A Good Book Will Take You Places

by Anne M

In “How Reading Changed My Life,” Anna Quindlen wrote “Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey.” I understand Quindlen’s sentiment. Books, particularly fiction, act as a vehicle for my own exploration; I learn more about a different place or time through the eyes of another person. To get to new places, try these new international titles from the Iowa City Public Library’s collection.

Madonna in a fur coat

1906-1948 Sabahattin Ali

FICTION Sabahatt
Fiction

"A shy young man leaves his home in rural Turkey to learn a trade and discover life in 1920s Berlin. There, amid the city's bustling streets, elegant museums, passionate politics and seedy cabarets, a change meeting transforms his life forever. Caught between his desire for freedom and his yearning to belong, he struggles to hold on to the new life he has found"--

Anne M's picture

This short 200-page novel packs a punch. There is a lot of self-exploration--deciding who you are when you of one world, but living in another. It is also an interestingly framed in terms of the narrative. Originally published in the 1940's, this novel has gained some recent momentum in Turkey. For the first time, it is has been translated in English. -Anne M

The twenty days of Turin

Giorgio De Maria

FICTION Demaria Giorgio
Horror, Mystery, Thriller

In the spare wing of a church-run sanatorium, some zealous youths create "the Library," a space where lonely citizens can read one anothers personal diaries and connect with like-minded souls in "dialogues across the ether." But when their scribblings devolve into the ugliest confessions of the macabre, the Librarys users learn too late that a malicious force has consumed their privacy and their sanity. As the city of Turin suffers a twenty-day "phenomenon of collective psychosis" culminating in nightly massacres that hundreds of witnesses cannot explain, the Library is shut down and erased from history. That is, until a lonely salaryman decides to investigate these mysterious events, which the citizenry of Turin fear to mention. Inevitably drawn into the citys occult netherworld, he unearths the stuff of modern nightmares: whats shared can never be unshared.

Anne M's picture

In this short work, our unnamed hero investigates a decades-old mystery, when the people of Turin experienced twenty nights of collective sleepwalking and inexplicable murders. Do the murders have something to do with the creation of the Library, where people can write down and share their most important thoughts and secrets? This book is a little bit “The Social Network” and a little bit “Stranger Things.” -Anne M

The ninety-ninth floor

Janá Fawwāz Ḥasan

FICTION Hasan, Jana Fawwaz
Fiction

"Shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2015. At times as cold and hard-edged as the skyscrapers in its backdrop, The Ninety-Ninth Floor follows the struggles and triumphs of Majed as he makes it in Manhattan at the turn of the century, after surviving the devastating 1982 massacre at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp. A Palestinian born and raised in Lebanon, Majed creates a new life for himself in the glittery world of New York City's computer games industry. But with all his success, Majed's past continues to haunt him. His relationship with Hilda, a Lebanese woman from a right-wing Christian family, exposes his innermost fears, worries, and dark secrets. A multi-voiced narration, The Ninety-Ninth Floor conveys the brutality that war leaves on the people who experience it. It is also a love story that asks questions about the ability of passion to overcome hatred and difference."--Amazon.com

Anne M's picture

Jana Fawaz Elhassan’s “The Ninety-Ninth Floor” is fantastic read about a young man navigating a new place and a new love. -Anne M

Me

Tomoyuki Hoshino

FICTION Hoshino Tomoyuki
Fiction, Suspense

A young Tokyoite named Hitoshi Nagano who, on a whim, takes home a cell phone belonging to Daiki Hiyama who accidentally put it on Hitoshi's tray at McDonald's. Hitoshi uses the phone to call Daiki's mother, pretending he is Daiki, and convinces her to wire him 900,000 yen. Three days later, Hitoshi returns home from work to discover Daiki's mother in his apartment, and she seems to truly believe Hitoshi is her son. Even more bizarre, Hitoshi discovers his own parents now treat him as a stranger; they, too, have a "me" living with them as Hitoshi. At a loss for what else to do, Hitoshi begins living as Daiki, and no one seems to bat an eye.

Anne M's picture

For a more recent mystery of technological social psychosis, check out Tomoyuki Hoshino’s “Me.” -Anne M

Fever dream : a novel

Samanta Schweblin

FICTION Schwebli Samanta
Fiction, Thriller

"A young woman named Amanda lies dying in a rural hospital clinic. A boy named David sits beside her. She's not his mother. He's not her child. Together, they tell a haunting story of broken souls, toxins, and the power and desperation of family. Fever Dream is a nightmare come to life, a ghost story for the real world, a love story and a cautionary tale. One of the freshest new voices to come out of the Spanish language and translated into English for the first time, Samanta Schweblin creates an aura of strange psychological menace and otherworldly reality in this absorbing, unsettling, taut novel"--

Anne M's picture

If you enjoy surrealist fiction, you may like Samantha Schweblin’s “Fever Dream,” which is best described as a ghost story, but that label still doesn’t feel quite right. The narration follows a conversation between a hospital-bound woman and a neighbor’s son. However, it is unclear if either are still of this world. This book is a puzzle in both subject and form. -Anne M

The years, months, days : two novellas

Lianke Yan

FICTION Yan Lianke
Fiction

Yan LiankezChinas most feted and most banned authory (Financial Times)is a master of imaginative satire, and his prize-winning works have been published around the world to the highest honors. Now, his two most acclaimed novellas are collected here in a single volumemasterfully crafted stories that explore the sacrifices made for family, the driving will to survive, and the longing to leave behind a personal legacy.

Anne M's picture

For more short fiction that challenges subject and form, check out Yan Lianke's “The Years, Months, Days." -Anne M

The world goes on

László Krasznahorkai

FICTION Krasznah Laszlo
Fiction

In The World Goes On, a narrator first speaks directly, then tells eleven unforgettable stories, and then bids farewell (“for here I would leave this earth and these stars, because I would take nothing with me”). As László Krasznahoraki himself explains: “Each text is about drawing our attention away from this world, speeding our body toward annihilation, and immersing ourselves in a current of thought or a narrative…” A Hungarian interpreter obsessed with waterfalls, at the edge of the abyss in his own mind, wanders the chaotic streets of Shanghai. A traveler, reeling from the sights and sounds of Varanasi, encounters a giant of a man on the banks of the Ganges ranting on the nature of a single drop of water. A child laborer in a Portuguese marble quarry wanders off from work one day into a surreal realm utterly alien from his daily toils. The World Goes On is another amazing masterpiece by the winner of the 2015 Man Booker International Prize. “The excitement of his writing,” Adam Thirwell proclaimed in the New York Review of Books, “is that he has come up with this own original forms―there is nothing else like it in contemporary literature.”

Anne M's picture

Another great example of surrealist fiction. -Anne M

The silence of the spirits

Wilfried N'Sondé

FICTION Nsonde Wilfried
Fiction

What are the limits of empathy and forgiveness? How can someone with a shameful past find a new path that allows for both healing and reckoning? When Clovis and Christelle find themselves face-to-face on a train heading to the outskirts of Paris, their unexpected encounter propels them on a cathartic journey toward understanding the other, mediated by their respective histories of violence. Clovis, a young undocumented African, struggles with the pain and shame of his brutal childhood, abusive exploits as a child soldier, and road to exile. Christelle, a young French nurse, has her own dark experiences but translates her suffering into an unusual capacity for empathy, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Anne M's picture

Do you prefer more realism? In Wilfried N’Sondé’s “The Silence of the Spirits,” Clovis Nzila, an African migrant, and Christelle, a French nurse, sit next to each other on a suburban Paris train. On the surface, they may seem worlds apart, but after starting a conversation, they learn through telling their stories that there is more that unites them than divides them. -Anne M

For two thousand years

Mihail Sebastian

FICTION Sebastia Mihail
Fiction

"Mihail Sebastian's 1934 masterpiece, now available in English for the first time, was written as the rise of fascism forced him out of his literary career and turned his friends and colleagues against him. Confronted with the violence of a recurrent anti-Semitism, Sebastian questions its causes in this perceptive testimony, illuminating the ideological debates of the interwar period with wit, simplicity and vivacity"--

Anne M's picture

Also recently published in English, this 1934 Romanian work is fiction mirroring reality as Mihail Sebastian grapples with the rise of antisemitism and fascism in the years leading up to World War II. -Anne M

Ties

Domenico Starnone

FICTION Starnone Domenico
Fiction

Translated by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri, Ties is a compulsively readable and provocative novel about marriage and family by one of Italy's bestselling novelists. Like many marriages, Vanda and Aldo's has been subject to strain, to attrition, to the burden of routine. Yet it has survived intact. Or so things appear. The rupture in their marriage lies years in the past, but if one looks closely enough, the fissures and fault lines are evident. It is a cracked vase that may shatter at the slightest touch. Or perhaps it has already shattered, and nobody is willing to acknowledge the fact. Domenico Starnone's thirteenth work of fiction is a powerful short novel about relationships, family, love, and the ineluctable consequences of one's actions. Known as a consummate stylist and beloved as a talented storyteller, Domenico Starnone is the winner of Italy's most prestigious literary award, The Strega.

Anne M's picture

Translated by Jhumpa Lahiri, do not miss this emotional Italian novella about a family crisis. -Anne M