Literary repertoire in other languages

I’ve been wondering about good works of fiction (ancient and contemporary) in other languages. Having lived in Anglophonic communities all my life, the only works I’m aware of in other languages tend to be the classics (Les Miserables, Voyna i Mir…) along with some contemporary novels (Il nome della rosa).

Could you suggest some good works of fiction in other languages ?

The conditions are

  1. No Science Fiction
  2. Period pieces preferred, but not necessary
  3. Has to somewhat be a concrete story involving a specific culture(s). This does not mean the story deals with conflicts/issues in culture.

Indo-European languages preferred. English translation not required.

Here are some Japanese selections:

The Temple of the Golden Pavillion, by Yukio Mishima. A fictionalized account of an actual event from 1955.

For something older, there’s The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu in the tenth century. A new translation just came out last year. I had to struggle through this one. Apparently, the exact shade of every layer of clothing one was wearing and every piece of paper one was writing on was of utmost importance to people of the time.

For newer stuff, I really enjoyed Coin Locker Babies by Ryu Murakami. He has an extremely violent writing style, though.

Haruki Murakami’s books (mostly 1980’s-90’s) are also pretty good.

Whenever Junichiro Tanizaki gets mentioned, my friends all get this look of absolute revulsion on their faces, but I enjoy him. He was a complete deviate and not ashamed to admit it. Some of his works include The Key, The Makioka Sisters, The Secret History of Lord Musashi (about a feudal lord who’s one driving desire is to watch a woman prepare a decapitated head with its nose severed) and Some Prefer Nettles. Most of his stuff is either set during the feudal era or in the prewar 20th century.

Thanks. I’ll check these out. What about the classics in Japanese ? By which I mean, works considered the acme of Japanese literature.

Well, Tale of Genji is probably the #1 pick, considered by many to be the first novel ever written.

There’s also The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon and Tale of the Heike (an account of the long Minamoto-Taira wars) by somebody else.

I don’t know a lot of other pre-19th century stuff, but Natsume Soseki is considered one of the greats of the post-Shogun (1860-) era.

The usually cited Japanese Classic is The Tale of Genji, by Lady Murasaki Shikibu.

I would also recommend
The Princess de Clèves by Madame de Lafayette ( considered by many to be the first novel).
Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos
Scarlet and Black; The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal
War and Peace; Anna Karenina by Tolstoy
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
The Golden Ass ( aka Metamorphoses) by Apuleius
The Decameron by Boccaccio
Sketches from a Hunter’s Album ( short stories); Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
Gargantua; Pantagruel by Rabelais
The Leopard by Lampedusa
Complete Short Stories of Chekhov
Complete Short Stories of de Maupassant
Crime and Punishment; The Brothers Karamazov; The Idiot by Dostoevsky

If you are also interested in drama and narrative poetry ( not just prose fiction)
Faust by Goethe
The Misanthrope; The Miser; Tartuffe by Molière
Andromache;Phaedra by Racine
The Cherry Orchard; The Three Sisters by Chekhov
The Oresteia by Aeschylus
The Theban Trilogy by Sophocles
Medea by Euripides
The Odyssey; The Iliad by Homer
The Aeneid by Virgil
The Divine Comedy by Dante
Peer Gynt; Hedda Gabler; The Master Builder by Ibsen
The Government Inspector by Gogol

That lot should keep you busy for a while.

Is there any written Japanese mythology ?

All that and I forgot Madame Bovary ( Flaubert). I have restricted myself to pre-20th Century, but there’s a lot of good more recent stuff, too. How recent do you want to go?

Doesn’t matter.

What I’m looking for are established works.

Meaning, if I were a Spaniard in Spain, what Spanish national authors and works would be considered revered or in case of contemporary literature, best among the recent ? This isn’t just about works by nationality, could be via culture too.

OK. For the Russians, then, you’ll need Pushkin as well as the ones I mentioned earlier. I haven’t read any Pushkin, so can’t make a personal recommendation, but Eugene Onegin is frequently cited as his best. Pushkin is the Russian writer most revered in Russia.

For the French, you’ll also need The Song of Roland and some poets: Rimbaud and Mallarmé, for a start. Generally it’s the dramatists who are most highly regarded in French literature. As well as Molière and Racine ( mentioned in my first post) try Corneille ( I haven’t read any so again I can’t give a personal recommendation, but The Cid is a famous work). Read also the essays of Montaigne. For more recent stuff, try Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier, and Camus and Sartre, two French Nobel Prize winners.

Germany: Goethe is the German Dante, so he’s the one essential writer. I’ve only read his Faust but there’s a lot of other books to explore. The great 20th Century German man of letters is Thomas Mann: read Buddenbrooks, Death in Venice, The Magic Mountain, Joseph and His Brothers and Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man.

I am not so familiar with the literary traditions of Spain and Italy, so can’t really suggest anything other than the books I mentioned in my first post.

Wow Jabba, you’ve covered most of the classics. May I respectfully venture to correct a few possible omissions? Going by the ‘revered’ criterion I would suggest the following (my translations of titles may be somewhat off):

  • Kafka, in particular The transformation and The trial,
  • Proust, In search of lost time.

Of course Proust is more often mentioned than actually read, but he indisputably belongs to the core works.

If you would want to check Dutch literature, I guess some of the classics are:

  • Multatuli, Max Havelaar,
  • Mulish, The assault.

In Italiano:

The old classics:
[li]Boccaccio’s Tales from the Decameron[/li][li]Petrarch’s Poetry[/li][li]Dante’s Divine Comedy and La Vita Nuova [/li][/ul]

A few plays:
[li]Carlo Goldoni’s La Botega del Cafe (Goldoni was a very influential 18th century playwrite)[/li][li]Gabriele D’Annunzio’s La Figlia d’Iorio (a controversial writer due to his Fascist tendencies…this play reminds me of Yeats’ work, though)[/li][li]Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author (his masterpiece)[/li][/ul]
[li]Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio (just a classic)[/li][li]Alessandro Manzoni’s I Promessi Sposi (a love story involving the Plague)[/li][li]Primo Levi’s Se questo è un uomo, translated in English as Survival in Auschwitz, and The Periodic Table (amazing, amazing autobiographical works involving Levi’s Holocaust experiences)[/li][li]Italo Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller (it’s postmodern, baby!)[/li][/ul]

Oops, I forgot Dario Fo, who won the 1997 Nobel Prize in Literature for, “emulat[ing] the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden,” in the words of the Nobel committee. He wrote The Accidental Death of an Anarchist, among others.

In Spanish:

Don Quijote, or more properly, El Ingenioso Hidalgo, Don Quijote de la Mancha, by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra is considered the epitome of Spanish language literature. That should keep you busy for quite a while.

Fernando de Rojas
“Tragicomedia de Calixto y Melibea”, or “La Celestina”, as it’s more commonly known.

Some of the following are plays and some others are short stories, but it’s basically a good collection of “classics” I remember from grade school.

Juan Ruiz de Alarcón
- “La verdad sospechosa”

Leopoldo Alas “Clarín”
-La Regenta

Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer

Mateo Alemán
-Guzmán de Alfarache

Calderón de la Barca
-El alcalde de Zalamea
-Los cabellos de Absalón
-El cordero de Isaías
-La dama duende
-El gran teatro del mundo
-Guárdate del agua mansa
-La hija del aire
-A María el corazón
-Triunfar muriendo
-La viña del Señor
-La vida es sueño

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
-La Galatea

Marqués de Santillana
-Marqués de Santillana

Francisco de Quevedo
-El Buscón

Tirso de Molina
-Don Gil de las calzas verdes
-El burlador de Sevilla

Lope de Vega
-La dama boba
-El caballero de Olmedo

You can find the full text of each of the above in this webpage, which includes hypertext annotations and notes. I haven’t read them all, but the webpage looks great.

Also, anything by García Lorca, IMHO.

As for Latin American authors, you could start with Gabriel García Marquez’s “Cien Años de Soledad”, a great novel in the Magical Realism style, also “El Laberinto de la Soledad” by Octavio Paz, which is a great essay on the condition of being Mexican. There are, of course, many more, but it’s a start.

Have fun.