Afghanistan: Hosseini – The Kite Runner
A tragic and emotional tale about friendship, betrayal and atonement. Hosseini offers the Western world an insight to the ‘real’ Afghanistan that is clouded behind a media portrayal that is full of war and oppression.
You can’t help but feel sorry for protagonist Amir, who is haunted by his guilt of not revealing that he saw his servent/friend, Hassan, get raped. However, you simultaneously feel completely unsympathetic due to his ignorant and bullish behaviour towards Hassan. You follow his story from a young boy living a happy life in Kabul to fleeing the country to America due the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, bringing with it violence, blood and destruction. Throughout the novel, we see Amir trying to redeem himself from his selfish acts and childhood guilt to adulthood, and whether he is able to or not is up for the reader to decide.
While studying the The Kite Runner at AS level I was initially a little reluctant to read it but. However, and as much of a cliché as it sounds, you really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. I was surprised by how beautiful this book really is, full of literary techniques which would satisfy all the literature nerds and also a fantastic read for those who consider themselves not much of a reader. It’s one of those books that will stand the test of time – a modern classic.
Words by Olivia Walsh
Austria: Leopold von Sacher-Masoch – Venus in Furs
Sacher-Masoch is not just any author. He is an Austrian prophet sent to entice readers of all ages. The metaphorical essence of Venus in Furs and its passionate emotion centres around a man who dreams of talking to the beautiful Goddess Venus, who is dressed all in furs. Without giving away too many of the gory details, the subject matter was truly revolutionary for its respective era; written in 1870, it hypothesises a rejection of sexual suppression that is manifest in society’s submissiveness.
A book that is positively shocking, yet truly satisfying. Despite being horrified at the sheer ridiculousness of the maleficent protagonist, Severin, you find yourself irrationally empathising for him. The beautiful yet malignant Venus leaves you uncertain whether to like her or detest her. Overall, this alluring piece of literature is worthy of canonisation. Sacher-Masoch’s lucid style is enduring yet shocking – you will find yourself gasping in horror at a certain passage, yet revelling in its the devilish pleasures. Sacher-Masoch unearths the sinister under-belly of humanity that all of us are too afraid to admit. Obviously, not all of us fantasize about the vulgar promiscuity detailed in Venus in Furs, but we all have the capacity to hide our true desires and accept the complacency the world wills us into. Sacher-Masoch channels this suppression and revolts against it in an incendiary account of love and loss.
Words by Alicia Carpenter
Australia: Kate Grenville – The Lieutenant
Australia comes in the form of Kate Grenville’s post-colonial novel The Lieutenant. This is the second novel in Grenville’s trilogy on early Australia, the first of which depicts her own family history. Loosely based on William Dawes’ account of the first fleet from England to New South Wales in 1788 – the story is a work of fiction and finds narrative within suppressed historical gaps.
The story is told through the eyes of Daniel Rooke – an introverted and highly intellectual flexible thinker, who’s passionate about maths, astronomy and music. Rooke joins the fleet to establish an observatory and chart the stars. After encountering the Aboriginals, Rooke sets out to learn the native language. He establishes a trusting friendship between Tagaran, a young Aboriginal girl who resembles his younger sister, and begins his linguistic notation. Exploring natural curiosity and the dangers of ignorance, the novel charts a pivotal point in Australian history. Rooke’s outsider status allows him to view situations from different angles and addresses the darker side of English plans at the time.
Grenville illustrates the tale in perfect poetic prose allowing the reader to become absorbed in Rooke’s life and thoughts. The Lieutenant is a contemplative and moving story of human relationships.
Words by Frances
Australia: Markus Zusak – The Book Thief
The beauty of literature is universal, but each piece of prose could never show the extent of its beauty without a distinct sense of the writer’s identity assimilated in the words. It’s usually a sense of their upbringing, their family’s history or their own nationality and The Book Thief is no exception to this.
Although author Markus Zusak is Australian, he has a German mother and an Austrian father. Zusak listened to and understood his parents’ stories of their childhoods in Munich and Vienna under the Third Reich, which taught him more about the Regime than Western history textbooks tell us now. The rebellious protagonist is Liesel, the book thief herself, who is used as Zusak’s defence against the claim that Hitler managed to brainwash Germany in its entirety; this story shows a snippet of the absence of complete conformity when it came between a girl and passion for lovelier words than Hitler’s, words in more logical and kind books than Mein Kampf. The story follows Liesel as she learns to read, attempts to read every book she can find, and eventually becomes a writer, something the daughter of a Communist could never have done without a slight rebellion under the totalitarianism Hitler did not achieve.
Something so harrowing about the novel is how its ominous and omnipotent narrator is Death itself. Zusak so elegantly reminds the reader through this narrator that death is lingering around the everyday and through war equally. It follows the book thief through the story and touches the ones she loves every so often. It’s truly a heart-wrenching story of the destructions of war on the other side of the ‘them and us’ ideology, reclaiming the humanity inside enemy nations and reinforcing the humanitarian fact that there is a difference between the opinions of one country and the individual from there.
Words by Caitlin O’Connor
Germany: Franz Kafka – Metamorphosis
Metamorphosis is based around the story of a simple man, Gregor Samsa, waking up one day as a giant insect. As a reader, this can seem a completely bizarre event and we instinctively begin to question “Why? How?” But these questions are never answered. Instead, the story focuses on the adaptations Gregor finds himself making in order to live with this transformation, and how it affects those around him.
Throughout the story, we see the main character struggle, as the conflict between his human mind and non-human body grows. Kafka is able to make this seemingly odd and illogical event completely relatable to anyone who has experienced any sort of self-conflict – this is what makes his writing worthy of the high praise it has received.
When looking at Kafka’s background and the context of which the story was written, the main themes of most of his novels are no surprise; father-son conflict and a sense of absurdity being the main two. Kafka grew up feeling very much alienated and never truly made those close human companionships and had a poor relationship with his father, something which is reflected in the story; as Gregor’s time as a bug goes on, his father’s sympathy towards him lessens and, in turn, Gregor’s respect for his father diminishes. This book is typically Kafkaesque – it describes a surreal and nightmarish situation being inflicted upon real-life situations, often leaving the character feeling guilty and alienated.
Franz Kafka was a literary genius and all his works are definitely worthy of a read. Metamorphosis was the first story I read of his, and will continue to read it again and again due to its beautiful writing, compelling narrative and my love for giant bugs. Just kidding.
Words by Hayley Lines
Ireland: Samuel Beckett – Molloy
Irish writing is a peculiar thing; for such a small island, the amount of literary genius it has produced seems incongruous. One of these foremost talents is Samuel Beckett, whose most famous work is Molloy.
The novel follows the journey of a man, who thinks his mother’s surname might have been Molloy, therefore deducing it to be his name too. He doesn’t know how old he is, he just knows he is very old, and he doesn’t know where he is going, exactly. He just thinks he knows where he might be going. This bizarre journey progresses in no particular direction as Molloy continues to decay – he is convinced he is going to die. He departs with the most vital knowledge his years have bestowed upon him, trying to find out what’s going on. At the heart of the matter, Molloy just wants to know what he’s doing so he has the hope of being able to do it, but as he explains: “If there is one question I dread, to which I have never been able to invent a satisfactory reply, it is the question what am I doing.”
Following Molloy’s journey, the narration shifts to another man, Moran, who might be a detective, or an emissary, or he may just be a go-between. He is tracking Molloy, for an unspecified reason, but as he gets closer he too begins to decline. Eventually he just stops searching. There is no certainty as to who these characters really are, or what it is they’re doing.
Words by Jonah Hartley