"Rebelling against the constraints of family and society, a young Egyptian woman decides to study medicine, becoming the only woman in a class of men. Her encounters with the other students - as well as with male and female corpses in the autopsy room - intensify her search for identity. She realises that men are not gods, as her mother had taught her, that science cannot explain everything, and that she cannot be satisfied by living a life purely of the mind. After a brief and unhappy marriage, she throws herself into her work, becoming a successful and wealthy doctor. But at the same time, she becomes more aware of the injustice and hypocrisy in society. She comes to find fulfillment, not in isolation, but through her relationship with others. This novel will enhance Dr. Nawal El Saadawi's international reputation as a writer of power and compassion, deeply committed to the rights of Arab women."
"'Like the Russian aristocrats of Chekhov, the provincial bourgeoisie of Flaubert, or the Ibo villagers of Achebe, Idris raises his authentic characters into convincing types within their context: he makes us live their agonies and hopes.' - Ferial Ghazoul.
Cairo, January 1952. Egypt is at a critical point in its modern history, struggling to throw off the yoke of the seventy-year British occupation and its corrupt royalist allies. Hamza is a committed young radical, his goal to build a secret armed brigade to fight for freedom, independence, and national self-esteem. Fawziya is a woman with a mission too, keen to support the cause. Among the ashes of the city love may grow, but at a time of national struggle what place do personal feelings have beside the greater love for a shackled homeland? In this finely crafted novel, Yusuf Idris, best known as the master of the Arabic short story, brings to life not only some of the most human characters in modern Arabic fiction but the soul of Cairo itself and the soul of a national consciousness focused on liberation."
"'This densely detailed, richly textured novel impeccably recreates the milieus of Cairo & London as it recounts the maturing of Asya, a beautiful Egyptian. ... Her impressive and only slightly overlong novel [at 801 pages], with its acutely observed vision of male-female relations as a series of complex power struggles, suggests the emergence of a major new talent.' - Publishers Weekly
Set amidst the turmoil of contemporary Middle Eastern politics, this vivid and highly-acclaimed novel by an Egyptian journalist is an intimate look into the lives of Arab women today. Here, a woman who grows up among the Egyptian elite, marries a Westernized husband, and, while pursuing graduate study, becomes embroiled in a love affair with an uncouth Englishman."
A special thank you to book club member, Julie Jacobs for the suggestion.
"Widely acclaimed as Naguib Mahfouz's best novel, Midaq Alley brings to life one of the hustling, teeming back alleys of Cairo in the 1940s. From Zaita the cripple-maker to Kirsha the hedonistic cafe owner, from Abbas the barber who mistakes greed for love to Hamida who sells her soul to escape the alley, from waiters and widows to politicians, pimps, and poets, the inhabitants of Midaq Alley vividly evoke Egypt's largest city as it teeters on the brink of change. Never has Nobel Prize-winner Mahfouz's talent for rich and luxurious storytelling been more evident than here, in his portrait of one small street as a microcosm of the world on the threshold of modernity."
"'A vivid depiction of slices of Egyptian life, the title and summary of Murder in the Tower of Happiness may make it sound like a standard sort of mystery -- and there is indeed a murder at its heart -- but it is far from most conventional crime fiction.' The Complete Review
A fast-paced city thriller laced with dry humor takes us inside Borg al-Saada (Tower of Happiness), one of the luxury high-rises planted like alien bodies amid the fields along the Nile south of Cairo and inside the sordid lives and lavish lifestyles of its super rich and famous denizens. The naked, strangled body of a beautiful young actress, is discovered in one of the elevators, and as the police investigation gets under way, we meet many of the tower's strange characters: the owner's agent, overweight, toupeed, and decked in gold chains; the wealthy contractor insomniac; a psychic with a Ph.D. in genetic engineering from MIT; Farah, his erstwhile sweetheart, who has become one of the very candy dolls she used to scorn; a belly-dancer who would be able to see Timbuktu if she stood on top of a pile of all her money; the society lady from Chile; and the homely doctor somewhat less well off than his neighbors. And of course there is the naughty boy who roams the tower, enters apartments, and overhears conversations, unsettling and exposing the decadent occupants and their relationships."
Winner of the English PEN Translation Award
"In a surreal, but familiar, vision of modern day Egypt, a centralized authority known as ‘the Gate’ has risen to power in the aftermath of the ‘Disgraceful Events,’ a failed popular uprising. Citizens are required to obtain permission from the Gate in order to take care of even the most basic of their daily affairs, yet the Gate never opens, and the queue in front of it grows longer.
Citizens from all walks of life mix and wait in the sun: a revolutionary journalist, a sheikh, a poor woman concerned for her daughter’s health, and even the brother of a security officer killed in clashes with protesters. Among them is Yehia, a man who was shot during the Events and is waiting for permission from the Gate to remove a bullet that remains lodged in his pelvis. Yehia’s health steadily declines, yet at every turn, officials refuse to assist him, actively denying the very existence of the bullet. Ultimately it is Tarek, the principled doctor tending to Yehia’s case, who must decide whether to follow protocol as he has always done, or to disobey the law and risk his career to operate on Yehia and save his life.
Written with dark, subtle humor, The Queue describes the sinister nature of authoritarianism, and illuminates the way that absolute authority manipulates information, mobilizes others in service to it, and fails to uphold the rights of even those faithful to it."
A special thank you to book club member, Aisha Esbhani for the suggestion.
"A 2017 LA Times Book Prize Finalist
A quirky story of love, mischief, and forgiveness from Brazil’s foremost award-winning author for young readers, in her U.S. debut.
Fourteen-year-old Samuel is newly orphaned and homeless in a small town in Brazil. He lives in a giant, hollow, concrete head of St. Anthony, the lingering evidence of the village’s inept and failed attempt to build a monolith over a decade ago. He didn’t know what it was when he crawled into it, seeking shelter during a storm, but since coming there, he hears beautiful singing, echoing like magic in the head twice a day. So he stays.
Miraculously, he can also hear the private prayers and longings of the villagers. Feeling mischievous, Samuel begins to help answer these prayers, hoping that if he does, their noise will quiet down and he can listen to the beautiful singing in peace. Ironically, his miracles gain him so many fans that he starts to worry he will never fulfill his own true longing and find the source of the singing.
Filled with beautiful turns of phrase and wonderfully quirky characters, The Head of the Saint is a riotous story of faith and magic that won’t soon leave your thoughts."
"Welcome to São Paulo, Brazil, in the not too distant future. Water is scarce, garbage clogs the city, movement is restricted, and the System—sinister, omnipotent, secret—rules its subjects' every moment and thought. Here, Souza (the name is as common in Portuguese as Smith is in English) is a kind of Brazilian Everyman, struggling to preserve his integrity and hope in the face of tyranny.
In a strikingly Brazilian way, Mr. Brandao has written a cautionary anti-Utopian novel in the tradition of Yevgeny Zamyatin's We or George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Virtually all the phenomena Mr. Brandao describes have some real-life counterparts in the Brazil ruled by the military from 1964 until 1985. Despite the very Brazilian flavor of Mr. Brandao's writing and concerns, though, And Still the Earth makes compelling reading for foreigners. The conditions he describes and the grim future he foresees for his city may also await Lagos, Calcutta, Shanghai and Mexico City. And Still the Earth stands with Loyola Brandão's Zero as one of the author's greatest, and darkest, achievements. Yet Mr. Brandao is an optimist. His title, after all, recalls Galileo's response to his inquisitors after they forced him to recant his proof that the earth revolves around the sun: 'E pur si muove' - 'and still it moves.' At novel's end, the human spirit cannot be destroyed or dominated."
'Amado is Brazil's most illustrious and venerable novelist.'—The New York Times
"A Brazilian Lord of the Flies, about a group of boys who live by their wits and daring in the slums of Bahia. They call themselves 'Captains of the Sands,' a gang of orphans and runaways who live by their wits and daring in the torrid slums and sleazy back alleys of Bahia. Led by fifteen-year-old 'Bullet,' the band—including a crafty liar named 'Legless,' the intellectual 'Professor,' and the sexually precocious 'Cat'—pulls off heists and escapades against the right and privileged of Brazil. But when a public outcry demands the capture of the 'little criminals,' the fate of these children becomes a poignant, intensely moving drama of love and freedom in a shackled land.
Captains of the Sands captures the rich culture, vivid emotions, and wild landscape of Bahia with penetrating authenticity and brilliantly displays the genius of Brazil’s most acclaimed author."
A special thank you to book club member, Kaman Maxwell for the suggestion.
"The searing novel on which the internationally acclaimed hit film was based, City of God is a gritty, gorgeous tour de force from one of Brazil’s most notorious slums. Cidade de Deus: a place where the streets are awash with narcotics, where violence can erupt at any moment over drugs, money, and love—but also a place where the samba beat rocks till dawn, where the women are the most beautiful on earth, and where one young man wants to escape his background and become a photographer.
When City of God erupted on screens worldwide, it became one of the most critically and commercially successful foreign films of recent years. But few were aware of the story behind the film. Written by Paulo Lins, who grew up in the favela (shantytown) Cidade de Deus in Rio e Janeiro and who spent years researching its gang history, City of God began life as a coruscating, harrowing novelistic account of twenty years in the illicit pursuits of the youth gangs born from the favela. Now available in English for the first time, City of God is a raw, powerful portrait of the countless millions of poor people all over the world."
A special thank you to book club member, Caity Grieg for the suggestion.
"In this multi-award-winning autobiographical novel [which has won every major Brazilian literary prize], Cristovão Tezza draws his readers into the mind of a young father whose son, Felipe, is born with Down syndrome. From the initial shock of diagnosis, and through his growing understanding of the world of hospitals and therapies, Tezza threads the story of his son’s life with his own.
Felipe, who lives in an eternal present, becomes a remarkable young man; for Tezza, however, the story is a settling of accounts with himself and his own limitations and, ultimately, a coming to terms with the sublime ironies and arbitrariness of life. He struggles with the phantom of shame, as if his son’s condition were an indication of his own worth, and yearns for a ‘normal’ world that is always out of reach.
Reading this compelling book is like stumbling through a trap door into the writer’s mind, where nothing is censored, and everything is constantly examined and reinterpreted. What emerges is a hard-won philosophy of everyday life.
It is extraordinary to encounter a common human drama — the birth of a disabled child — investigated profoundly by a father who happens to be a gifted writer. The Eternal Son is an honest and insightful story by one of Brazil’s foremost contemporary novelists, here beautifully translated by Alison Entrekin. It is world literature at its finest."
"Hilda Hilst (1930–2004) was one of the greatest Brazilian writers of the twentieth century, but her books have languished untranslated, in part because of their formally radical nature. This translation of With My Dog-Eyes brings a crucial work from her oeuvre into English for the first time.
With My Dog-Eyes is an account of an unraveling—of sanity, of language . . . After experiencing a vision of what he calls “a clear-cut unhoped-for,” college professor Amós Keres struggles to reconcile himself with his life as a father, a husband, and a member of the university with its “meetings, asskissers, pointless rivalries, gratuitous resentments, jealous talk, megalomanias.”
A stunning book by a master of the avant-garde."
The Accusation is thought to be the first fiction published abroad by someone still living in North Korea. In fact, this is the only fiction we found written by a North Korean author period. Smuggled out of the country in 2013, this work of fiction is a dystopian thriller. But the book is no fantasy. It’s the reality for 25 million people living out unparalleled human rights abuses in North Korea today.
"The Accusation is a deeply moving and eye-opening work of fiction that paints a powerful portrait of life under the North Korean regime. Set during the period of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il’s leadership, the seven stories that make up The Accusation give voice to people living under this most bizarre and horrifying of dictatorships. The characters of these compelling stories come from a wide variety of backgrounds, from a young mother living among the elite in Pyongyang whose son misbehaves during a political rally, to a former Communist war hero who is deeply disillusioned with the intrusion of the Party into everything he holds dear, to a husband and father who is denied a travel permit and sneaks onto a train in order to visit his critically ill mother. Written with deep emotion and writing talent, The Accusation is a vivid depiction of life in a closed-off one-party state, and also a hopeful testament to the humanity and rich internal life that persists even in such inhumane conditions."
Note: The author of this book is anonymous, but it's believed that he was born in China. Usually, the author's birth in another country would exclude this book from our list of North Korean suggestions. We made an exception because:
1. This work of fiction is unique & we found no other genres aside from memoirs.
2. The author was born of North Korean parents.
3. It seems likely that the author moved to North Korea as a baby.
A special thank you to book club member, Aisha Esbhani for the suggestion and Yeonsang Cho, who lives in South Korea, for her impassioned plea to include this important work.
"North Korea is today one of the last bastions of hard-line Communism. Its leaders have kept a tight grasp on their one-party regime, quashing any nascent opposition movements and sending all suspected dissidents to its brutal concentration camps for 're-education.'
Kang Chol-hwan is the first survivor of one of these concentration camps to escape and tell his story to the world, documenting the extreme conditions in these gulags and providing a personal insight into life in North Korea.
Part horror story, part historical document, part memoir, part political tract, this record of one man's suffering gives eyewitness proof to an ongoing sorrowful chapter of modern history."
"AN INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER - THE STORY THEY COULDN'T HACK.
A high-ranking counterintelligence agent describes his life as a former poet laureate to Kim Jong-il and his breathtaking escape to freedom.
As North Korea’s State Poet Laureate, Jang Jin-sung led a charmed life. With food provisions (even as the country suffered through its great famine), a travel pass, access to strictly censored information, and audiences with Kim Jong-il himself, his life in Pyongyang seemed safe and secure. But this privileged existence was about to be shattered. When a strictly forbidden magazine he lent to a friend goes missing, Jang Jin-sung must flee for his life.
Never before has a member of the elite described the inner workings of this totalitarian state and its propaganda machine. An astonishing exposé told through the heart-stopping story of Jang Jin-sung’s escape to South Korea, Dear Leader is an 'impossibly dramatic story…one of the best depictions yet of North Korea’s nightmare' (Publishers Weekly)."
"New York Times Bestseller.
An extraordinary insight into life under one of the world’s most ruthless and secretive dictatorships – and the story of one woman’s terrifying struggle to avoid capture/repatriation and guide her family to freedom.
As a child growing up in North Korea, Hyeonseo Lee was one of millions trapped by a secretive and brutal communist regime. Her home on the border with China gave her some exposure to the world beyond the confines of the Hermit Kingdom and, as the famine of the 1990s struck, she began to wonder, question and to realize that she had been brainwashed her entire life. Given the repression, poverty and starvation she witnessed surely her country could not be, as she had been told 'the best on the planet'?
Aged seventeen, she decided to escape North Korea. She could not have imagined that it would be twelve years before she was reunited with her family."
"'I am most grateful for two things: that I was born in North Korea, and that I escaped from North Korea.'
Yeonmi Park was not dreaming of freedom when she escaped from North Korea. She didn't even know what it meant to be free. All she knew was that she was running for her life, that if she and her family stayed behind they would die - from starvation, or disease, or even execution.
This book is the story of Park's struggle to survive in the darkest, most repressive country on earth; her harrowing escape through China's underworld of smugglers and human traffickers; and then her escape from China across the Gobi desert to Mongolia, with only the stars to guide her way, and from there to South Korea and at last to freedom; and finally her emergence as a leading human rights activist - all before her 21st birthday."
(A special thank you to book club member, Elke Richelsen for the suggestion.)
"An extraordinary memoir by a North Korean woman who defied the government to keep her family alive.
Born in the 1970s, Lucia Jang grew up in a common, rural North Korean household—her parents worked hard, she bowed to a photo of Kim Il-Sung every night, and the family scraped by on rationed rice and a small garden. However, there is nothing common about Jang. She is a woman of great emotional depth, courage, and resilience.
Happy to serve her country, Jang worked in a factory as a young woman. There, a man she thought was courting her raped her. Forced to marry him when she found herself pregnant, she continued to be abused by him. She managed to convince her family to let her return home, only to have her in-laws and parents sell her son without her knowledge for 300 won and two bars of soap. They had not wanted another mouth to feed.
By now it was the beginning of the famine of the 1990s that resulted in more than one million deaths. Driven by starvation—her family’s as well as her own—Jang illegally crossed the river to better-off China to trade goods. She was caught and imprisoned twice, pregnant the second time. She knew that, to keep the child, she had to leave North Korea. In a dramatic escape, she was smuggled with her newborn to China, fled to Mongolia under gunfire, and finally found refuge in South Korea before eventually settling in Canada.
With so few accounts by North Korean women and those from its rural areas, Jang's fascinating memoir helps us understand the lives of those many others who have no way to make their voices known."
"'Right from the start I picked her for a thief, although that day she didn’t take anything. . . . I knew she’d be back,' the narrator/bookseller of Severina recalls in this novel’s opening pages. Imagine a dark-haired book thief as alluring as she is dangerous. Imagine the mesmerized bookseller secretly tracking the volumes she steals, hoping for insight into her character, her motives, her love life. In Rodrigo Rey Rosa’s hands, this tale of obsessive love is told with almost breathless precision and economy. The bookstore owner is soon entangled in Severina’s mystery: seductive and peripatetic, of uncertain nationality, she steals books to actually read them and to share with her purported grandfather, Señor Blanco.
In this unsettling exploration of the alienating and simultaneously liberating power of love, the bookseller’s monotonous existence is rocked by the enigmatic Severina. As in a dream, the disoriented man finds that the thin border between rational and irrational is no longer reliable. Severina confirms Rey Rosa’s privileged place in contemporary world literature."
This slim volume of "Nobel laureate Miguel Angel Asturias’ Clarivigilia Primaveral or Clearvigil in Spring is Asturias' creative reworking of Mayan mythology in his native Guatemala. The Nobel Committee called this mythic poetic cycle an 'impressive' work that 'deals with the very genesis of the arts and of poetic creation, in a language which seems to have assumed the bright splendor of the magical queztal's feathers and the glimmering of phosphorescent insects.'"
Professor Gerald M. Martin of the University of Pittsburgh, one of the world's top Asturias scholars, has called this translation 'truly excellent.'"