, powerful, wonderful. The oceans means freedom, unpredictability and cruelty at the same time. It’s beautiful and brutal. Like life itself.
Why do I love this book so much? It’s like taking a long, quiet walk on the seashore, lost in one’s thoughts. I recommend it to all who’s obsessed with the ocean and thinks there’s more to life than any rationalist would tell. (Oh, the novel has nothing to do with Italy, actually. But Barrico is Italian. And Italy definitely has sea.)
Get a copy of Ocean Sea here!
Japan – Murakami Haruki: Norwegian Wood
Genre: contemporary fiction
“I was always hungry for love. Just once, I wanted to know what it was like to get my fill of it – to be fed so much love I couldn’t take any more. Just once. But they never gave that to me. Never, not once.”
This novel has nothing to do with Norway, the story takes place in Japan, mostly in Tokyo in the late 1960s. Norwegian Wood is a Beatles song and it’s the favorite song of Naoko, the girl Toru loved – and it’s the song that makes Toru Watanabe, the main character think back to that significant year of his life in the beginning of the book.
Norwegian Wood is about Toru’s complicated relationship with two girls, Naoko and Midori. While the emotional troubles and suicides of several characters make this book emotionally heavy, the vivacious and outgoing character of Midori and her affect on Toru gives a refreshing balance to it. Well, it’s not hard to guess who my favorite character was. I enjoyed the conversations between Toru and Midori so much! Many of them are quite quirky and made me laugh so hard.
Get a copy of Norwegian Wood here!
Sweden – Selma Lagerlöf: The Wonderful Adventures of Nils
Genre: children’s novel
This novel written by the Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf is both a tale of a naughty little boy, Nils and a tribute to Sweden – its beautiful landscapes and wildlife that Nils explores on his adventures. One day turned into a tomte and becoming able to talk with animals, suddenly everything changes for Nils. He joins the wild geese who fly over their farm, and they go on an adventurous trip across all the historical provinces of Sweden. These adventures change Nils and encourage him to be brave and inventive, and take responsibility.
A lovely tale that makes you want to explore Sweden for yourself. Get a copy here!
United Kingdom – Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights
Genre: romance novel
“He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”
Emily Brontë’s only finished novel is a classic of English literature. It’s a romance written with so much power of imagination and passion, that in the 19th century it was assumed to be written by a man (Brontë wrote it under a pseudonym).
It’s about the cruel and unfulfilled love of Heathcliff and Catherine – a love that cannot be destroyed, but what destroys both of them. Catherine is already dead when the story begins. We are taken back to the past, and we also see the present: Heathcliff becoming more and more obsessed with his feelings for Catherine, and more and more indifferent towards everything else at the same time. At the end there’s nothing but the wild wind above the moorland. And a bit of hope.
Some think that the home of Earnshow’s in the book is inspired by Top Withens, a ruined farmhouse in West Yorkshire. Anyway, who was this lonely 19th century teacher, Emily Brontë who wrote a novel like this – and about whom we know so little?
Get a copy of the Wuthering Heights here!
USA – Margaret Mitchell: Gone with the Wind
Genre: historical fiction
“Dear Scarlett! You aren’t helpless. Anyone as selfish and determined as you are is never helpless. God help the Yankees if they should get you.”
Gone with the Wind has everything a great novel should have: it’s monumental, exciting, full of actions, emotions and great characters. It creates an atmosphere that sweeps me away from the very beginning.
Scarlett O’Hara is a beautiful 16 years old girl from Georgia, and this novel is about her struggles in the coming twelve years of her life during the American Civil War and Reconstruction Era. But the book is also about Margaret Mitchell’s love for the South that’s lost forever. Most of her characters can’t let go of this past either, Scarlett is an exception.
Scarlett is more than that pretty girl who thinks only about flirting and dancing at the beginning of the novel. She’s much stronger and has such a passion for life that helps her stand up again and again, no matter what happens. I loved, hated and adored her character throughout the book. And the love story of Scarlett and Rhett is one of my favorites from literature!
Get a copy of Gone with the Wind here!
Russia – Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina
Genre: classic fiction
“Respect was invented to cover the empty place where love should be.”
A complex novel in 800 pages and in usually two volumes with dozens of major characters – with barely pronounceable Russian names. Don’t let that discourage you though! It’s a classic for a reason. And you bet I won’t analyze it in this post. 😛
I could tell that it’s about the affair of Anna and Count Vronsky, but it’s much more. It deals with topics like family and marriage, faith and betrayal, passion and desire, rural and city life, progress, women’s fate or the Imperial Russian society. It’s one of those books that you need to read several times to be able to truly digest. Because first, you just enjoy the plot – which is exciting and carries you through those hundreds of pages and Russian names. Well, go figure!
Get a copy of Anna Karenina here!
And now tell us about your favorite books!
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