Friday, August 26, 2011

30 More Days Book Challenge: Day 17

Tag Siebzehn: Favorite Books from Non-English Speakers


A different person would pick Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Leo Tolstoy, or even that Stieg Larsson fellow. However I wanted to choose a book that doesn’t get much attention, but that I count as one of my favorite reads.

Marguerite Duras was a French writer and film director born in Saigon in the early 1900’s. After her father’s death, Marguerite and her family lived in near poverty in Indochina. Both her mother and one of her brothers abused Duras, in fact her story is quite dark (she battled terrible alcoholism most of her life). At an early age, perhaps 15 years old, she became sexually involved with an older Chinese man. Her story is recounted in her award-winning book The Lover (L'Amant) written in 1984. While her life is obviously compelling, it is her writing that sustains the book. Her writing is sparse, dreamlike, almost detached (incredibly effective when recounting her sexual encounters with her older lover), and most of all it is beautiful.

Duras continues her story in three other books: The Sea Wall, Eden Cinema, and The North China Lover. The Lover remains my favorite; in fact, The North China Lover actually contradicts bits of The Lover. I predict if you read Duras you will want to dip into at least one or two of her other books.

If you are inclined an excellent film adaptations was made of The Lover in the 1990’s.


Other Press

I am a big fan of the Russian masters.  I love Dostoevsky, I love Turgenev, I love Gogol.  Most of the reading I've done by non-English speakers before about five years ago came with from my Russian buddies.  Since I joined Random House a few years ago, however, I have had the pleasure of also selling an independent publisher that Random House distributes, Other Press.  I quickly learned to trust the press's selections, particularly when it comes to foreign language fiction.  If Other Press selects a book for publication, you can rest assured that it has something to offer.  Theirs are books for smart readers who appreciate psychological complexity as well as beautiful writing and a good story.  They have published several of my favorite books of the last few years, including The Glass Room and Galore.

A couple of years ago, Other Press published a Spanish novel (Spanish the language and Spanish as in "from Spain") by Manuel de Lope called The Wrong Blood.  Set right before the Spanish Civil War in the Basque Country, two women--one a newlywed and the other a barmaid brutally raped--both find themselves alone and pregnant when war erupts.  Years later, the grandson of the newlywed returns to the village to spend the summer studying for law school exams.  His presence there, though, digs up the buried past and the ghosts that haunt the earlier generation.  I love the writing in this book, and I love the way the story unfolds.  I also love that this is a book a window into a region and historical period I don't read about every day.

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