Herman Melville - Moby Dick
Full of symbolism and metaphors. Half a seafaring adventure tale, half a nearly encyclopedic treatise to waling, wale anatomy, ship construction, and mariner lifestyle. This epic I gradually consumed over a number of months, in short intervals of extremely focused attention. Demands a reread.
Gabriel García Márquez - Cien años de soledad
Magic Realism classic. Read twice and could reread indefinitely. Some of the most poetically captivating prose encountered. Relates 100+ years of family history based in presumably rural Colombia. Also see this post.
Jorge Amado - Dona Flor e Seus Dois Maridos
Poetic, erotic, satirical, mystical; packed with evocative metaphors. Contains a magic realism aspect, although I wouldn’t categorize the novel as such overall.
Beautifully written and worthy of having endured the long sections of not easily comprehensible references and regionalisms. I read in the original Portuguese and cannot comment on any translation.
Abundant in references to gastronomy and classical music. Much influence of the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé (this aspect I particularly appreciated).
Victor Nabokov - Lolita
Nabokov, like Conrad and (to a lesser extent) Ayn Rand (all second or even third-language adapters of English), sensationally commands the descriptive language. For those not sensitive to the subject matter, this work showcases that to a level of brilliancy.
Trivia: Nabokov penned the novel originally in English in the 1940s, then went to produce the Russian translation some 20 years after. The English version I persevered with some struggle, given the exceptional use of language. The Russian translation I gave up on entirely, finding his Russian language works in general so impeccably and uniquely eloquent, transgressing the extent of my less literary Russian.
Dumas - The Count of Monte Cristo
(English translation, whichever provided by Penguin Classics)
At the time I read this (~22/23), it must have impacted me more than anything else in the classic adventure subgenre. Reads like a telenovella for the serialized nature of then publications.
For anime enthusiasts, you might consider Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo, directed by Mahiro Maeda. The singularity in the artwork, the genre mashup, the anachronisms all blew me away at the time I was heavily into the genre (late 20s).
Joseph Heller - Catch 22
The poor WW2 bombardier Yossarian simply could not circumvent flying more missions. Each time he approached the required number of missions, the number would increase. Alternatively, to be grounded from combat duty, one had to request a medical evaluation and be deemed crazy. The very act of pleading to Doc Daneeka on the appeal of lunacy, however, immediately declares him sane, and fit to fly more combat missions.
To avoid flying more combat missions, Yossarian would have to be crazy and not want to avoid them. He would have to authentically be crazy. At this point, he wouldn’t request an evaluation, and still fly more missions. One has to not want the thing they want in order to obtain it. But one also has to ask for it.
(English prose translation by Martin Hammond)
Of the supposed ‘holy trinity’ of the Greco-Roman classics (Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid), I most enjoyed this one. Despite the prose translation, the narrative flows much like prose poetry - that is to say, lyrical and enchanting.
Frank Herbert - Dune
First read in the original, then in a Russian translation twelve years after. Don’t ask why.
Combines the ecological, the biological, the theological and the linguistic within a soft science fiction interplanetary stage that closer parallels our pre-medieval precursors than a far distant future. As far as the sequels, I’ve only read the second book, although hadn’t thought much of it.
Kafka - The Castle
Kafka at some of the finest. I read a Polish translation of this that I’d purchased in a second-hand kiosk in Katowice. Perhaps I was under the influence of Polish castles.
The novel unwinds labyrinthically; the setting - bleak, the sensation - fatalistic; sometimes gives manifest to severe claustrophobia. At one point I abandoned any expectations of a traditional narrative and simply followed along the foggy landscape.
Kafka - The Trial
Similar to The Castle, fosters a feeling of resignation. The protagonist and the reader remain clueless to the nature of the legal infringement committed and the consequential arrest. Another stroll along a bleak bureaucratic landscape, although to a narrower physical scope.
The below are all psychologically consuming … to the bones. Dostoevsky is my preferred among the classic 19th-century Russian authors, although by far not universally appreciated.
The psychological element being his strength, the descriptive language and the symbolism linger. (Concerning Dickens, I would say the total opposite. This makes the two authors great contrasting forces.)
Crime and Punishment (Приступление и Наказание).
Gothic, macabre and notably claustrophobic; claustrophobic in both time and space. Contrary to the works below marked heavily by the aristocratic element, this personal favourite of mine concerns mainly the poorer, working echelon.
Likely the next favourite. Broody in tone. No heroes, just antiheroes. Concerns revolutionary underground groups, an overliterate erudite otherwise lacking common sense, obscure motives behind obscurer deeds, and plenty of just plainly f***ed up characters.
A tale of a virtuous but gullible man. I should emphasize, an exceptionally virtuous man of almost biblical standard that most readers will likely pity. Memorable characters that I still recall ten years after: Принц Мышкин, Рогожин, Наталья Филипповна.
Notes from the Underground (Записки из подполья)
A shorter novel written as a first-person journal of a man of higher society struggling to make ends meet; struggling at economic, social and psychological levels; a fair amount of humour interspersed throughout.
Brothers Karamazov (Братья Карамазовы)
A doppelgänger novella; the constant humor makes a stark contrast to the darker overtones of his grand opus.
Trivia: a very early product of the 1840’s. Dostoevsky spent a respectable part of the 1850’s in political exile in Siberia. The remainder of the works I here list he produced after.
Аркадий и Борис Стругацкие
Some of the best science fiction I’ve experienced, and among the few I’ve still a taste for, long after I transitioned from the genre. In hindsight, I consider the Sci-Fi element secondary next to the underlying message.
Пикник на обочине (Roadside Picnic)
A very loose influence for Tarkovsky’s film Stalker.
Понедельник Начинается в Субботу (Monday Begins on Saturday)
Caters to both sci-fi and fantasy. Borrows from the Russian folklore. Satirically trots the polytechnical intellect culture of the 1960s.
Трудно быть богом (Hard to be a God)
За миллиард лет до конца света (One billion years before the end of the world).
As soft of Sci-Fi as I can fathom. A very loose influence for Sukurov’s avantgarde film Дни Затмения/Days of Eclipse.
The Jazz Book - Berendt/Nuesmann
For those who seek to cultivate a taste for Jazz. Prior to the read I already took keen interest in the art form, but after, my curiosity spread like an all-consuming web; across the different stages of Jazz evolution, the theoretical fundamentals, the key role players and their impact.
I wanted to experience a greater variety of Jazz; to heighten my appreciation for what previously lay obscure; to develop sensitivity to the abstractions previously imperceptible.
In addition, much of the book reads like an engaging narrative, rather than a dry survey one might encounter in many comprehensive guides.
Questions, comments? Connect.