A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah (240 pages)
This absorbing account by a young man who, as a boy of 12, gets swept up in Sierra Leone's civil war goes beyond even the best journalistic efforts in revealing the life and mind of a child abducted into the horrors of warfare. Beah's harrowing journey transforms him overnight from a child enthralled by American hip-hop music and dance to an internal refugee bereft of family, wandering from village to village in a country grown deeply divided by the indiscriminate atrocities of unruly, sociopathic rebel and army forces. Beah then finds himself in the army—in a drug-filled life of casual mass slaughter that lasts until he is 15, when he's brought to a rehabilitation center sponsored by UNICEF and partnering NGOs. The process marks out Beah as a gifted spokesman for the center's work after his "repatriation" to civilian life in the capital, where he lives with his family and a distant uncle. When the war finally engulfs the capital, it sends 17-year-old Beah fleeing again, this time to the U.S., where he now lives. (Beah graduated from Oberlin College in 2004.)
A Passage to India by E.M. Forster (368 Pages)
Two Englishwomen, the young Miss Adela Quested and the elderly Mrs. Moore , travel to India. Adela expects to become engaged to Mrs. Moore's son, Ronny , a British magistrate in the Indian city of Chandrapore. Adela and Mrs. Moore each hope to see the real India during their visit, rather than cultural institutions imported by the British. At the same time, Aziz , a young Muslim doctor in India, is increasingly frustrated by the poor treatment he receives at the hands of the English. Aziz is especially annoyed with Major Callendar, the civil surgeon, who has a tendency to summon Aziz for frivolous reasons in the middle of dinner. Aziz and two of his educated friends, Hamidullah and Mahmoud Ali , hold a lively conversation about whether or not an Indian can be friends with an Englishman in India.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (400 Pages)
A Tale of Two Cities offers a swift, exciting story and an unforgettable rendering of the French Revolution, in a lethal, vengeful and exiguous Paris and a tranquil London. This novel as Dickens's most memorable effort to see a world in a very confined space indeed: a work very short by its nature and yet in which hundreds, even thousands of people do appear in a state of belligerence. The book is riddled with the howling mobs, epic scenes and tightly packed incidents that concentrate on a few central characters. It is an intimate piece of work, which somehow deftly evokes the epic presence of crowds and the vast movements of history, as well as the engrossing terror and compassion of individual characters.
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (432 Pages)
An in-depth exploration of Afghan society in the three decades of anti-Soviet jihad, civil war and Taliban cruelty. A Thousand Splendid Suns impels us to empathize with and admire those most victimized by Afghan history and culture—women. Mariam, a 15-year-old bastard whose mother commits suicide, is married off to 40-year-old Rasheed, who abuses her brutally, especially after she has several miscarriages. At 60, Rasheed takes in 14-year-old Laila, whose parents were blown up by stray bombs. He soon turns violent with her. Although Laila is united with her childhood beloved, the potential return of the Taliban always shadows their happiness.
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya (272 Pages)
Antonio Marez is six years old when Ultima enters his life. She is a curandera, one who heals with herbs and magic. 'We cannot let her live her last days in loneliness,' says Antonio's mother. 'It is not the way of our people,' agrees his father. And so Ultima comes to live with Antonio's family in New Mexico. Soon Tony will journey to the threshold of manhood. Always, Ultima watches over him. She graces him with the courage to face childhood bigotry, diabolical possession, the moral collapse of his brother, and too many violent deaths. Under her wise guidance, Tony will probe the family ties that bind him, and he will find in himself the magical secrets of the pagan past--a mythic legacy equally as palpable as the Catholicism of Latin America in which he has been schooled. At each turn in his life there is Ultima who will nurture the birth of his soul.
Blood Diamond by Greg Campbell (280 Pages)
Campbell takes the reader on a journey to the dark side of the glittering image of diamonds, a darkness too long out of sight of Euro-American consciousness. Campbell explores the significance of the diamond trade in Sierra Leone, the West African country formed by the British to reward African American slaves who fought for the Crown in the American Revolution. He recounts the horrors of this war-torn nation, with child-soldiers and deranged adults who have reportedly cut off the hands and elbows of innocents or even removed fetuses from pregnant women via machete. The underlying motivation for the violence and strife of Sierra Leone is centered in the diamond trade, much of it illegal smuggling sanctioned by the cartel DeBeers. The trade has earned the name "blood diamonds" and has financed conflicts and rebellions around the world, including the al-Qaeda network. Campbell notes that this same illegal diamond trading that has wrecked Sierra Leone may provide the basis for hope as the West is compelled to address the tragic circumstances of this war-torn nation.
Bound by Donna Jo Napoli (192 Pages)
Xing Xing is left to the mercy of her stepmother after the death of her father. Focusing on a good marriage for her own big-footed daughter, the woman binds the poor girl's feet even though she is past the usual age for this painful procedure. Xing Xing's only pleasure is her daily contact with a beautiful white carp in the pond where she draws water. To her, the fish seems to be the spirit of her mother helping her endure her difficult life. When the stepmother kills it, the girl is devastated, but she retrieves the bones from the garbage heap and, in the process of hiding them, discovers a green silk gown and gold slippers that belonged to her mother. Dressed in this rich garb, Xing Xing goes to the festival where she loses one slipper in her effort to escape detection. The slipper is eventually bought by an unconventional prince; when he finally finds its owner, Xing Xing considers her options and decides to marry him. Napoli retains the pattern of the traditional Chinese tale with only a few minor changes: she sets the story in the northern province of Shaanxi during the Ming dynasty rather than in a minority community in southern China.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (288 Pages)
Brave New World is set six hundred years in the future. The world has submitted to domination by World Controllers, whose primary goal is to ensure the stability and happiness of society. Thus the underlying principle of the regime is utilitarianism, or maximizing the overall happiness of the society. The novel begins at the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Center, a production factory for human beings. A group of students is being given a tour of the facilities by the Director.
Burned Alive: A Survivor of an Honor Killing Speaks Out by Saoad (240 Pages)
When she was 18, her brother-in-law poured gasoline on her and set her aflame. She was meant to die because she was pregnant and unmarried, bringing disgrace to her parents. But she survived, and now, 25 years later, "Souad" bears witness to the horror of "honor crimes" that kill thousands of women every year in many countries across the world. She begins with a bitter account of what it was like to grow up female in a remote Palestinian village in the Occupied Territory. "Being born a girl was a curse." Unlike her brother, she never went to school. Her father beat her daily. She worked as a shepherd, a "consenting slave." She barely glimpsed the city, where women were free to work and move around. Her rescuer was Jacqueline, a European aid worker, who was in the Middle East to care for children in distress and who arranged for the badly burned young woman to be flown to Switzerland, where she and her newborn baby received medical care and support.
Candide by Voltaire (146 Pages)
One of the finest satires ever written, Voltaire's Candide savagely skewers this very "optimistic" approach to life as a shamefully inadequate response to human suffering. The swift and lively tale follows the absurdly melodramatic adventures of the youthful Candide, who is forced into the army, flogged, shipwrecked, betrayed, robbed, separated from his beloved Cunégonde, and tortured by the Inquisition. As Candide experiences and witnesses calamity upon calamity, he begins to discover that--contrary to the teachings of his tutor, Dr. Pangloss--all is perhaps not always for the best. After many trials, travails, and incredible reversals of fortune, Candide and his friends finally retire together to a small farm, where they discover that the secret of happiness is simply "to cultivate one's garden," a philosophy that rejects excessive optimism and metaphysical speculation in favor of the most basic pragmatism.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevski (560 Pages)
A poor (former) university student struggles for nearly a month with thoughts of murdering an old woman, a pawnbroker, whom he considers a leech on society. After a "experimental" visit to the old pawnbroker, Raskolnikov meets a man named Marmeladov at a tavern, who confesses that his drinking problem has been the cause of his family's poverty, which has forced his daughter, Sonia, into a life of prostitution. Raskolnikov accompanies Marmeladov home, where he witnesses firsthand the family's misfortunes.
Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton (320 Pages)
In search of missing family members, Zulu priest Stephen Kumalo leaves his South African village to traverse the deep and perplexing city of Johannesburg in the 1940s. With his sister turned prostitute, his brother turned labor protestor and his son, Absalom, arrested for the murder of a white man, Kumalo must grapple with how to bring his family back from the brink of destruction as the racial tension throughout Johannesburg hampers his attempts to protect his family.
Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen (81 Pages)
One of the best-known, most frequently performed of modern plays, displaying Ibsen's genius for realistic prose drama. A classic expression of women's rights, the play builds to a climax in which the central character, Nora, rejects a smothering marriage and life in a doll's house.
Dune by Frank Herbert (544 Pages)
Dune is based on a complex imagined society set 8 , 000 years in the future. The setting is the year 10 , 191 , and human beings have spread out and colonized planets throughout the universe. On the planet Caladan, Duke Leto of the House of Atreides is preparing to leave for his new position as the governor of Arrakis, a desert planet with valuable resources of melange, a spice drug that is extremely popular with wealthy people. Leto and his family, including his concubine, Jessica , and his son, Paul, suspect a trap by their rivals, the Harkonnens, led by Baron Harkonnen . Leto decides to settle on Arrakis because of its rich supplies of melange, despite warnings from his men, including his adviser, Thufir Hawat , and his master-of-arms, Gurney Halleck .
Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen (160 Pages)
An Enemy of the People concerns the actions of Doctor Thomas Stockmann, a medical officer charged with inspecting the public baths on which the prosperity of his native town depends. He finds the water to be contaminated. When he refuses to be silenced, he is declared an enemy of the people. Stockmann served as a spokesman for Ibsen, who felt that his plays gave a true, if not always palatable, picture of life and that truth was more important than critical approbation.
Fasting, Feasting by Anita Desai (240 Pages)
Short-listed for the 1999 Booker Prize, Desai's stunning new novel (after Journey to Ithaca) looks gently but without sentimentality at an Indian family that, despite Western influence, is bound by Eastern traditions. As Desai's title implies, the novel is divided into two parts. At the heart of Part One, set in India, is Uma, the eldest of three children, the overprotected daughter who finds herself starved for a life. Plain, myopic and perhaps dim, Uma gives up school and marriage, finding herself in her 40s looking after her demanding if well-meaning parents. Uma's younger, prettier sister marries quickly to escape the same fate, but seems dissatisfied. Although the family is "quite capable of putting on a progressive, Westernized front," it's clear that privileges are still reserved for boys. When her brother, Arun, is born, Uma is expected to abandon her education at the convent school to take care of him. It is Arun, the ostensibly privileged son, smothered by his father's expectations, who is the focus of the second part of the novel. The summer after his freshman year at the University of Massachusetts, Arun stays with the Pattons, an only-too-recognizable American family. While Desai paints a nuanced and delicate portrait of Uma's family, here the writer broadens her brush strokes, starkly contrasting the Pattons' surfeit of food and material comforts with the domestic routine of the Indian household. Indeed, Desai is so adept at portraying Americans through Indian eyes that the Pattons remain as inscrutable to the reader as they are to Arun. But Arun himself, as he picks his way through a minefield of puzzling American customs, becomes a more sympathetic character, and his final act in the novel suggests both how far he has come and how much he has lost. Although Desai takes a risk in shifting from the endearing Uma to Arun, she has much to say in this graceful, supple novel about the inability of the families in either culture to nurture their children.
First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung (288 Pages)
In 1975, Ung, now the national spokesperson for the Campaign for a Landmine-Free World, was the five-year-old child of a large, affluent family living in Phnom Penh, the cosmopolitan Cambodian capital. As extraordinarily well-educated Chinese-Cambodians, with the father a government agent, her family was in great danger when the Khmer Rouge took over the country and throughout Pol Pot's barbaric regime. Her parents' strength and her father's knowledge of Khmer Rouge ideology enabled the family to survive together for a while, posing as illiterate peasants, moving first between villages, and then from one work camp to another. The father was honest with the children, explaining dangers and how to avoid them, and this, along with clear sight, intelligence and the pragmatism of a young child, helped Ung to survive the war. Her restrained, unsentimental account of the four years she spent surviving the regime before escaping with a brother to Thailand and eventually the United States is astonishing--not just because of the tragedies, but also because of the immense love for her family that Ung holds onto, no matter how she is brutalized. She describes the physical devastation she is surrounded by but always returns to her memories and hopes for those she loves. Her joyful memories of life in Phnom Penh are close even as she is being trained as a child soldier, and as, one after another, both parents and two of her six siblings are murdered in the camps. Skillfully constructed, this account also stands as an eyewitness history of the period, because as a child Ung was so aware of her surroundings, and because as an adult writer she adds details to clarify the family's moves and separations.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (152 Pages)
Heart of Darkness begins on the deck of the Nellie , a British ship anchored on the coast of the Thames. The anonymous narrator, the Director of Companies, the Accountant, and Marlow sit in silence. Marlow begins telling the three men about a time he journeyed in a steamboat up the Congo River. For the rest of the novel (with only minor interruptions), Marlow narrates his tale.
Hiroshima by John Hersey (132 Pages)
On the basis of a return visit 40 years after the dropping of the bomb, Hersey has written a ``final chapter'' to one of the most important books to come out of World War II. The new chapter follows a reprint of the original text on the dropping of the first atomic bomb, and is written in the same spare, objective style. In it, Hersey brings up to date the lives of six survivors he covered so brilliantly in 1946. Once again he evokes the humdrum and the surreal elements in the aftermath of the bomb, and with eloquent simplicity he includes statements of other nations' nuclear tests.
Hush by Donna Jo Napoli (368 Pages)
Melkorka is an Irish princess, the first daughter of a magnificent kingdom -- but this all changes the day she is kidnapped and taken aboard a marauding slave ship. Trapped in a world both unfamiliar and cruel, Melkorka finds that her powerlessness gives her clarity. That she is the master of what she says. Choosing to take a vow of silence, Melkorka becomes an object of fascination to her captors. And then she realizes that any power, no matter how little, can make a difference.
During the last retreat, when the Chinese and the army of the North swept down into the South, an old man and his wife fled from their village in the hills and embarked upon a panicky trek along the main road to Seoul and at one point scrambled with other refugees into a roadside ditch to avoid an approaching column of American tanks and jeeps. There they came upon the boy. With these opening words, Chaim Potok departs from the world of Jewish family life. . .and turns to a dramatically different culture in a novel about three people brought together by chance in the midst of the horror of the Korean War.
In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez (252 Pages)
During the last days of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic, three young women, members of a conservative, pious Catholic family, who had become committed to the revolutionary overthrow of the regime, were ambushed and assassinated as they drove back from visiting their jailed husbands. Thus martyred, the Mirabal sisters have become mythical figures in their country, where they are known as las mariposas (the butterflies), from their underground code names. Herself a native of the Dominican Republic, Alvarez ( How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents ) has fictionalized their story in a narrative that starts slowly but builds to a gripping intensity. Each of the girls--Patria, Minerva and Maria Terese (Mate) Mirabal--speaks in her own voice, beginning in their girlhood in the 1940s; their surviving sister, Dede, frames the narrative with her own tale of suffering and dedication to their memory. To differentiate their personalities and the ways they came to acquire revolutionary fervor, Alvarez takes the risk of describing their early lives in leisurely detail, somewhat slowing the narrative momentum. In particular, the giddy, childish diary entries of Mate, the youngest, may seem irritatingly mundane at first, but in time Mate's heroism becomes the most moving of all, as the sisters endure the arrests of their husbands, their own imprisonment and the inexorable progress of Trujillo's revenge. Alvarez captures the terrorized atmosphere of a police state, in which people live under the sword of terrible fear and atrocities cannot be acknowledged.
JB by Archibald MacLeish (160 Pages)
MacLeish's Pulitzer Prize winning verse play sets the Old Testament book of Job in a semi-satirical modern setting (a circus tent), where JB (Job) undergoes his trials under the watchful eyes of the circus vendors Zuss and Nickles, who mimic the roles of God and Satan, respectively. JB's plight is essentially a play within a play, as the focus of the work tends to be the interactions between Zuss and Nickles. MacLeish raises the eternal questions through these powerful scenes, most notably with the recurring jingle of Nickles: "If God is God he is not good; if God is good He is not God..." Readers of this play are forced to address the questions themselves while they are entertained and challenged by the proposals of the characters and the Biblical parallels they represent.
Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare (Play)
Julius Caesar is a tale of honor and betrayal. Pompey, a beloved Roman leader, is defeated in civil war with Caesar. A small brotherhood, led by Marcus Brutus, are still devoted to him after his death and want nothing less than the assassination of their new leader. Watch as these men try to persuade their fellow comrades into joining them in their push for their own ideals.
Kaffir Boy by Mark Maphabane(368 Pages)
Kaffir Boy is set in South Africa during apartheid in the 1960's; it is an autobiography of the life of Mark Mathabane who tells the ups and downs of his life. The story begins with a bang as the SAP (South African Police) journey uninvited into Mark's house looking for his parents to check his passport. This happens many times throughout the book and Mark begins to adapt it as a well of everyday life. Mark also encounters poverty when his father is arrested for not having his passport in order. His family results to near starvation for months until his grandmother is able to help them get back on their feet until Mark's father returns from prison. Mark's next step lands him in school, although his father is completely bent against him going his mother is able to provide for his education. Mark ends up being at the top of his class and gets a scholarship to a college. He begins to pick up tennis and plays with more white players around the world; he begins to idolize Arthur Ashe and watches one of his matches. Mark ends up being a class act tennis player and making friends with several white people. At the end of the book Mark changes as a person, he didn't like whites at the beginning but learned that all whites were not bad and he also felt like he had completed all his goals coming out of a ghetto.
Les Miserables (abridged) by Victor Hugo(416 Pages)
Jean Valjean, after spending nineteen years in jail and in the galleys for stealing a loaf of bread and for several attempts to escape, is finally released, but his past keeps haunting him. At Digne, he is repeatedly refused shelter for the night. Only the saintly bishop, Monseigneur Myriel, welcomes him. Valjean repays his host's hospitality by stealing his silverware. When the police bring him back, the bishop protects his errant guest by pretending that the silverware is a gift. With a pious lie, he convinces them that the convict has promised to reform. After one more theft, Jean Valjean does indeed repent. Under the name of M. Madeleine he starts a factory and brings prosperity to the town of Montreuil.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding(192 Pages)
A group of English schoolboys are plane-wrecked on a deserted island. At first, the stranded boys cooperate, attempting to gather food, make shelters, and maintain signal fires. While they try to organize themselves to get their work done, there are some who would rather play or hunt. Soon, the boys become antagonistic, and refuse to listen to reason. The situation deteriorates as the trappings of civilization continue to fall away, until the boys no longer hunt game, but hunt each other!
Maus I: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman (160 Pages)
Spiegelman relates the effect of those events on the survivors' later years and upon the lives of the following generation. Each scene opens at the elder Spiegelman's home in Rego Park, N.Y. Art, who was born after the war, is visiting his father, Vladek, to record his experiences in Nazi-occupied Poland. The Nazis, portrayed as cats, gradually introduce increasingly repressive measures, until the Jews, drawn as mice, are systematically hunted and herded toward the Final Solution. Vladek saves himself and his wife by a combination of luck and wits, all the time enduring the torment of hunted outcast. The other theme of this book is Art's troubled adjustment to life as he, too, bears the burden of his parents' experiences.
Metamorphosis by Franz Kaftka(194 Pages)
Gregor Samsa awakens one morning to find himself transformed into a repulsive bug. Trapped inside this hideous form, his mind remains unchanged--until he sees the shocked reaction of those around him. He begins to question the basis of human love and, indeed, the entire purpose of his existence. But this, it seems, is only the beginning of his ordeal.
My Forbidden Face: Growing Up Under the Taliban by Latifa (224 Pages)
Latifa was a 16-year-old aspiring journalist when her brother rushed home one day in late 1996 with word that the white flag of the Taliban flew over their school and mosque. She writes, "We knew the Taliban were not far away... but no one truly believed they would manage to enter Kabul." The bizarre edicts of the women-suppressing regime slowly become a reality: women weren't allowed outside the home unless they were shrouded in a "chadri" (which covers the face and arms, unlike a burka, which covers the entire body and according to Latifa is worn only in distant provinces) and accompanied by a male relative. "A girl is not allowed to converse with a young man. Infraction of this law will lead to the immediate marriage of the offenders." No wearing of bright colors or lipstick; no medical care from a male doctor. And women doctors were not allowed to work, essentially cutting off medical care for women. Latifa's story puts a face on these now-familiar rules, and conveys the sheer boredom of the lively teenager-turned-hermit and the desperation of not knowing if she'll ever complete her education in such an upside-down world.
Night by Elie Wiesel (109 Pages)
In Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel's memoir Night, a scholarly, pious teenager is wracked with guilt at having survived the horror of the Holocaust and the genocidal campaign that consumed his family. His memories of the nightmare world of the death camps present him with an intolerable question: how can the God he once so fervently believed in have allowed these monstrous events to occur? There are no easy answers in this harrowing book, which probes life's essential riddles with the lucid anguish only great literature achieves. It marks the crucial first step in Wiesel's lifelong project to bear witness for those who died.
Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dosteyevsky (272 Pages)
"I am a sick man . . . I am a spiteful man," the irascible voice of a nameless narrator cries out. And so, from underground, emerge the passionate confessions of a suffering man; the brutal self-examination of a tormented soul; the bristling scorn and iconoclasm of alienated individual who has become one of the greatest antiheroes in all literature.
Oedipus the King by Sophocles (144 Pages)
Oedipus the King is the story of Oedipus, King of Thebes. Abandoned as a young child, Oedipus returns to Thebes, unaware of his heritage and the phrophecy surrounding his birth. The fulfillment of his destiny and of those prophecies results in grave consequences for the royal house of Thebes.
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (160 Pages)
Ivan Denisovich Shukhov wakes up at five AM in a camp for political prisoners in Siberia. Today, he feels ill and lies in bed for a little longer. A mean guard, the Tartar, catches him there and sends him to the guardhouse, where he's forced to clean the floor but is not imprisoned. Shukhov next goes to the medical dispensary, where the medical assistant Vdovushkin tells him his temperature is too low to be kept back from work. Shukhov next rushes to the mess hall, where a prisoner named Fetiukov has saved his breakfast for him, and back to the barracks, to hide his bread ration in his mattress, before roll call.
Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene (273 Pages)
The novel is set in pre- Castro Cuba . James Wormold, a vacuum cleaner salesman, meets Hawthorne, who offers him work for the British secret service. Wormold lives alone (his wife has left him for another man) with his teenage daughter, Milly. Since Wormold does not make enough money to grant all his daughter's wishes, he decides to take the offer. For lack of any real information to send the secret service, Wormold begins to deceive them by claiming that he has a network of agents, who actually are people that he knows only by sight. He carries his reports to extremes by sending his clients in London a circuit diagram of a vacuum cleaner, telling them that this is a sketch of a secret rocket launching-ramp. In London nobody except Hawthorne, who alone knows that Wormold sells vacuum cleaners, doubts this report. Nevertheless Hawthorne does not tell his boss about his doubts. To help Wormold the secret service sends him a secretary, Beatrice Severn, and other assistants.
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi (160 Pages)
Satrapi's autobiography (as graphic novel) is a timely and timeless story of a young girl's life under the Islamic Revolution. Descended from the last Emperor of Iran, Satrapi is nine when fundamentalist rebels overthrow the Shah. While Satrapi's radical parents and their community initially welcome the ouster, they soon learn a new brand of totalitarianism is taking over. Satrapi's art is minimal and stark yet often charming and humorous as it depicts the madness around her. She idolizes those who were imprisoned by the Shah, fascinated by their tales of torture, and bonds with her Uncle Anoosh, only to see the new regime imprison and eventually kill him. Thanks to the Iran-Iraq war, neighbors' homes are bombed, playmates are killed and parties are forbidden. Satrapi's parents, who once lived in luxury despite their politics, struggle to educate their daughter. Her father briefly considers fleeing to America, only to realize the price would be too great. "I can become a taxi driver and you a cleaning lady?" he asks his wife. Iron Maiden, Nikes and Michael Jackson become precious symbols of freedom, and eventually Satrapi's rebellious streak puts her in danger, as even educated women are threatened with beatings for improper attire. Despite the grimness, Satrapi never lapses into sensationalism or sentimentality. Skillfully presenting a child's view of war and her own shifting ideals, she also shows quotidian life in Tehran and her family's pride and love for their country despite the tumultuous times.
Picture Bride by Yoshiko Uchida (216 Pages)
Arriving is San Francisco with nothing more than a picture of the man she is to marry, young Hana Omiya joins hundreds of other young women sent to the United States in the early 1900s in arranged marriages. Her story joins the story of other Japanese immigrants as they face WWII and the general struggle to adapt to a culture they do not understand.
Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia by Jean Sassoon (304 Pages)
The life story of a Saudi princess the author met while living in Saudi Arabia, offering a glimpse of the appalling conditions endured by even privileged women in the Middle East.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (416 Pages)
So the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter remembered the chilling events that led her down the turning drive past ther beeches, white and naked, to the isolated gray stone manse on the windswept Cornish coast. With a husband she barely knew, the young bride arrived at this immense estate, only to be inexorably drawn into the life of the first Mrs. de Winter, the beautiful Rebecca, dead but never forgotten...her suite of rooms never touched, her clothes ready to be worn, her servant -- the sinister Mrs. Danvers -- still loyal. And as an eerie presentiment of evil tightened around her heart, the second Mrs. de Winter began her search for the real fate of Rebecca...for the secrets of Manderley.
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (165 Pages)
Siddhartha grows up with his friend Govinda in a small village in India. They are taught to believe in ancient Hindu teachings by Siddhartha's father, yet the young man becomes restless and decides to go out and explore the world to find answers to his questions. The ancient Hindu teachings seem silly to him, and according to Siddhartha, they offer inadequate explanations of the ways of the world.
Silence by Shusaka Endo (201 Pages)
The plot centers around a band of Portugese priests who land in Japan in the 1600's to spread the gospel on a culturally and spiritually unfertile soil. Their theology is eventually challenged in ways that only persecution and suffering can do: can I carry on here? should I? can I forgive my tormentors? should I? Ultimately, they wrestle with public apostasy and with whether or not they could ever be forgiven if they commit such an act.
Sold by Patricia McCormick (272 Pages)
As this heartbreaking story opens, 13-year-old Lakshmi lives an ordinary life in Nepal, going to school and thinking of the boy she is to marry. Then her gambling-addicted stepfather sells her into prostitution in India. Refusing to be with men, she is beaten and starved until she gives in. Written in free verse, the girls first-person narration is horrifying and difficult to read. In between, men come./They crush my bones with their weight./They split me open./Then they disappear. I hurt./I am torn and bleeding where the men have been. The spare, unadorned text matches the barrenness of Lakshmis new life. She is told that if she works off her familys debt, she can leave, but she soon discovers that this is virtually impossible. When a boy who runs errands for the girls and their clients begins to teach her to read, she feels a bit more alive, remembering what it feels like to be the number one girl in class again. When an American comes to the brothel to rescue girls, Lakshmi finally gets a sense of hope.
The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan (416 Pages)
Although set in America, The Bonesetter's Daughter tells so much of China that it has to be on this list. The book is divided into two major stories. One is the story of Ruth, an American-born Chinese woman, a ghostwriter for self-help books, in a relationship with a white man, stepmother to his two teenaged daughters, and finally, daughter of LuLing, who Ruth fears is becoming demented. The second major story is that of LuLing, which Ruth discovers in the form of documents LuLing had given her several years earlier, written in Chinese, LuLing's attempt to hold on to fading memories of her life in China.
The Chosen by Chaim Potok (304 Pages)
In 1940s Brooklyn, New York, an accident throws Reuven Malther and Danny Saunders together. Despite their differences (Reuven is a Modern Orthodox Jew with an intellectual, Zionist father; Danny is the brilliant son and rightful heir to a Hasidic rebbe), the young men form a deep, if unlikely, friendship. Together they negotiate adolescence, family conflicts, the crisis of faith engendered when Holocaust stories begin to emerge in the U.S., loss, love, and the journey to adulthood. The intellectual and spiritual clashes between fathers, between each son and his own father, and between the two young men, provide a unique backdrop for this exploration of fathers, sons, faith, loyalty, and, ultimately, the power of love.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (689 Pages)
Dantes is madly in love with Mercedes. On the eve of their wedding, Dantes is betrayed by 3 supposed friends. Dantes spends 14 years in prison and there he meets a priest he teaches him many things an tells him where to find a massive treasure. Dantes escapes, finds the treasure and sets out to get revenge on those who betrayed him. The revenge plots are long, detailed and sometimes farfetched. It seems Dantes can do anything he wants and is always able to buy what he needs or be in the right place at the right time. Still it is fun to get to know the characters and to see how Dantes exquisitely exacts his revenge. Many characters view suicide as a honorable way to deal with grief, which is ridiculous today but was accepted back then.
The Fall by Albert Camus (160 Pages)
The Fall is a profoundly disturbing novel of a Parisian lawyer's confessions is a searing study of modern amorality.
The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkein (432 Pages)
The story of The Lord of the Rings begins with several events that take place in The Hobbit. While wandering lost in a deep cave, Bilbo Baggins , a Hobbit--one of a small, kindly race about half the size of Men--stumbles upon a ring and takes it back with him to the Shire, the part of Middle-earth that is the Hobbits' home. All Bilbo knows of his ring is that wearing it causes him to become invisible. He is unaware that it is the One Ring, and is therefore oblivious to its significance and to the fact that Sauron has been searching for it.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (608 Pages)
Cases rarely come much colder than the decades-old disappearance of teen heiress Harriet Vanger from her family's remote island retreat north of Stockholm. At once a strikingly original thriller and a vivisection of Sweden's dirty not-so-little secrets (as suggested by its original title, Men Who Hate Women), this first of a trilogy introduces a provocatively odd couple: disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist, freshly sentenced to jail for libeling a shady businessman, and the multipierced and tattooed Lisbeth Salander, a feral but vulnerable superhacker. Hired by octogenarian industrialist Henrik Vanger, who wants to find out what happened to his beloved great-niece before he dies, the duo gradually uncover a festering morass of familial corruption.
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (368 Pages)
In The Good Earth Buck presents a graphic view of a China when the last emperor reigned and the vast political and social upheavals of the twentieth century were but distant rumblings for the ordinary people. This moving, classic story of the honest farmer Wang Lung and his selfless wife O-lan is must reading for those who would fully appreciate the sweeping changes that have occurred in the lives of the Chinese people during this century.
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (384 Pages)
Jemubhai Popatlal, a retired Cambridge-educated judge, lives in Kalimpong, at the foot of the Himalayas, with his orphaned granddaughter, Sai, and his cook. The makeshift family's neighbors include a coterie of Anglophiles who might be savvy readers of V.S. Naipaul but who are, perhaps, less aware of how fragile their own social standing is—at least until a surge of unrest disturbs the region. Jemubhai, with his hunting rifles and English biscuits, becomes an obvious target. Besides threatening their very lives, the revolution also stymies the fledgling romance between 16-year-old Sai and her Nepalese tutor, Gyan. The cook's son, Biju, meanwhile, lives miserably as an illegal alien in New York. All of these characters struggle with their cultural identity and the forces of modernization while trying to maintain their emotional connection to one another. In this alternately comical and contemplative novel, Desai deftly shuttles between first and third worlds, illuminating the pain of exile, the ambiguities of post-colonialism and the blinding desire for a "better life," when one person's wealth means another's poverty.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (400 Pages)
Amir lives a charmed life in a wealthy neighborhood in 1960's Kabul. He shares the joys of boyhood with his best friend, Hassan, the son of the family servant who is more like a brother to Amir, and their favorite pasttime is summer kite fighting. But Hassan is a despised racial minority in Afghanistan and when Amir betrays Hassan to the neighborhood bully, his guilt sets the rest of his life on a new course, constantly seeking redemption for his own weakness.
The Last War by Ana Menendez (240 Pages)
War is hell. So is love, sometimes. Ask Ana Menéndez. Her somber third novel is an elegy to a marriage sundered by war and love. Just after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Flash (a.k.a. Margarita Anastasia Morales) is holed up in Istanbul, waiting for the documents that will let her join her preppy war-correspondent husband, Brando Price Phillips, in Baghdad. A freelance photographer, Flash (get it?) has, like many a journalist wife before her, put her career ambitions on the back burner to follow her husband ("Wonderboy," as she not always lovingly refers to him) to conflicts around the globe. Self-described "war junkies," they've survived Kashmir and Kargil, India and Afghanistan, riding the rush of war reporting, passionately pursuing conflict and action. But now Flash feels that "something essential had begun to give way" in their marriage. "The disillusion we had so long been running from had finally come for us." So instead of hurrying to join her husband in the latest war, she cools her heels in Istanbul, having coffee on the apartment balcony as the sun rises over the Bosporus, taking long walks through the city, picking up a local assignment or two and drinking copious amounts of wine. And brooding. There's lots and lots of brooding, about what went wrong and when and why. Then one day, she gets an anonymous letter in the mail. Brando, it says, is having an affair in Baghdad. Unsure of what her marriage has become, Flash isn't exactly surprised. But her brooding level skyrockets. She takes more walks and soon becomes vaguely aware of a woman in a long black abaya who seems to be shadowing her throughout the city, appearing just at the edge of her vision. Returning from one of her aimless rambles one evening, Flash is startled to see the woman standing in her living room.
The Life of Pi by Yann Martel (336 Pages)
Yann Martel's imaginative and unforgettable Life of Pi is a magical reading experience, an endless blue expanse of storytelling about adventure, survival, and ultimately, faith. The precocious son of a zookeeper, 16-year-old Pi Patel is raised in Pondicherry, India, where he tries on various faiths for size, attracting "religions the way a dog attracts fleas." Planning a move to Canada, his father packs up the family and their menagerie and they hitch a ride on an enormous freighter. After a harrowing shipwreck, Pi finds himself adrift in the Pacific Ocean, trapped on a 26-foot lifeboat with a wounded zebra, a spotted hyena, a seasick orangutan, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker ("His head was the size and color of the lifebuoy, with teeth"). It sounds like a colorful setup, but these wild beasts don't burst into song as if co-starring in an anthropomorphized Disney feature. After much gore and infighting, Pi and Richard Parker remain the boat's sole passengers, drifting for 227 days through shark-infested waters while fighting hunger, the elements, and an overactive imagination. In rich, hallucinatory passages, Pi recounts the harrowing journey as the days blur together, elegantly cataloging the endless passage of time and his struggles to survive: "It is pointless to say that this or that night was the worst of my life. I have so many bad nights to choose from that I've made none the champion."
The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas (496 Pages)
In the Musketeers' final adventure, D'Artagnan remains in the service of the corrupt King Louis XIV after the Three Musketeers have retired and gone their separate ways. Meanwhile, a mysterious prisoner in an iron mask wastes away deep inside the Bastille. When the destinies of king and prisoner converge, the Three Musketeers and D'Artagnan find themselves caught between conflicting loyalties.
The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (352 Pages)
Tilo, proprietress of the Spice Bazaar in Oakland, California, is not the elderly Indian woman she appears to be. Trained as a mistress of spices, she evokes the magical powers of the spices of her homeland to help her customers. These customers, mostly first- or second-generation immigrants, are struggling to adapt their Old World ideals to the unfamiliar and often unkind New World. Though trapped in an old woman's body and forbidden to leave the store, Tilo is unable to keep the required distance from her patrons' lives. Her yearning to join the world of mortals angers the spices, and Tilo must face the dire consequences of her disobedience.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (672 Pages)
In 1959 an overzealous Baptist minister named Nathan Price drags his wife and four daughters deep into the heart of the Congo on a mission to save the unenlightened souls of Africa. The five women narrate the novel. From the outset, the attitudes of the five women cover a wide spectrum. The mother, Orleanna passively accepts the turn of events, as she passively accepts everything her husband tells her. Fifteen-year-old beauty queen Rachel resents her separation from normal teen life. Five year old adventurer Ruth May is both excited and frightened. Fourteen-year-old Leah , who alone shares her father's ardent religious faith , is enthusiastic. Leah's twin Adah a cripple and mute by birth, but also a brilliant observer, merely views the move, as she does all of life, with a wry and cynical detachment. One thing that the women share, however, is the unwavering faith that they are carrying with them a culture far superior to the one already existing in the village of Kilanga, and that they will therefore instantly be masters of their new domain.
The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang (328 Pages)
Iris Chang's book focuses on what she calls "the forgotten Holocaust of World War II" -- a few short weeks in early 1938 when somewhere between 260,000 and 350,000 Chinese civilians were shot, burned, raped, impaled, drowned, frozen, and otherwise massacred in and around the city of Nanking. There are a few photos as well as multiple pages of unbelievable horror stories, and there are heroes (one of them a Nazi diplomat) who fought to save the hapless people. Chang also discusses the intentional amnesia of Japanese history since the 1940s with regard to this and other wartime atrocities.
The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar (352 Pages)
A novel about a wealthy woman and her downtrodden servant, offers a revealing look at class and gender roles in modern day Bombay. Alternatively told through the eyes of Sera, a Parsi widow whose pregnant daughter and son-in-law share her elegant home, and Bhima, the elderly housekeeper who must support her orphaned granddaughter, Umrigar does an admirable job of creating two sympathetic characters whose bond goes far deeper than that of employer and employee. When we first meet Bhima, she is sharing a thin mattress with Maya, the granddaughter upon whom high hopes and dreams were placed, only to be shattered by an unexpected pregnancy and its disastrous consequences. As time goes on, we learn that Sera and her family have used their power and money time and time again to influence the lives of Bhima and Maya, from caring for Bhima's estranged husband after a workplace accident, to providing the funds for Maya's college education. We also learn that Sera's seemingly privileged life is not as it appears; after enduring years of cruelty under her mother-in-law's roof, she faced physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her husband, pain that only Bhima could see and alleviate. Yet through the triumphs and tragedies, Sera and Bhima always shared a bond that transcended class and race; a bond shared by two women whose fate always seemed to rest in the hands of others, just outside their control.
The Stranger by Albert Camus (123 pgs)
Through the story of an ordinary man unwittingly drawn into a senseless murder on an Algerian beach, Camus explored what he termed "the nakedness of man faced with the absurd.
The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas (545 Pages)
Dumas's tale of swashbuckling and heroism follows the fortunes of d'Artagnan, a headstrong country boy who travels to Paris to join the Musketeers - the bodyguard of King Louis XIII. Here he falls in with Athos, Porthos and Aramis, and the four friends soon find themselves caught up in court politics and intrigue. Together they must outwit Cardinal Richelieu and his plot to gain influence over the King, and thwart the beautiful spy Milady's scheme to disgrace the Queen. In The Three Musketeers, Dumas breathed fresh life into the genre of historical romance, creating a vividly realized cast of characters and a stirring dramatic narrative.
The Trial by Franz Kafka (140 Pages)
Joseph K. is an employee in a bank, a man without particular qualities or abilities. He could be anyone, and in some ways he is everyone. His inconsequence makes doubly strange his arrest by the officer of the court in the large city where K. lives. He tries in vain to discover how he has aroused the suspicion of the court. His honesty is conventional; his sins, with Elsa the waitress, are conventional; and he has no striking or dangerous ambitions. He can only ask questions, and receives no answers that clarify the strange world of courts and court functionaries in which he is compelled to wander. The plight of Joseph K., consumed by guilt and condemned for a crime he does not understand by a court with which he cannot communicate, is a profound and disturbing image of man in the modern world. There are no formal charges, no procedures, and little information to guide the defendant. One of the most unsettling aspects of the novel is the continual juxtaposition of alternative hypotheses, multiple explanations, different interpretations of cause and effect, and the uncertainty it breeds. The whole rational structure of the world is undermined.
The Wall: Growing up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis (56 Pages)
Born out of a question posed to Sís by his children (Are you a settler, Dad?), the author pairs his remarkable artistry with journal entries, historical context and period photography to create a powerful account of his childhood in Cold War–era Prague. Dense, finely crosshatched black-and-white drawings of parades and red-flagged houses bear stark captions: Public displays of loyalty—compulsory. Children are encouraged to report on their families and fellow students. Parents learn to keep their opinions to themselves. Text along the bottom margin reveals young Sís's own experience: He didn't question what he was being told. Then he found out there were things he wasn't told. The secret police, with tidy suits and pig faces, intrude into every drawing, watching and listening. As Sís grows to manhood, Eastern Europe discovers the Beatles, and the Prague Spring of 1968 promises liberation and freedom. Instead, Soviet tanks roll in, returning the city to its previous restrictive climate. Sís rebels when possible, and in the book's final spreads, depicts himself in a bicycle, born aloft by wings made from his artwork, flying toward America and freedom, as the Berlin Wall crumbles below.
Things They Carried by Tim O' Brien (272 Pages)
Vietnam was full of strange stories, some improbable, some well beyond that, but the stories that will last forever are those that swirl back and forth across the border between trivial and bedlam." First published in 1979, Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried is an unparalleled Vietnam testament, a classic study of men at war that brilliantly -- and painfully --illuminates the capacity, and the limits, of the human heart and soul. Focusing on the members of a single platoon (one of whom happens to be a 21-year-old grunt named Tim O'Brien) the 22 interconnected stories of this collection catalogue not only the things they carried into battle -- M-16s, grenade launchers, candy, Kool-Aid, and cigarettes -- but more importantly, the things they carried inside, and the nightmares they carried home.
Three Cups of Tea—Young Readers Edition by Greg Mortenson (240 Pages)
Hiking in the mountains of Pakistan in 1993, Mortenson got lost. He found his way to a small village where the locals helped him recover from his ordeal. While there, he noticed that the students had no building and did all of their schooling out of doors. Motivated to repay the kindness he had received, he vowed to return to the village and help build a school. Thus began his real life's journey. Mortenson's story recounts the troubles he faced in the U.S. trying to raise the money and then in Pakistan, trying to get the actual supplies to a remote mountain location. His eventual success led to another, and yet another, until he established a foundation and built a string of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mortenson manages to give the story an insider's feel despite being an outsider himself. His love of the region and the people is evident throughout and his dedication to them stalwart.
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (328 Pages-Play)
Widely regarded as Shakespeare's most perfect comedy, Twelfth Night follows the twisting paths that lead to love. The editor, Claire McEachern , provides an illuminating context for the play, showing how England's struggle to define a national religious identity underlies many of the play's conflicts.
When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge by Chanrithy Him (330 Pages)
Born in Cambodia in 1965, Him lived from the age of three with the fear of war overflowing from neighboring Vietnam and suffered through the U.S.'s bombing of her native land. However, thanks to her loving and open-minded family, her outlook remained positive--until 1975, when the Khmer Rouge seized control and turned her world upside down. (According to a Cambodian proverb, "broken glass floats" when the world is unbalanced.) Armed with a nearly photographic memory, Him forcefully expresses the utter horror of life under the revolutionary regime. Evacuated from Phnom Penh and and shunted from villages to labor camps, her close-knit family of 12 was decimated: both parents were murdered, and five of her siblings starved or died from treatable illnesses. Meanwhile, the culture of local communities was destroyed and replaced with the simple desire to survive famine. Yet for all their suffering throughout these years, the surviving Hims remained loyal to one another, saving any extra food they collected and making dangerous trips to other camps to share it with weaker family members. Friendships were also formed at great risk, and small favors were exchanged. But by the end of the book, Him finds herself surprised when she encounters remnants of humanity in people, for she has learned to live by mistrusting, by relying on her own wits and strength. When the Khmer Rouge were overthrown, Him moved to a refugee camp in Thailand. Today she works with the Khmer Adolescent Project in Oregon.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys and Charlotte Bronte (189 Pages)
Wide Sargasso Sea details the life of Antoinette Mason (known in Jane Eyre as Bertha), a West Indian who marries an unnamed man in Jamaica and returns with him to his home in England. Locked in a loveless marriage and settled in an inhospitable climate, Antoinette goes mad and is frequently violent. Her husband confines her to the attic of his house at Thornfield. Only he and Grace Poole, the attendant he has hired to care for her, know of Antoinette's existence. The reader gradually learns that Antoinette's unnamed husband is Mr. Rochester, later to become the beloved of Jane Eyre.
Zlata’s Diary by Zlata Filipovic (240 Pages)
From September 1991 through October 1993, young Zlata Filipovic kept a diary. When she began it, she was 11 years old, concerned mostly with friends, school, piano lessons, MTV, and Madonna. As the diary ends, she has become used to constant bombing and snipers; severe shortages of food, water, and gas; and the end of a privileged adolescence in her native Sarajevo. Zlata has been described as the new Anne Frank. While the circumstances are somewhat similar, and Zlata is intelligent and observant, this diary lacks the compelling style and mature preceptions that gave Anne Frank's account such universality. The entire situation in the former Yugoslavia, however, is of such currency and concern that any first-person account, especially one such as this that speaks so directly to adolescents, is important and necessary.
1984 by George Orwell (336 Pages)
In a grim city and a terrifying country, where Big Brother is always Watching You and the Thought Police can practically read your mind, Winston is a man in grave danger for the simple reason that his memory still functions. He knows the Party's official image of the world is a fluid fiction. He knows the Party controls the people by feeding them lies and narrowing their imaginations through a process of bewilderment and brutalization that alienates each individual from his fellows and deprives him of every liberating human pursuit. Drawn into a forbidden love affair, Winston finds the courage to join a secret revolutionary organization called The Brotherhood, dedicated to the destruction of the Party. Together with his beloved Julia, he hazards his life in a deadly match against the powers that be.