2016年7月25日 星期一

The 15 best European and Russian novels of all time

The 15 best European and Russian novels of all time

Whether you love Quixote or adore Kundera's depiction of Prague, there's a European or Russian classic for everyone here

Best European and Russian novels of all time (clockwise from top left): Jean-Jacques Rousseau's The Confessions; Simone De Beauvoir with Jean-Paul Sartre in 1977; Keira Knightley as Anna Karenina; Primo Levi
Best European and Russian novels of all time (clockwise from top left): Jean-Jacques Rousseau's The Confessions; Simone De Beauvoir with Jean-Paul Sartre in 1977; Keira Knightley as Anna Karenina; Primo Levi Photo: AP; AFP
Franz Kafka (1925)
It starts with an arrest for no apparent reason, before ensaring the reader in a world of implicit guilt and looming punishment. Often read as a fable about the sinister state, it’s just as terrifying for what it makes us think about ourselves.
If This Is a Man
Primo Levi (1947)

When Levi’s shaming testimony of the death camps first appeared, it was so shocking that it was ignored. But its assertion of humanity in the face of the worst humans can do has made it all the more urgent.
Life: A User’s Manual
Georges Perec (1978)

It seems as though Perec fits the whole of life and history into this beady-eyed tour of a condemned (imaginary) Paris apartment block. Objects spotted on shelves are the starting points for beguiling, quirky stories that can take the reader everywhere.
Don Quixote
Miguel de Cervantes (1605, 1615)

For all the scorn the novel hurls at its “hero” in the paste board helmet attacking strangers to defend the honour of a lightly moustached girl who thinks he’s a twit, it’s impossible not to love Quixote and his dreams of a nobler world.
The Confessions
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1782)

Rousseau’s project was to analyse himself, with all his faults, foibles and failures, from the ones that most haunt him (weeing in saucepans) to the ones he can get over (putting five children in orphanages). This assertion of the individual did a lot to change Europe.
Remembrance of Things Past
Marcel Proust (1913-1927)

In spite of those massive sentences, the slippery theme of memory and the eight digressive novels, Proust’s probing, almost autobiographical masterpiece is full of gossip, snobbery, flirting, sex, jokes and the most illuminating similes this side of Homer.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Milan Kundera (1984)

The sophisticated, teasingly essay-like style is Kundera’s best defence against the totalitarian crassness that engulfs his Prague and his characters, who juggle the serious with the seductively superficial –from Beethoven, through burying a dog, to the pros and cons of window cleaning.
Anna Karenina
Leo Tolstoy (1877)

Here is Russian high society observed with ruthless realism and a mastery of each character’s inner life. Does Tolstoy make a sustained appearance in the character of Levin, the well-meaning suitor and father-do-be? The novel is all the better for it.
Zorba the Greek
Nikos Kazantzakis (1946)

An intellectual wants to experience the pulse of real Greek life: in the character of Zorba, the “man made of rubber” he finds it, along with a uniquely Greek mix of hospitality, piety and violence.
The Decameron
Giovanni Boccaccio (after 1350)

This network of a hundred stories, exchanged by aristocrats escaping the plague in Florence, is by turns ennobling and naughty, but always a celebration of the way a story can console its hearers, or at least divert them.
If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller
Italo Calvino (1979)

The plot is – you buy a copy of If on a Winter’s Night…So does someone who’s just your type. But you’re both missing bits. You become the detective in this splendidly funny tale, told through parodies of all those clever, trick some European writers.
Crime and Punishment
Fyodor Dostoevsky(1866)

We know who did it; the detective knows. But will we know why a student murdered his landlady? This is thrilling psychology, in which Dostoevsky’s empathy with angry idealists, downtrodden women and tormented sensualists takes him deep into the urban Russian soul.
The Princess of Clèves
Madame de Lafayette (1678)

This tale of a noblewoman who must live for love, whatever the cost, has been called the first psychological novel. Later novelists, such as George Sand, still found plenty of material here they could use to create scandals in later ages
A Hero of Our Time
Mikhail Lermontov (1839)

In a wry, detached tone, Lermontov explores that very wry detachedness that leads to duels and a consistent indifference to love and fate. The problem is, can the reader remain indifferent to the dashing Pechorin as he wrecks lives around the Caucasus?

Confessions of Felix Krull
Thomas Mann (1954)

Mann’s last, funniest book takes on some of his biggest questions –are artists liars? Will decadence destroy Europe? This is the most heavenly, scandalous and saucy way of finding out the answers.

Fathers and Sons
Ivan Turgenev (1862)

Knut Hamsun (1890)

Zeno’s Conscience
Italo Svevo (1923)
“It is comfortable to live in the belief that you are great, though your greatness is latent. ” 
“Unlike other sicknesses, life is always fatal. It doesn't tolerate therapies. It would be like stopping the holes that we have in our bodies, believing them wounds. We would die of strangulation the moment we were treated.”
― from "Zeno's Conscience" by Italo Svevo
Italo Svevo’s masterpiece tells the story of a hapless, doubting, guilt-ridden man paralyzed by fits of ecstasy and despair and tickled by his own cleverness. His doctor advises him, as a form of therapy, to write his memoirs; in doing so, Zeno reconstructs and ultimately reshapes the events of his life into a palatable reality for himself–a reality, however, founded on compromise, delusion, and rationalization. With cigarette in hand, Zeno sets out in search of health and happiness, hoping along the way to free himself from countless vices, not least of which is his accursed “last cigarette!” (Zeno’s famously ineffectual refrain is inevitably followed by a lapse in resolve.) His amorous wanderings win him the shrill affections of an aspiring coloratura, and his confidence in his financial savoir-faire involves him in a hopeless speculative enterprise. Meanwhile, his trusting wife reliably awaits his return at appointed mealtimes.

Sándor Márai (1942)

The Coming of Age
Simone De Beauvoir (1970)
Death in Venice
Thomas Mann (1912)

The Leopard
Giuseppe di Lampedusa (1958)

Life and Fate
Vasily Grossman (1959)

Patrick Süskind (1985)

“Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.” 
―from PERFUME: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind

José Saramago (1995)