Literature from around the world opens our eyes to new styles, diverse cultures, and fresh perspective. These stories can make us feel uncomfortable as we delve into lives that do not resemble our own. On the contrary, literature from other parts of this earth can be a glaring testament to our similarities as human beings. Each protagonist struggles with the same life lessons we do– pride, familial relationships, fitting in, pain & suffering. Here are some thought-provoking, downright fantastic books to read from outside the American spectrum:
1. Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata
This book explores the traditional Japanese tea ceremony and how it permeates the lives of the characters. Don’t judge a book by its historical sapect though– this novel is jam-packed with the complicated thrill of a love triangle, and a few characters (can you say nosy house maid and flighty male protagonist?) we can definitely love to hate.
2. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Adichie’s newest novel, Americanah, has been nominated for a host of awards including the National Book Critics award so you might ask yourself why you haven’t read her work yet. Purple Hibiscus explores the life of siblings Kambili and Jaja as they struggle to make sense of the abuse and privilege they grew up in. Set primarily in Adichie’s hometown of Enugu, Nigeria, Kambili and Jaja suffer through multiple abuses at the hand of their father. Luckily, they have a feisty, powerful aunt to help them through.
3. Monkey Bridge by Lan Cao
Protagonist and Vietnamese immigrant, Mai, discovers that the dichotomy of her Vietnamese heritage and her newfound home in America causes emotional turmoil both within herself and between she and her mother. Rich in language and ripe with deception, depression, suicide, and acceptance, Monkey Bridge shouldn’t be missed.
4. Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
Claire of the Sea Light, Danticat’s newest work, is also nominated for some award love, but her debut novel (which was her master’s thesis), Breath, Eyes, Memory is heart wrenching, raw, and beautiful. Sophie is ripped from Haiti by a mother that abandoned her to live in America. She discovers the dark secrets of her Haitian history and seeks to reconcile with her tumultuous past.
5. Night by Elie Wiesel
Elie Wiesel is one of the great humanitarians of our time, and his harrowing tale of the Holocaust will force its way into your heart and mind. You will follow Eliezer as he is forced into Auschwitz and separated from his family. Though not a memoir, the emotional charge and detailed account of Eliezer almost completely mirrors Wiesel’s experience.
6. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Emma Rouault knew what love was supposed to be like– a romantic, intimate whirlwind of passion and bliss. (Ha!) What she got when she married Charles Bovary wasn’t exactly as she had expected. The beauty of this novel is the author’s ability to really channel the experience of a woman. Flaubert caused much controversy with this tale of deception, infidelity, and suicide. Some think Madame was a self-centered, selfish woman while others see her as a representation of oppression. Read this literary gem and decide for yourself.
These titles might span many miles (and timeframes) but they detail the human experience in a way that makes them relatable to all. Maybe the language is a little different. Maybe we don’t quite understand the rituals or traditions involved, but we can all relate to suffering, disparity, hope, and a sense of belonging.