books - beth's fav foreign reads

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

The novel that won Alexander Solzhenitsyn the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature "for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature."

"First published in the Soviet journal Novy Mir in 1962, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich stands as a classic of contemporary literature. The story of labor-camp inmate Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, it graphically describes his struggle to maintain his dignity in the face of communist oppression. An unforgettable portrait of the entire world of Stalin's forced work camps, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is one of the most extraordinary literary documents to have emerged from the Soviet Union and confirms Solzhenitsyn's stature as 'a literary genius whose talent matches that of Dosotevsky, Turgenev, Tolstoy'.”

Note: This translation by Harry T. Willetts is the one we recommend. This is the original, unexpurgated novel brilliantly translated by someone who worked closely with Solzhenitsyn to fully capture the power and beauty of the original Russian. This is the only English translation authorized by the Russian author. All other translations are censored versions."

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The Neverending Story

If you’ve only seen the movies, you’ll be astonished by how exponentially better the story actually is & how easily you’ll be swept away. It’s breathtaking originality has ensured that the novel continued to top a huge variety of bestseller lists for many years & consistently won awards.

"Every once in a blue moon, a book captures the imagination, providing a portal into magical places unknown. So it is with The Neverending Story.

Unicorns, dragons, sprites, will-o’-the-wisps: the inhabitants of an enchanted world. And into this world – through the pages of an old book – ventures a lonely boy named Bastian. But this land is slowly decaying, its Childlike Empress dying. Only a real human can set things right. Bastian takes up the challenge, and finds himself crossing the Swamps of Sadness and the Silver Mountains, meeting sorcerers and giants, bats and night-hobs, gnomes and racing snails. As he journeys bravely toward the Ivory Tower, Bastian’s quest is filled with all the wonders of myth and fairy tale. It is a fantasy adventure that will capture your heart – and recapture the magical dreams of childhood.”

"An instantaneous leap into the magical . . . Energetic, innovative, and perceptive."
The Washington Post

"A trumpet blast for the imagination." — Sunday Times

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The Great Passage

“An award-winning story of love, friendship, and the power of human connection. Kohei Araki believes that a dictionary is a boat to carry us across the sea of words. But after thirty-seven years of creating dictionaries, it’s time for him to retire and find his replacement.

He discovers a kindred spirit in Mitsuya Majime—a young, disheveled square peg with a penchant for collecting antiquarian books and a background in linguistics—whom he swipes from his company’s sales department.

Along with an energetic, if reluctant, new recruit and an elder linguistics scholar, Majime is tasked with a career-defining accomplishment: completing The Great Passage, a comprehensive 2,900-page tome of the Japanese language. On his journey, Majime discovers friendship, romance, and an incredible dedication to his work, inspired by the words that connect us all.”

(A special thank you to Dr. Carol McCrea, the mother of one of our book club admins for the suggestion.)

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Nefertiti in the Flak Tower

“Clive James’ power as a poet has increased year by year, and there has been no stronger evidence for this than Nefertiti in the Flak Tower. Here, his polymathic learning and technical virtuosity are worn more lightly than ever; the effect is merely to produce a deep sense of trust into which the reader gratefully sinks, knowing they are in the presence of a master. The most obvious token of that mastery is the book’s breathtaking range of theme: there are moving elegies, a meditation on the later Yeats, a Hollywood Iliad, odes to rare orchids, wartime typewriters and sharks—as well as a poem on the fate of Queen Nefertiti in Nazi Germany. But despite the dizzying variety, James’ poetic intention becomes increasingly clear: what marks this collection out is his intensified concentration on the individual poem as self-contained universe. Poetry is a practice he compares (in ‘Numismatics’) to striking new coin; and Nefertiti in the Flak Tower is a treasure-chest of one-off marvels, with each poem a twin-sided, perfect human balance of the unashamedly joyous and the deadly serious, ‘whose play of light pays tribute to the dark’.”

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Lexicon

Awarded Book of the Year among other accolades from 16 major media sites including Time, Goodreads, Vogue, & NPR

“A novel of international intrigue and weaponized linguistics,” it's about “as close you can get to the perfect cerebral thriller: searingly smart, ridiculously funny, and fast as hell.”

“Stick and stones break bones. Words kill.

They recruited Emily Ruff from the streets. They said it was because she's good with words. They'll live to regret it.

They said Wil Parke survived something he shouldn't have. But he doesn't remember. Now they're after him and he doesn't know why.

There's a word, they say. A word that kills. And they want it back . . . “

Beloved by a variety of authors the likes of Hugh Howey, NY Times bestselling author of Wool who titled itA masterpiece!”, Kirkus notes this is “an up-all-night thriller for geeks who want to see their wizards all grown up in the real world and armed to the teeth in a bloody story.”

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Musketeer Space

“Written by a double Hugo award-winning author, Musketeer Space is a gender-flipped, space opera retelling of Alexandre Dumas' classic novel The Three Musketeers.” It’s “smart, funny, fast-paced and absorbing ” with outstanding 4.5 star & above reviews on all platforms including Goodreads & Amazon.

“‘I haven't got a blade. I haven't got a ship. I washed out of the Musketeers. If this is your idea of honour, put down the swords and I'll take you on with my bare hands.’

When Dana D'Artagnan left home for a life of adventure, she never expected to form a friendship with Paris Satellite's most infamous sword-fighting scoundrels: the Musketeers known as Athos, Porthos and Aramis.

Dana and her friends are swept up in a political conspiracy involving royal scandals, disguised spaceships, a handsome tailor who keeps getting himself kidnapped, and a seductive spy with too many secrets.

With the Solar System on the brink of war, Dana finally has a chance to prove herself. But is it worth becoming a Musketeer if she has to sacrifice her friends?

Swords! Kissing! Friendship! Spies! Spaceships! All for one and one for all.”

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The Last Wish

The New York Times bestselling series that inspired the international hit video game!

"Like a complicated magic spell, a Sapkowski novel is a hodgepodge of fantasy, intellectual discourse, and dry humor. Recommended." -Time  

Geralt of Rivia is a witcher. A cunning sorcerer. A merciless assassin. And a cold-blooded killer.

His sole purpose: to destroy the monsters that plague the world. But not everything monstrous-looking is evil and not everything fair is good. . . and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth. 

For fans of the video game and the uninitiated alike, The Last Wish is the opening chapter of The Witcher series."

"The universe of The Witcher is one of the most detailed and best-explored in modern fantasy, offering endless opportunities for fresh ideas. Complex character relationships enrich this already complex world; this is the sort of series fantasy fans will cherish." -B&N

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Cancer Ward

"One of the great allegorical masterpieces of world literature, Cancer Ward is both a deeply compassionate study of people facing terminal illness and a brilliant dissection of the 'cancerous' Soviet police state. Banned in Russia, it became, along with One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, a work that awoke the conscience of the world. As Robert Service wrote of its appeal in the Independent, 'In waging his struggle against Soviet communism, Solzhenitsyn the novelist preferred the rapier to the cudgel'."

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Beginning Operations

"Sector General: A massive deep-space hospital station on the Galactic Rim, where human and alien medicine meet. Its 384 levels and thousands of staff members are supposedly able to meet the needs of any conceivable alien patient—though that capacity is always being strained as more (and stranger) alien races turn up to join the galactic community. Sentient viruses, interspecies romances, undreamed-of institutional catering problems—it all lands on Sector General's doorstep. And the only thing weirder than a hitherto unknown alien species is having a member of that species turn up in your Emergency Room.

This first omnibus volume reprints the works that began the Sector General series, which were previously published as Hospital StationStar Surgeon, and Major Operation."

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

"'Compulsively readable. ... Simon Armitage has given us an energetic, free-flowing, high-spirited version.' —Edward Hirsch, New York Times Book Review

One of the earliest great stories of English literature after BeowulfSir Gawain is the strange tale of a green knight on a green horse, who rudely interrupts King Arthur's Round Table festivities one Yuletide, challenging the knights to a wager. Simon Armitrage, one of Britain's leading poets, has produced an inventive and groundbreaking translation that helps liberate Gawain from academia."

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Three James Herriot Classics

"James Herriot’s timeless bestselling series is a delightfully fun look at a country veterinarian and the creatures that populate a charming English town.

Perhaps better than any other writer, James Herriot reveals the ties that bind us to the natural world. Collected here are three of his masterpieces which have been winning over animal lovers everywhere for almost fifty years. From his night visits to drafty barns during freezing northern England winters, to the beautiful vitality of rural life in the summertime, to the colorful menagerie of animals—and their owners—that pass through his office, Herriot vividly evokes the daily challenges and joys that come with being a veterinarian."

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Battle Royale

"In an alternative future Japan, junior high students are forced to fight to the death. Koushun Takami's notorious sci fi novel is based on an irresistible premise: a class of junior high school students is taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are provided arms and forced to kill one another until only one survivor is left standing. This runaway bestseller is a Lord of the Flies for the 21st century and a potent allegory of what it means to be young and (barely) alive in a dog-eat-dog world. Made into a controversial hit movie of the same name, Battle Royale is already a contemporary Japanese pulp classic, now available in the English language. Koushun Takami's brutal, high-octane thriller is told in breathless, blow-by-blow fashion."

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Ruby Red

Translated by Anthea Bell, the foremost translator of German literature in the world. And she thinks Ruby Red is just "charming!"

"'This book was so much fun! Magic, romance, and time travel. A great start to a series that will appeal to the awkward adventurer in all of us.' -Diana DeVault

'Gwyneth Shepherd's sophisticated, beautiful cousin Charlotte has been prepared her entire life for traveling through time. But unexpectedly, it is Gwyneth who, in the middle of class, takes a sudden spin to a different era!

Gwyneth must now unearth the mystery of why her mother would lie about her birth date to ward off suspicion about her ability, brush up on her history, and work with Gideon, the time traveler from a similarly gifted family that passes the gene through its male line, and whose presence becomes, in time, less insufferable and more essential. Together, Gwyneth and Gideon journey through time to discover who, in the 18th century and in contemporary London, they can trust.'"

(I usually don't like YA, but this trilogy was a great set of light, fun reads. The narration is also good if you get it in audiobook form.)

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Beowulf

"Beowulf is to English what the Odyssey is to Greek literature. Beowulf is also the oldest example of vernacular literature of any substance in the whole of Western Europe. Since its rediscovery and the appearance of the first printed editions in the middle of the last century, this moving and dramatic epic has attracted considerable scholarly attention, and Dr Swanton is able to draw on this wealth of scholarship to present a considered and balanced introduction to the poem. Explanatory notes, drawing on archaeological sources, expand the poet's more esoteric allusions and offer background information on contemporary manners and customs. A prose translation faces the text, which should be invaluable to both students and the general reader."

Note: We recommend this particular translation which is considered the best.

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The Elven

“An international bestseller and epic adventure!

A fierce and merciless demon has been unleashed on the world, spreading destruction and bloodshed in both the human and the elven realms.

Northlander Jarl Mandred witnesses the ruthless attack on his men, and he seeks vengeance with the help of the elf queen, Emerelle. Despite Mandred’s barbaric human nature, the queen orchestrates an elfhunt joined by the two strongest warriors in Albenmark to pursue the beast. Farodin, the fiercest fighter in the land, and Nuramon, the healer, seize the opportunity to make history alongside Mandred in a life-defining series of battles waged in parallel universes.

The Elven is an international bestseller and epic tale, bringing heroes together across the boundaries of their worlds to avenge past losses and influence fates yet to be decided."

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The Iliad and The Odyssey

"While Homer's existence as a historical person is still a topic of debate, the writings attributed to the name have made their mark not only on Greek history and literature, but upon western civilization itself. Homer's epic poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey, laid the foundation upon which Ancient Greece developed not only its culture, but its societal values, religious beliefs, and practice of warfare as well.

This publication features the Samuel Butler translation, and while it strays from the poetic style reproduced by more well known translators like Robert Fagles and Robert Fitzgerald, the vision of the epics as if they were prose found in modern novels take their best form under Butler's most capable hand.

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The Handmaid's Tale

"The Handmaid's Tale is a novel of such power that the reader will be unable to forget its images and its forecast. Set in the near future, it describes life in what was once the United States, now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. 

The story is told through the eyes of Offred, one of the unfortunate Handmaids under the new social order. The Handmaid's Tale is funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing. It is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force. It is Margaret Atwood at her best."

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The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm 

"When Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published their Children's and Household Tales in 1812, followed by a second volume in 1815, they had no idea that such stories as "Rapunzel," "Hansel and Gretel," and "Cinderella" would become the most celebrated in the world. Yet few people today are familiar with the majority of tales from the two early volumes, since in the next four decades the Grimms would publish six other editions, each extensively revised in content and style. For the very first time, The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm makes available in English all 156 stories from the 1812 and 1815 editions. These narrative gems, newly translated and brought together in one beautiful book, are accompanied by sumptuous new illustrations from award-winning artist Andrea Dezsö."

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Through the Looking Glass

"Alice laughed. 'There's no use trying,' she said: 'one can't believe impossible things.' 'I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. 'When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.'

The 1872 sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland finds Carroll's inquisitive heroine in a fantastic land where everything is reversed. Alice encounters talking flowers, madcap kings and queens, and becomes a pawn in a bizarre chess game involving Humpty Dumpty, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and other amusing nursery-rhyme characters."

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