World Literature 1

Group 77.  Leader – Sue Willson

We take a serious, but lively, look at novels about past or present societies in countries around the world.

Contact Sue Willson –

Meets Tuesday, 10.00 – 12.00. Monthly

Sep 5 Oct 3 Nov 7 Dec 5 Jan 9 Feb 6 Mar 6 Apr 3 May 1 Jun 5

 2017/8 Book details with Presenters (provisional)

Tuesday 5 September 2017 – Presented by Sue Shaw
Independent People by Halldor Laxness (Iceland)
This magnificent novel secured for its author the 1955 Nobel Prize in Literature. Although it is set in the early twentieth century, it recalls both Iceland’s medieval epics and such classics as Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter. And if Bjartur of Summerhouses, the book’s protagonist, is an ordinary sheep farmer, his flinty determination to achieve independence is genuinely heroic and, at the same time, terrifying and bleakly comic.
Having spent eighteen years in humiliating servitude, Bjartur wants nothing more than to raise his flocks unbeholden to any man. But Bjartur’s spirited daughter wants to live unbeholden to him. What ensues is a battle of wills that is by turns harsh and touching, elemental in its emotional intensity and intimate in its homely detail. Vast in scope and deeply rewarding, Independent People is a masterpiece. (482p)

Tuesday 3 October 2017 – Presented by Tony
A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa
(2016) (256 pages) Angola
Set in the chaotic period of Angola’s independence from Portugal, Ludo bricks herself into her apartment, where she will remain for the next thirty years. She lives off vegetables and pigeons, burns her furniture and books to stay alive and keeps herself busy by writing her story on the walls of her home. 

The outside world slowly seeps into Ludo’s life through snippets on the radio, voices from next door, glimpses of a man fleeing his pursuers and a note attached to a bird’s foot. Until one day she meets Sabalu, a young boy from the street who climbs up to her terrace.

“A remarkable novel from one of Angola’s most notable storytellers” (Financial Times, Books of the year)
A finalist for the Man Booker International Prize 2016.

Tuesday 7 November 2017 – Presented by Bev
Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis
Set before the start of the First World War, this moving fable sees a young English writer set out to Crete to claim a small inheritance. But when he arrives, he meets Alexis Zorba, a middle-aged Greek man with a zest for life. Zorba has had a family and many lovers, has fought in the Balkan wars, has lived and loved – he is a simple but deep man who lives every moment fully and without shame. As their friendship develops, the Englishman is gradually won over, transformed and inspired along with the reader.

Zorba the Greek, Nikos Kazantzakis’ most popular and enduring novel, has its origins in the author’s own experiences in the Peleponnesus in the 1920s. His swashbuckling hero has legions of fans across the world and his adventures are as exhilarating now as they were on first publication in the 1950s.

Tuesday 5 December 2017 – Presented by Jake
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Synopsis: Place/Time:Soviet Union, late 1920s early 1930s. The devil makes a personal appearance in Moscow; his retinue includes two demons, a naked girl and a huge black cat which talks, walks upright, smokes cigars and is a dead shot with a Mauser automatic pistol. Some of the devil’s pranks are sheer anarchic fun, more often they are chosen to bring out the worst in everybody. When he leaves, the asylums are full, the forces of law and order are in disarray and the population is haunted with feelings of guilt and shame. Amid this bizarre pantomime two people remain undiminished – the Master, a man single-mindedly devoted to the search for truth, and Margarita. The story of their passionate, illicit love affair forms a wholly serious and moving second level of this multi-layered book. There are other layers: a historically researched account of the last days of Yeshua Ha-Notsri (we refer to him as Jesus Christ); a revised version of the Faust story; and a very funny satire of the Soviet literary establishment in about-to-be-Stalinist Russia.

Tuesday 9 January 2018 – Presented by Sally
Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann (Germany, 1901)
Thomas Mann’s first novel, published when he was 26, is the story of a wealthy bourgeois family in Northern Germany and their decline from prosperity to bankruptcy in the face of a changing world.
Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1929. Although the prize is normally given for a body of work, in Mann’s case it was ‘principally for his great novel Buddenbrooks, which has won steadily increased recognition’.

Tuesday 6 February 2018 – Presented by Sue Stephens
Daughter of Persia by Sattareh Farman Farmaian with Dona Munker
A woman’s journey from her father’s harem through the Islamic Revolution. An intimate and honest chronicle of the everyday life of Iranian women over the past century.
“A lesson about the value of personal freedom and what happens to a nation when its people are denied the right to direct their own destiny. This is a book Americans should read.” – Washington Post
The fifteenth of thirty-six children, Sattareh Farman Farmaian was born in Iran in 1921 to a wealthy and powerful shazdeh, or prince, and spent a happy childhood in her father’s Tehran harem. Inspired and empowered by his ardent belief in education, she defied tradition by traveling alone at the age of twenty-three to the United States to study at the University of Southern California. Ten years later, she returned to Tehran and founded the first school of social work in Iran.
Intertwined with Sattareh’s personal story is her unique perspective on the Iranian political and social upheaval that have rocked Iran throughout the twentieth century, from the 1953 American-backed coup that toppled democratic premier Mossadegh to the brutal regime of the Shah and Ayatollah Khomeini’s fanatic and anti-Western Islamic Republic. In 1979, after two decades of tirelessly serving Iran’s neediest, Sattareh was arrested as a counterrevolutionary and branded an imperialist by Ayatollah Khomeini’s radical students.
Daughter of Persia is the remarkable story of a woman and a nation in the grip of profound change. (432p)

Tuesday 6 March 2018 – Presented by Sue Willson
Farewell, Cowboy by Olja Savicevic (Croatia)
“As the novel opens, Dada is on her way back home to a small coastal town in Croatia where, for her, only her mother and sister are left. The war may be over, yet the smell lingers as do the memories, the debris still visible as is the graffiti.”

“This dazzling, funny and deadly serious novel will bring nourishment to readers hungry for the best new European fiction, and to those wondering where the new generation of post-Yugoslav novelists are. … There is never a slip into sentimentality, pathos or freak-show indulgence – S is too gifted a satirist for that, and too fine a poet…. “ speaks of the deadly serious with a hedonistic lightness that lures you into a spirit of abandon, only to go on to deliver breathtaking blows of insight. This novel .. lodges itself in your chest like a friendly bullet, … a glorious new European voice has arrived.” (Sue W)

Tuesday 3 April 2018 – Presented by Gloria
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as five other awards, The Sympathizer is the breakthrough novel of the year. With the pace and suspense of a thriller and prose that has been compared to Graham Greene and Saul Bellow, The Sympathizer is a sweeping epic of love and betrayal. The narrator, a communist double agent, is a “man of two minds,” a half-French, half-Vietnamese army captain who arranges to come to America after the Fall of Saigon, and while building a new life with other Vietnamese refugees in Los Angeles is secretly reporting back to his communist superiors in Vietnam. The Sympathizer is a blistering exploration of identity and America, a gripping espionage novel, and a powerful story of love and friendship.

Tuesday 1 May 2018 – Presented by Gerti
The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck
(2015) (280 pages) Germany
A commentary on the terrible history of East and Central Europe in the 20th century, and how it affected the lives of five generations of one family, how a small accidental change in anyone’s circumstances can have momentous results. That is why the story imagines five different stories, with five different deaths, for the main character.
‘An absolute must-read. It has stunned and moved everyone who has read it.’ (Independent)
inner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

Tuesday 5 June – Presented by Madeline
A Mind at Peace by Ahmet Tanpinar
Heralded as the Turkish Ulysses, A Mind at Peace is a lyrical tribute to the beautiful city of Istanbul, set on the eve of WWII. Tanpinar memorably captures the anxieties of a cosmopolitan Istanbul family during the early years of the Turkish Republic, founded on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire in 1923. Both a historical novel and a love story, it addresses issues of language, music, tradition, politics and modernity and has received Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk’s highest compliment as “the greatest novel ever written about Istanbul”.