Fiction things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

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An Annotated Student Reading List for AP World History


*Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

“One of Chinua Achebe's many achievements in his acclaimed first novel, Things Fall Apart, is his relentlessly unsentimental rendering of Nigerian tribal life before and after the coming of colonialism. First published in 1958, just two years before Nigeria declared independence from Great Britain, the book eschews the obvious temptation of depicting pre-colonial life as a kind of Eden. Instead, Achebe sketches a world in which violence, war, and suffering exist, but are balanced by a strong sense of tradition, ritual, and social coherence. His Ibo protagonist, Okonkwo, is a self-made man. The son of a charming ne'er-do-well, he has worked all his life to overcome his father's weakness and has arrived, finally, at great prosperity and even greater reputation among his fellows in the village of Umuofia. Okonkwo is a champion wrestler, a prosperous farmer, husband to three wives and father to several children.” (AR)

Broad and Alien is the World by Ciro Alegria

“Ciro Alegria is considered one of the best writers in South America and he proved it with this book. This book has to be one of the best I have ever read. The story about a little Indian "pueblo" in Peru and the troubles they go through to keep their land from greedy rich people and a corrupted government

lets you understand what goes on in the isolated areas of this Andean nation. The story is great, Alegria takes you through the lives of each member of the community and allows you to understand better what this country and its people have encountered ever since the Conquistadoroes set foot on this fertile land.” (AR)

In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

“Dede, the only survivor of the four Mirabel sisters, code name Mariposas or butterflies, reveals their role in the liberation of the Dominican Republic from the dictator Trujillo.” “An Outstanding Book for the College Bound” list book by the American Library Association.

The Beautiful Ones are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kewi Armah

“Set during the last days of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first president and noted exponent of Pan-Africanism, this book chronicles the fortunes and misfortunes of "the man," the nameless focalizer of Armah's finely crafted novel, who struggles to retain some semblance of integrity, barely surviving in a country where corruption is "the national game." Intense, introspective, darkly melancholic but never misanthropic, Armah's novel celebrates a strong sense of hope in the midst of savage adversity, the small but not insignifcant victories that enable "the man" to live from day to day -- such existential Africana is a philosophy forged on the anvil of hard toil and experience.” (AR)

So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba

So Long a Letter is a landmark book - a sensation in its own country and an education for outsiders. Mariama Ba, a longtime women's activist, set out to write a book that exposed the double standard between men and women in Africa. The result, So Long a Letter, eventually won the first Noma Award for Publishing in Africa. The book [set in Senegal] itself takes the form of a long letter written by a widow, Ramatoulaye, to her friend, over the mandatory forty-day mourning period following the death of a husband. Both women had married for love and had happy, productive marriages; both were educated, had work they loved and were intellectually alive. During their lives, both of these women's husbands chose to take a second wife - and each woman then made a different choice.” (AR)

Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagasarian

“This breathtaking novel written from the view point of an Armenian boy during the genocide of WWI picks you up, runs you ragged and then drops you with haunted eyes and a shiver to live in your concience forever. The atrocities committed during this almost forgotten episode of history are shown with intensity and clarity so strongly that you must occasionally force yourself to blink before beginning the next sentance. Unbelievable, unforgettable, and more important than any book I have ever read. To understand history you must read this book; if you have not, you have missed something vital.” (AR)

Soul to Soul by John Henry Ballard

Book is story of a reggae band which goes to Africa to raise money to help with hunger. It has contemporary characters with contemporary dialogue, relevant photographs, and statistics about Africa countries in novel. The sequel is called “Brothers and Sisters”. (PF)

Brothers and Sisters by John Henry Ballard

“A group of young African Americans are on a tour of Africa. One of them is missing and believed to be either dead or imprisoned. As a result, four others end up on an epic adventure of their own. They travel from one country to another, get caught up in the midst of civil wars, see the results of apartheid, work to alleviate the famine of Ethiopia, and become involved with youth freedom fights. This novel, second in the series, is written in diary format. Included within the story are true accounts of African people, poetry, and political statements; in short, anything and anyone that touches the characters' lives is intermixed with the plot. Many black-and-white illustrations of real people, maps of the countries, and encyclopedic data are interspersed throughout.” (AR)

Stories from a Ming Collection: The Art of the Chinese Storyteller, Compiled by Feng Menglong, (translated) by Cyril Birch

“The popularity of the Chinese storyteller goes back to the market place of the T’ang dynasty, but the familiar figure came into his own in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and his audience included not only the populace but the Emperor as well. In the early sixteenth century, near the end of the Ming dynasty, as the taste for lighter forms of literature grew, the reading, writing, and publication of colloquial fiction became a craze. At this time, Feng Menglong, a teacher and scholar with a sketchy official career, collected prompt-books, transcribed stories, and compiled a large collection of tales from the oral tradition that was published in 1624 as Stories Old and New.” This is a collection of stories taken from that book. (PF)

The Marines of Autumn by James Brady

“Readers nostalgic for the patriotic news reports of American wars prior to Vietnam, or those who enjoy vintage Hollywood war movies, will savor James Brady's accurate and informed treatment of the disastrous Chosin Reservoir campaign in North Korea in the fall and early winter of 1950. His hero is Captain Tom Verity, a Yale-educated, war-seasoned Marine who at the opening of The Marines of Autumn is teaching Chinese history at Georgetown University and raising his 3-year-old daughter alone after the death of his young wife. Verity was born in China, the son of an American businessman, and returned to the States only in his teens. Recalled to active service because of his familiarity with several Chinese dialects, he is assured that he will only be needed for a month or so, to roam the countryside in a Jeep and monitor Chinese radio activity across (and soon within) the Korean border.” (AR)

Tree of Red Stars by Tessa Bridal

“Tessa Bridal brings a fresh voice to Latin American literature in her first novel.... Bridal, who was born and raised in Uruguay, uses her book to present a harrowing account of that country's takeover by a military dictatorship, a regime that violently demolished one of Latin America's oldest democracies. As her story leads up to these dramatic events, Bridal describe s life in Montevideo through the eyes of Magda, a young woman from an upper-middle-class family who has lived a sheltered and secure existence--until the growing political unrest threatens to erupt even within her own wealthy neighborhood.” (NYT)

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Sijie Dai

“The Cultural Revolution of Chairman Mao Zedong altered Chinese history in the 1960s and '70s, forcibly sending hundreds of thousands of Chinese intellectuals to peasant villages for "re-education." This moving, often wrenching short novel by a writer who was himself re-educated in the '70s tells how two young men weather years of banishment, emphasizing the power of literature to free the mind. Sijie's unnamed 17-year-old protagonist and his best friend, Luo, are bourgeois doctors' sons, and so condemned to serve four years in a remote mountain village, carrying pails of excrement daily up a hill. Only their ingenuity helps them to survive. The two friends are good at storytelling, and the village headman commands them to put on "oral cinema shows" for the villagers, reciting the plots and dialogue of movies. When another city boy leaves the mountains, the friends steal a suitcase full of forbidden books he has been hiding, knowing he will be afraid to call the authorities. Enchanted by the prose of a host of European writers, they dare to tell the story of The Count of Monte Cristo to the village tailor and to read Balzac to his shy and beautiful young daughter. Luo, who adores the Little Seamstress, dreams of transforming her from a simple country girl into a sophisticated lover with his foreign tales. He succeeds beyond his expectations, but the result is not what he might have hoped for, and leads to an unexpected, droll and poignant conclusion. The warmth and humor of Sijie's prose and the clarity of Rilke's translation distinguish this slim first novel, a wonderfully human tale.” (PW)

Sister of my Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Sister of My Heart is less reliant on enchantment but no less enchanting as it tells the tale of two cousins born on the same day, their premature births brought on by a mysterious occurrence that claims the lives of both their fathers. Sudha is beautiful, Anju is not; yet the girls love each other as sisters, the bond between them so strong it seems nothing can break it. When both are pushed into arranged marriages, however, each discovers a devastating secret that changes their relationship forever. Sister of My Heart spans many years and zigzags between India and America as the cousins first grow apart and then eventually reunite. Divakaruni invests this domestic drama with poetry as she traces her heroines' lives from infancy to motherhood, but it is Sudha and Anju who give the story its backbone.” (AR)

Clear Light of Day by Anita Desai

Clear Light of Day is both an examination of contemporary India and a family history in which two sisters, Bim and Tara, learn that although there will always be family scars, the ability to forgive and forget is a powerful ally against life's sorrows. Twenty years ago when Tara married, she left Old Delhi and a home full of sickness and death, while Bim continued to live in the family home, taking care of their autistic brother, Baba. Now Tara has returned, her first visit in ten years, for their niece's wedding. Bim refuses to attend; she can't visit their brother Raja who, like Tara, left her many years ago. Instead Bim dwells bitterly on her feelings of abandonment and the impact on her of her country's recent history: the violent conflict between Hindus and Moslems, the death of Gandhi and the ensuing struggle for political power, and the malaria epidemic that killed so many.” (AR)
Fantasia : An Algerian Cavalcade by Assia Djebar

“In this stunning novel, Assia Djebar intertwines the history of her native Algeria with episodes from the life of a young girl.” (AR)

Bride Price by Buchi Emecheta

“Aku-una, a very young Ibo girl and Chike, her teacher, fall in love despite tribal custom forbidding their romance.” “An Outstanding Book for the College Bound” list book by the American Library Association. (AR)

Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta

“This is a well-told story of a beloved girl child from a traditional Nigerian village family in the early to mid twentieth century who grows to womanhood. It chronicles the twists and turns her life takes when she is married and fails to conceive. She is judged to be the thing that is only spoken of in whispers -- barren. The protagonist, Nnu Ego, is first revealed as a simple woman who wants to fulfill the traditional role of wife and mother. Her first husband judges her unworthy in her barrenness and returns her to her family in disgrace. She is then married off to an older man who works as a domestic worker in the city. She is at least a wife, if not a mother. Lo and behold, she is not barren and conceives children for this man, while she, not he, must work to support them because of his inadequate income, without the traditional supports for her position that could be found in village life. Like many third world women, she finds that she has all of the myriad responsibilities of wife and motherhood, with little of the rights and honors that would normally be bestowed on her as the chief or first wife.” (AR)

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

"Earthy, magical, and utterly charming, this tale of family life in turn-of-the-century Mexico became a best-selling phenomenon with its winning blend of poignant romance and bittersweet wit. The classic love story takes place on the De la Garza ranch, as the tyrannical owner, Mama Elena, chops onions at the kitchen table in her final days of pregnancy. While still in her mother's womb, her daughter to be weeps so violently she causes an early labor, and little Tita slips out amid the spices and fixings for noodle soup. This early encounter with food soon becomes a way of life, and Tita grows up to be a master chef. She shares special points of her favorite preparations with listeners throughout the story.” (From back cover) NOTE: This book is recommended for older readers ONLY due to explicit sexual content. Please check with a parent/guardian before selecting this book.
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

“Readers who are entranced by the sweeping Anglo sagas of Masterpiece Theatre will devour Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks's historical drama. A bestseller in England, there's even a little high-toned erotica thrown into the mix to convince the doubtful. The book's hero, a 20-year-old Englishman named Stephen Wraysford, finds his true love on a trip to Amiens in 1910. Unfortunately, she's already married, the wife of a wealthy textile baron. Wrayford convinces her to leave a life of passionless comfort to be at his side, but things do not turn out according to plan. Wraysford is haunted by this doomed affair and carries it with him into the trenches of World War I. Birdsong derives most of its power from its descriptions of mud and blood, and Wraysford's attempt to retain a scrap of humanity while surrounded by it. There is a simultaneous description of his present-day granddaughter's quest to read his diaries, which is designed to give some sense of perspective; this device is only somewhat successful. Nevertheless, Birdsong is an unflinching war story that is book-ended by romances and a rewarding read.” (AR)

Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks

“In his 1996 novel, Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks showed himself to be a superb anatomist of men--and, just as importantly, women--at war. Indeed, his depiction of trench combat during World War I was almost painfully vivid: the equivalent of Wilfred Owen in prose, minus the lingering idealism. Now the author shifts his focus to the next global conflict in Charlotte Gray. This time the year is 1942, when "England was blacked out and afraid." The 25-year-old heroine has just traveled down from Edinburgh to London, hoping to make some contribution to the war effort. In short order she falls in love with a British pilot, mourns his disappearance and apparent death in France, and follows him across the Channel to assist the nascent French Resistance.” (AR)

Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh

“A major novel on recent Indian political history, covers partition and violence in Bengal. Reflects post-colonial concerns with historical memory, symbolism, and cultural transition. Excellent reviews in the West and South Asia.” (AR)

The Chinese Nail Murders by Robert van Gulik

“Written close to 40 years ago (first published in 1961), this book is part of Van Gulik's Judge Dee series which chronicles the cases investigated by the famous magistrate of classical Chinese detective stories. A staple of the Judge Dee stories are the multi-layered plot and accurate historical details of ancient Chinese culture and practices and this book does not disappoint in both areas. Unique and superbly readable, this series deserves a place on the shelf of every mystery fan.” (AR) (Please note- any novel in the Judge Dee series would be OK to read)

In Mad Love and War by Joy Harjo

“Although many of the poems in this book are difficult and dense, the writing and ideas are so engaging that the reading is worth the effort. Native American themes run throughout the book, as well as how language prohibits/encourages communication. The book is separated into two parts, "The Wars" and "Mad Love." The poems of "The Wars" are at times very depressing, especially "Strange Fruit," Harjo's version of a Lewis Allan song, and "For Anna Mae Pictou Aquash...", but as such are valuable insights into cultural and personal conflicts. In "Mad Love," the poems are much less concrete, and sometimes difficult to understand. The reward comes in the discovery of personal meaning. Personal favorites include "Fury of Rain," "Unmailed Letter," and "Blue Elliptic." I loved this poetry book, and continue to go back to it time and time again for beautiful quotes and inspiration.” (AR)

When Rain Clouds Gather by Bessie Head

"When Rain Clouds Gather plot set is in Botswana in the 1960s, a country ridden with poverty and "primitive" agriculture, that is going through a process of independence from Britain. As a mirror view, we have independent South Africa - racist, violent and oppressive to the black population. After serving time in prison, and fleeing the violence and oppression of South Africa in the mid-1960s, Makhaya crosses the border into Botswana. Here he finds himself in a poverty-stricken rural village - He moves to a rural town named Golema Mmidi ("to grow crops") and finds it populated with people who, like himself, are seeking a better life. Golama Mmidi is a place very different from his native Johannesburg. It is a time of great change for Botswana, as the country approaches independence.” (AR)

*Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

Siddhartha was a mid-century revelation to generations of Western students new to Eastern religions. While it no longer brings the shock of the new, Hesse's story of a lifelong seeker of inner peace still has the enduring purity of myth or fable. Siddhartha and his more conventional friend, Govinda, set out on their quest together but take different paths when Govinda chooses to follow an enlightened master, while Siddhartha believes that true wisdom can't be found by following signposts…” (AR)

Dream of the Red Chamber by Tsao Hsueh-Chin

“For more than a century and a half, Dream of the Red Chamber has been recognized in China as the greatest of its novels, a Chinese Romeo-and-Juliet love story and a portrait of one of the world's great civilizations. Chi-chen Wang's translation is skillful, accurate and fascinating.” (AR)

The Bone People by Keri Hulme

“Set in the harsh environment of the South Island beaches of New Zealand, this masterful story brings together three singular people in a trinity that reflects their country's varied heritage. Winner of the 1985 Booker-McConnell prize for fiction.” (AR)

Middle Passage by Charles Johnson

“In this savage parable of the African American experience, Rutherford Calhoun, a newly freed slave eking out a living in New Orleans in 1830, hops aboard a square rigger to evade the prim Boston schoolteacher who wants to marry him. But the Republic turns out to be a slave clipper bound for Africa. Calhoun, whose master educated him as a humanist, becomes the captain's cabin boy, and though he hates himself for acting as a lackey, he's able to help the African slaves recently taken aboard to stage a revolt before the rowdy, drunken crew can spring a mutiny. Middle Passage won the 1990 National Book Award.” (AR)

Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

“To this haunting novel of wasted love, Kawabata brings the brushstroke suggestiveness and astonishing grasp of motive that earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature. As he chronicles the affair between a wealthy dilettante and the mountain geisha who gives herself to him without illusions or regrets, one of Japan's greatest writers creates a work that is dense in implication and exalting in its sadness.” (AR)

Lost Names: Scenes from a Korean Boyhood by Richard E. Kim

“From 1932 to 1945, the Japanese occupied Korea. Organized in seven vivid scenes, Kim's fictionalized memoir tells the story of one family's experience, as told by the boy. The narrative starts in 1933 with a dramatic iced-river crossing into Manchuria, when the boy was just a year old, a story the boy knows from the many times his mother has told him the tale. Next scene and we're in 1938. The boy and his family have moved back to Korea, where the boy is the new boy in school and is learning new routines like bowing his head toward where the Japanese emperor is supposed to be in Tokyo. He does as he is told, but wonders if the emperor knows the children are bowing to him, wonders if he's asleep, or eating breakfast--or maybe even in the toilet.” (AR)

The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski

“An abandoned dark-haired child wanders alone through isolated villages of Eastern Europe in World War II.” Very powerful. “An Outstanding Book for the College Bound” list book by the American Library Association.

Independent People by Halldor Laxness

“After learning by happenstance that Halldor Laxness was the first (and only) Icelander to win the Nobel Prize for literature, I impulsively purchased his magnum opus, Independent People. Delving into the harsh, unforgiving world of an isolated Icelandic shepherd, Bjartur of Summerhouses, I was overcome by the coldness of the nordic winters and the romance of those hardy flowers--the souls of people and sheep alike--that bloom in the omnipresent darkness. Not having much time to read, I was forced to put the book down temporarily until I actually went to Iceland on a family vacation, incidentally unrelated to my interest in Laxness. I read on as we drove through Iceland's countryside, a cold and treeless yet magnificent place where some people still believe trolls live in the uninhabited interior, glaciers creep towards the low fjords, and moss and lichen cling to the sharp lava flows--assertions of independence in themselves.” (AR)

The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa

“Mario Vargas Llosa, a former candidate for the presidency of Peru, is better placed than most novelists to write about the machinations of Latin American politics. In The Feast of the Goat he offers a vivid re-creation of the Dominican Republic during the final days of General Rafael Trujillo's insidious and evil regime.” (AR)
The Cairo Trilogy: Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street by Najib Mahfuz
The story of a family living in Cairo during the early part of the 20th century. Egypt was at that time under British control. Mahouz bring a Cairo long gone back to life again in this series of novels. Naguib Mahfouz, an Egyptian wirter, won the Nobel prize for Literature in 1988. (PF)

The End Play by Indira Mahindra

“Gunga [the main character in the book] represents today's Indian woman. While appreciating the benefits of the upper-class status of her family, Gunga nevertheless seeks freedom to make her life choices about love, sex, marriage, career, and family relationships. In the process of coming to terms with her own choices and her mother's obvious sadness, Gunga discovers some harsh truths: her family's wealth is based on the 1943 famine (through their investments in a company that stockpiled grain and sold it on the black market); her father and aunt are family-arranged lovers; her mother financially supports her father's debt; and her mother abandoned the only man she loved because of parental disapproval. Gunga is literally caught in the middle of India's seemingly slow transition from imperial, chauvinistic conditions to a democratic state. Mahindra's writing is graceful and intimate. Her perception is both reflective and future-minded. The reader gains a strong sense of India and modern men and women's struggle there to put the past to rest and to find a new way to move forward, creating in the process a new and necessary vision.” (from Booklist Reviews)
Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann

“In this dizzyingly rich novel of ideas, Mann uses a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps--a community devoted exclusively to sickness--as a microcosm for Europe, which in the years before 1914 was already exhibiting the first symptoms of its own terminal irrationality. The Magic Mountain is a monumental work of erudition and irony, sexual tension and intellectual ferment, a book that pulses with life in the midst of death.” (AR)

*Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya

“Named Notable Book of 1955 by the American Library Association, this is the very moving story of a peasant woman in a primitive village in India whose whole life was a gallant and persistent battle to care for those she loved.” (AR)

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“The story follows 100 years in the life of Macondo, a village founded by José Arcadio Buendía and occupied by descendants all sporting variations on their progenitor's name: his sons, José Arcadio and Aureliano, and grandsons, Aureliano José, Aureliano Segundo, and José Arcadio Segundo. Then there are the women--the two Úrsulas, a handful of Remedios, Fernanda, and Pilar--who struggle to remain grounded even as their menfolk build castles in the air. If it is possible for a novel to be highly comic and deeply tragic at the same time, then One Hundred Years of Solitude does the trick. … With One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel García Márquez introduced Latin American literature to a world-wide readership. Translated into more than two dozen languages, his brilliant novel of love and loss in Macondo stands at the apex of 20th-century literature.” (AR)

*In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason

"In Country by Bobbie Anne Mason is a great story about a girl that lost her father in the Vietnam War. She lived a wild life without a father. Her mother living nearby, but her, in her late teens, lives with her uncle. She has no discipline, yet gets along well. Her main strugle throughout the book is finding out what Vietnam was really like. She also wants to know what her father was like, since she never even met him. Her uncle, was in the war, but he made it home alive. Sam, the young girl, is worried about her uncle, scared that he has Agent Orange. All she has is him, and she doesn't want to lose him to the war too. All of this takes place in the early 80's. She is dealing with the past, in the future. Some things just never go away. There is so much more to this book, and if you love to read books about Vietnam or even just like to read, then I would recommend this story. It's not too long, and wouldn't take up too much time. Sometimes the book moves rather slowly, and you must be patient with it. The main theme from the book is that things in the past, really do still effect us today.” (AR)

Coromandel! by John Masters

A novel set in 17th century Britain and on the Coromandel coast. Masters was a well known British writer and military man who spent many years in India. (PF)

Stories from a Ming Collection: The Art of the Chinese Storyteller, Compiled by Feng Menglong, (translated) by Cyril Birch

“The popularity of the Chinese storyteller goes back to the market place of the T’ang dynasty, but the familiar figure came into his own in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and his audience included not only the populace but the Emperor as well. In the early sixteenth century, near the end of the Ming dynasty, as the taste for lighter forms of literature grew, the reading, writing, and publication of colloquial fiction became a craze. At this time, Feng Menglong, a teacher and scholar with a sketchy official career, collected prompt-books, transcribed stories, and compiled a large collection of tales from the oral tradition that was published in 1624 as Stories Old and New.” This is a collection of stories taken from that book. (PF)

Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee

“Lifetimes ago, under a banyan tree in the village of Hasnapur, an astrologer cupped his ear ... and foretold my widowhood and exile," relates Jyoti, fifth cursed daughter in a family of nine. Though she can't escape fate, Jyoti reinvents herself time and again. She leaves her dusty Punjabi village to marry as Jasmine; travels rough, hidden airways and waters to America to reemerge as Jase, an illegal "day mummy" in hip Manhattan; and lands beached in Iowa's farmlands as Jane, mother to an adopted teenage Vietnamese refugee and "wife" to a banker. Bharati Mukherjee (The Middleman and Other Stories) makes each world exotic, her lyrical prose broken only by the violence Jasmine almost casually recounts and survives. (AR)

Grain of Wheat by James Ngugi, Ngugi W. Thiong'o

“The novel treats the problems of the independence struggle in Kenya against British rule during the fifties. The central figure is Mugo, a quiet, reserved man who gets caught up in the turbulance of the revolution. Mugo's betrayal of Kihika is the central moral dilemma of the story. Should he go about his business or should he help the revolution? The answer to this question costs him his life.The characterizations are vivid and easily keep the reader's attention.The attitudes of the British are portrayed in the colonial administrator John Thompson. A fascinating book which requires the reader to reflect on the tangled issues of justice and freedom.” (AR)

In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje

“Bristling with intelligence and shimmering with romance, this novel tests the boundary between history and myth. Patrick Lewis arrives in Toronto in the 1920s and earns his living searching for a vanished millionaire and tunneling beneath Lake Ontario. In the course of his adventures, Patrick's life intersects with those of characters who reappear in Ondaatje's Booker Prize-winning The English Patient.” (AR)

Burmese Days by George Orwell

“This bitter and satirical picture of the white man's rule in Upper Burma--with its complex storylines woven throughout--immerses the reader in the world of India as the diamond of the fading British Empire [pre-war].” (AR) (Orwell know what he spoke about- he spent some years there working.)
My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

“Meshing the tropes of the tavern storyteller with the recent fashion for historical mysteries (… la The Name of the Rose and An Instance of the Fingerpost), Pamuk's novel could cause a sensation here, just as it did in his native Turkey. Set in the 16th century, at the tipping point when the Ottoman Empire was being transformed from the world's most feared superpower into an imperial backwater, Pamuk's story works on three levels. As a murder mystery, it asks who killed a gilder named Elegant, employed by an atelier of miniaturists, and then Enishte, the man who was funding the atelier? On another level, this is a story of ideas. In coffeehouses frequented by poets and artists, the backwash from the European Renaissance is starting to call into question fundamental principle of Islamic culture. Enishte, in particular, has become enamored of the perspectival method favored by Venetian painters, and wants his artists to achieve a comparable representation of reality, rather than abiding by traditional rules of representation. Pamuk not only immerses us in this debate; he makes the pictures of dogs, Satan, gold coins, etc., "talk," imitating the shadow-play method of traveling storytellers. His own ability to draw stunning pictures makes Istanbul as grimly vivid as Raskolnikov's St. Petersburg. On the third level, this is a love story. Black, a clerk and Enishte's nephew, must win Enishte's beautiful daughter, the widowed Shekure. The book's jeweled prose and alluring digressions, nesting stories within stories, make one want to say of Pamuk what one of the characters says of the head of the miniaturists' coterie, Osman: "...God had blessed him with an enchanting artistic gift and the intellect of a jinn." (PW)

Last Station: A novel of Tolstoy's Last Year by Jay Parini

“Set in the last tumultuous years of Leo Tolstoy's life, The Last Station centers on the battle for his soul waged by his wife, Sofya Andreyevna, and his leading disciple, Vladimir Cherkov. Torn between his professed codtrine of poverty and chastity and the reality of his enormous wealth, his thirteen children, and a life of hedonism, Tolstoy makes a dramatic flight from his home. Too ill to continue beyond the tiny rail station at Astapovo, he believes that he is dying alone, whle over one hundred newspapermen camp outside awaiting hourly reports on his condidtion. A brilliant recreation of the mind and tortured soul of one of the world's greatest novelists, The Last Station is a richly inventive novel that dances bewitchingly between fact and fiction.” (AR)

To Swim Across the World by Francis Park and Ginger Park

Aim a telescope at a constellation or a village street and each degree of magnification makes the field smaller and the detail greater. This fine, intimate novel about two young Koreans one from the North, one from the South growing up during the Japanese occupation, WWII and the Korean War, focuses on small fields. Sei-Young Shin knows poverty and hunger in a mountain village in the South: he is the son of a drunken wood-carver and a stoic mother. "Hunger was just a way of life, like waking up and hoping for a bowl of rice soup and soy sauce, perhaps with ferns, for the morning meal." Life is not as difficult for Heisook Pang, the daughter of a relatively prosperous Korean family living in the North. But for both Sei-Young and Heisook, suffering under Japanese political domination, their Korean identity is always central. The story is spun delicately, illuminating the day-to-day journey through time and distance and fortune that brings Heisook and Sei-Young together, and Sei-Young to the position of assistant to President Syngman Rhee, where he is tossed into the crucible of historical events. After the Korean War, they decide to leave their tragically divided country for America. Frances Park is author of When My Sister Was Cleopatra Moon. She and her sister, who coauthored My Freedom Trip: A Child's Escape from North Korea (winner of the International Reading Association's Children's Book Award), based this book on real events in their parents' lives. Their first fictional collaboration is an affecting work that resonates with their Korean heritage and accurately reflects the tumultuous history of their country over the past six decades. (PW)

*All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Marie Remarque

“Paul Baumer enlisted with his classmates in the German army of World War I. Youthful, enthusiastic, they become soldiers. But despite what they have learned, they break into pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches. And as horrible war plods on year after year, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the principles of hate that meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against each other--if only he can come out of the war alive.” (AR)

Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar by Emily Reute

“Set against a backdrop of political intrigue in the great age of European colonialism, Memoirs of An Arabian Princess From Zanzibar is an engrossing memoir offering a vivid portrait of 19th century Arab and African life. Life not only in the palace, but in the city and plantations as well. Emily Ruete (born in 1840 as Salme, Princess of Zanzibar and Oman, fled to Germany in 1856, changed her name, married her Germany lover, bore three children, and then widowed) provides a comparison between a woman's life in Moslem society and the conditions within the 19th century European bourgeoisie.” (AR)

God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

“In her first novel, award-winning Indian screenwriter Arundhati Roy conjures a whoosh of wordplay that rises from the pages like a brilliant jazz improvisation. The God of Small Things is nominally the story of young twins Rahel and Estha and the rest of their family, but the book feels like a million stories spinning out indefinitely; it is the product of a genius child-mind that takes everything in and transforms it in an alchemy of poetry. The God of Small Things is at once exotic and familiar to the Western reader, written in an English that's completely new and invigorated by the Asian Indian influences of culture and language.” (AR)

The Raj Quartet: The Jewel in the Crown, The Day of the Scorpion, The Towers of Silence & A Division of Spoils by Paul Scott

A Division of Spoils by Paul Scott is the last book in his series known as the Raj Quartet. The four books are classics, that have been read and will continue to be read centuries from now as readers attempt to understand what happened during the last days of the British Raj in India. I read history but I am also a great fan of well written historical fiction and these books are extremely well written historical fiction. Having read them, I am much more enlightened about the struggles which continue today between Hindu and Muslim.” (AR) NOTE: These books are recommended for older readers ONLY due to explicit sexual content. Please check with a parent/guardian before selecting this book/s.

God’s Bits of Wood by Ousmane Sembene

God's Bits of Wood is a well written novel about a 1947 strike on the Dakar-Niger railway (a real historical event). The story is seen through the eyes of the workers, their families, and railway management. Sembene Ousmane is both a novelist and film director, and his writing style might be called cinematic. Even in translation, this is a vivid depiction of Senegal (its various ethnic groups and their cultures), colonial Africa, and a struggle for worker's rights.” (AR)

Cracking India by Bapsi Sidhwa

“Pakistani Sidhwa's third novel (The Bride, 1983; The Crown Eaters, 1982)--written from the point of view of a young girl who's surrounded by the personal and political violence that accompanied the partitioning of India in 1947--manages to do justice to the complexity of racial, ethnic, and religious violence in the era and to evoke the passage from an affluent childhood to the ambiguities of experience. ``India is going to be broken.... And what happens if they break it where our house is?'' asks narrator Lenny, the daughter (who turns eight in 1947) of an affluent Parsi family in Lahore. And in fact her household does break apart when her young nanny, or Ayah, is kidnapped.” (KR)
*The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan

“At the beginning of Amy Tan's fourth novel, two packets of papers written in Chinese calligraphy fall into the hands of Ruth Young. One bundle is titled Things I Know Are True and the other, Things I Must Not Forget. The author? That would be the protagonist's mother, LuLing, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. In these documents the elderly matriarch, born in China in 1916, has set down a record of her birth and family history, determined to keep the facts from vanishing as her mind deteriorates.” (AR)

Some Prefer Nettles by Junichiro Tanizaki

An autobiographical novel by a well-known Japanese writer in the 1920s. It examines the tension between traditional Japanese values and Western values brought in after the opening of Japan in the late 19th century. (PF)

Imagining Argentina by Lawrence Thornton

Imagining Argentina is set in the dark days of the late 1970's, when thousands of Argentineans disappeared without a trace into the general's prison cells and torture chambers. When Carlos Ruweda's wife is suddenly taken from him, he discovers a magical gift: In waking dreams, he had clear visions of the fates of "the disappeared." But he cannot "imagine" what has happened to his own wife. Driven to near madness, his mind cannot be taken away: imagination, stories, and the mystical secrets of the human spirit.” (AR)

Women of the Silk by Gail Tsukiyama

“When Pei Chung is eight years old, her father leaves her at the house of Auntie Yee so that she can work in the silk factory. Her grief at the unexplained abandonment is softened by the kindness of Yee and the other girls, and slowly she begins to thrive in her new independence. The friendship between Pei and Lin, who is the support of her once wealthy and powerful family, is forged with the lives of the silk workers who begin to demand better conditions. The China of 1919-1938, when the Japanese threat became a reality, is woven into the threads of factory life and that of families faced with ruin. The characters are drawn with fine detail. Small village life contrasts vividly with an exciting visit to Canton, and ceremonies are exquisitely described. This fascinating story is beautifully written and slightly reminiscent of Pearl Buck's The Good Earth . Young adults will find it a riveting story and an absorbing look at a country trying to deal with economic and political change.” (SLJ)

Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth

Sacred Hunger is a powerful book set during the years 1752-1765. The story revolves around the merchant familly Kemp that enters into the slave trade - allowing passage on the slaver "The Liverpool Merchant" to the cousin Mathew Paris, a doctor recently released from prison. Unsworths book explores the slave trade, highlighting the rationale, in painful detail - and paints a sordid picture of the merchant mind of the time. "The Sacred Hunger" is allowed to emcompass everything, even human life.” (AR)

Motherland by Vineeta Vijayaraghavan

“This small, simply written novel takes us into the mind of a teen who, in one short summer, must learn to bridge the gap between cultures and generations. Maya, born in India and raised there by her grandmother until she was four, is an American teenager now. A minor incident with her boyfriend, minor to most American parents, gets her sent back to India to spend the summer with her extended family. The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi has the country in turmoil, so Maya's reintroduction to India's customs, food, and proprieties is further complicated. Her beloved grandmother smoothes out the difficulties with her love and concern. Minor tragedies lead to major ones but bring about Maya's understanding of the troubled relationship she has with her mother and her place in the family and in her multicultural world.” (Booklist)

Soul Mountain by Gao Xingiian

“In 1983, Chinese playwright, critic, fiction writer, and painter Gao Xingjian was diagnosed with lung cancer and faced imminent death.But six weeks later, a second examination revealed there was no cancer -- he had won "a second reprieve from death." Faced with a repressive cultural environment and the threat of a spell in a prison farm, Gao fled Beijing and began a journey of 15,000 kilometers into the remote mountains and ancient forests of Sichuan in southwest China. The result of this epic voyage of discovery is Soul Mountain. Bold, lyrical, and prodigious, Soul Moutain probes the human soul with an uncommon directness and candor and delights in the freedom of the imagination to expand the notion of the individual self.” (AR) Note: This author won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2000.

World History Phase 2

*Come Back to Afghanistan by Said Hyder Akbar

“A California Teenagers story. In this thrilling memoir recorded during the summers of 2002 and 2004, a California teen returns to his father’s homeland to help rebuild Afghanistan.” (HC)
*Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow by Susan Campbelll Bartoletti

“I begin with the young…With them I can make a new world.” Adolf Hitler exploited the idealism of millions of Germany’s young people to fuel his evil master plan for global domination.” A 2006 Notable Children’s Book. (HC)

*Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Delisle Guy

“A French Canadian animator is sent to North Korea to oversee an outsourced animation project. He describes his experiences as a foreigner in communist North Korea in this graphic novel.” (HC)
*The Plot: The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion by Will Eisner

“This graphic novel recounts the history of a false twentieth-century pamphlet, ‘The protocols of Zion,’ which sparked anti-Semitism worldwide.” (HC)

*Understanding the Holy World: Answering Questions about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Mitch Frank

“Using a question and answer format, this gripping introduction examines the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” A 2006 Notable Children’s Book (HC)

*Growing Up in Slavery: Stories of Young Slaves as Told by Themselves by Taylor Yuval

“This intense and sobering collection of American slave narratives speaks to the determination of the human spirit to be free.” (HC)

*When I Was a Soldier: A Memoir by Valerie Zenatti

“In this compelling memoir, the author, a French immigrant and Israeli citizen, comes of age in the Israeli army.” A 2006 Notable Children’s Book (HC). (J)

Stripes of the Sidestep World by Sonya Hartnett

“Satchel fights to remain in his dying Australian town at the same time a Tasmanian tiger, thought to be extinct makes an unexpected appearance.”
An Innocent Soldier by Josef Holub

“Adam, tricked into joining Napoleon’s march on Russia in 1811, becomes friends with a highborn lieutenant who helps him survive.” A 2006 Noteable Children’s Book.

*13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

“The 13 envelopes Ginny receives from her dead aunt will take her through Europe and grief and into adventure.”

Keeper by Mal Peet

“El Gato, the great soccer goalie, describes his early life in a remote South American village where he was trained by a mysterious apparition called The Keeper.”

Eyes of the Emperor by Graham Salisbury

“Sixteen-year-old Eddy Okubo joins the US Army just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Amidst thick racism, he and other young Japanese American men train experimental K-9 units.” A 2006 Notable Children’s Book.
Kipling’s Choice by Geert Spillebeen

“John Kipling, son of famous writer Rudyard Kipling, joins the British Army in World War I with help from his father.”

Under the Perismmon Tree by Suzanne Fisher Staples

“Najmab, an Afghan girl, witnesses the death of her mother and brother as well as her father’s and older brother’s conscription by the Taliban before she finds refuge in Pakistan.” 2006 Notable Children’s Book.
*Light Years, Tammar Stein

“After her boyfriend’s death by a suicide bomber, Maya flees Israel for a Virginia university, but she can’t escape her guilt.”

*I Have Lived a Thousand Years: Growing up in the Holocaust by Livia Jackson

“A memoir of ellie Friedmann in which she tells about her experiences at Auschwitz concentration camp where she was taken at the age of thirteen in 1994 when the Nazis invaded her native Hungary.” (J)

*Thura’s diary: My Life in Wartime Iraq by Thura Al-Windawi

“Diary entries of nineteen-year-old Thura Al-Windawi, the oldest daughter in a middle class Shia Muslim family living in Baghdad, in which she shares her thoughts, emotions, and experiences throughout the war in Iraq, from March 15 though June 2003. (M)

*Sold by Patricia McCormick

“A novel in vignettes, in which Lakshmi, a thirteen year old girl from Nepal is sold into prostitution.” (J)

*Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo

“When Thomas Peaceful’s older brother is forced to join the British Army, Thomas decides to sign up as well, although he is only fourteen years old, to prove himself to his country, his family, his childhood love, Molly and himself.” (J)

*Somehow Tenderness Survives: Stories of Southern Africa

“A collection of ten short stories and autobiographical accounts by authors of various races expose the conditions of racism in South Africa.” (J)

*Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet by Kashmira Sheth

“Growing up with her family in Mumbai, India, sixteen-year-old Jeeta disagrees with much of her mother’s traditional advice about how to live her life and tries to be more modern and independent.” (J)

*Chandra’s Secret by Allan Stratton

“Sixteen-year-old in a small Southern African town, faces down shame and stigma in her efforts to help friends and family members who are dying of AIDS.” (J)
*Kiterunner by Khaled Hosseini

“Amir, haunted by his betrayal of Hassan, the son of his father’s servant and childhood friend, returns to Kabul as an adult after he learns that Hassan has been killed, in an attempt to redeem himself by rescuing Hassan’s son from a life of slavery to a Taliban official.” (S)

*Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples

“Eleven-year-old Shabanu, the daughter of a nomad in the Cholistan desert in Pakistan, is pledged in marriage to an older man whose money will bring prestige to the family, and must either accept the decision, as is the custom, or risk the consequences of defying her father’s wishes.” (J)

*Along Way Gone by Ishmal Beah

“Beah describes his experiences after he was driven from his home by war in Sierra Leone and picked up by the government army at age 13, serving as a soldier for three years before being removed from fighting by UNICEF and eventually moving to the United States.” (S)

Aztec Blood by Gary Jennings
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