From Australia to Korea, from India to Argentina, creative minds produce works of imagination and reflection that enrich our understanding of the world. As we approach the millennium, books written for national audiences join the international exchange of ideas with ever greater speed. The Library of Congress captures and preserves this magnificent variety of thought and expression in its collections.
This short, annotated selection of "Readings from Around the World" has been compiled by Library of Congress staff in answer to the question "What are some of the most important and interesting books published abroad recently that the American public may have overlooked?
The list provides a sampling of works published since the early 1990s. Staff came upon them during their daily work of choosing materials for the Library's collections or providing reference assistance to the Library's patrons, and found them notable. Most items are in English; however, a few have not yet been translated. Some are fiction, other non-fiction. The list is not meant to be representative although it includes writings from many nations of the world. Judgment of the works as "important and interesting" does not imply that the staff as individuals or the Library as an institution endorse the views expressed. Rather, the inclusion of titles only indicates that the selections provide a perspective that may broaden American understanding of the world.
The Library of Congress hopes this list will simulate interest in its outstanding international collections and serve as an invitation to visit for further reading and research.
Martínez, Tomas Eloy. Santa Evita. Translated by Helen Lane. New York: Knopf, 1996. 381 p. ISBN: 0679447040. LC Call No.: PQ7798.23.A692 S3513 1996
This novel about Eva Perón and her embalmed body became a best-seller in Argentina because of Martínez's deft interweaving of the historical and legendary aspects of her fascinating and tragic life. The work hauntingly evokes Buenos Aires during the 1940s and 1950s as it delves into Argentina's historical pathologies including its seeming necrophilia. The author successfully captures Argentine ideological obsessions at the time, obsessions that foreshadowed the political demons of hatred and revenge that possessed and almost destroyed the country in the 1970s but were overcome successfully in the 1980s. [Delores M. Martin]
There is increasing attention throughout the world on studies of native cultures. This comprehensive encyclopedia is the only reference work which covers all disciplines of Australian Aboriginal studies, from archaeology, anthropology, and material culture, to geography, sociology, religion, music, and biography. Even a cursory glance demonstrates that the editor has ably met his objective as stated in the introduction: "This encyclopaedia simultaneously attempts to recognize both the unity and diversity of Aboriginal Australia." Like the world's best encyclopedias, which are not only useful reference sources but serve as fascinating reading on their own, the reader can profitably continue browsing from one entry to the next, or embark on a continuous voyage through the volume from cover to cover. [Abby Yochelson]
This collection of three essays and a selection of letters written by China's most famous ex-political prisoner, Wei Jingsheng, is painful testimony to the difficulties of living in China since 1949. Mr. Wei, an electrician, takes the reader on a step-by-step journey of his conversion from ardent Maoist in 1966 to passionate dissenter in 1978, a change that led to his imprisonment for most of the last 18 years. His writings are important not only for their outspokenness, but also because they open a window on a China rarely seen by outsiders. [Robert Worden]
Czech Republic and Slovakia
This collection of essays by noted Czech, Slovak, and Western scholars documents the experiment in coexistence fashioned by two people in a common state in Central Europe. The book shows how difficult it is to maintain the unity of a multiethnic state composed of peoples with unequal levels of economic, social, and cultural development and with different conceptions and opinions concerning how power should be divided. At the same time, the essays indicate that tolerant and democratically-minded political elites can prevent serious conflict and allow for the continuity of friendly relations once the nation has broken up. In this respect, and compared with some other post-Communist countries, the dissolution of Czechoslovakia remains an encouraging example. [George Kovtun]
One of Germany's leading historians, Bracher has written pioneering works on the dissolution of the Weimar Republic and the Nazi dictatorship. In this collection, he stresses the importance of carefully researching and analyzing the history of dictatorship to help build a new democratic consensus and to "preempt the rise of legends." He reflects and shapes the post-unification debate in Germany concerning key points in German and European history viewed in light of the collapse of Communism. The essays identify three areas where new regimes must address past injustices: criminal law (by prosecuting those guilty of specific crimes); personnel policy (breaking decisively with the past by recruiting new leaders); and history (coming to grips with the legacy of totalitarianism and drawing political and moral lessons for the future). [John Van Oudenaren]
An Indian sociologist and novelist combines wry tales of his experiences living and doing research in an Egyptian village with a reconstruction of the life of the trusted Indian servant of a 12th century Jewish merchant living in Cairo. The result is a lively and fascinating glimpse into the difficulties face by people of good faith but differing cultures, be they Muslims and Hindus in medieval India or Muslims, Hindus, and secularists in Egypt and India today, as they are played out when modernity and its traumas gradually impinge on a small Egyptian village. [Allen Thrasher]
Mr. Aghassi's book, which has been published in Arabic, Persian, and English editions and serialized in newspapers throughout the Islamic world, educates readers on the subtleties of Islamic law and values through a detailed examination of the problems of common law and Islamic divine law. Aghassi treats the controversy surrounding Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses in a careful and scholarly way, showing the reader the significance of the Islamic legal and theological questions the book raises. Fallacies gives readers an excellent opportunity to enter into a conversation with a serious, believing, practicing Muslim about his faith, his practice of that faith, and his reactions to what he considers serious misunderstandings of Islamic theology and practice. [Ibrahim Pourhadi]
A master work of fiction by one of Israel's leading writers, this novel chronicles the travails of the Mani family over the course of a century of wandering through Europe and the Middle East. Set in a variety of exotic locales, including a kibbutz in the Negev, a village in Crete, Jerusalem under British Occupation, and a small village in southern Poland, the novel captures the sweep of Jewish history through the prism of one family's unique experience. Mr. Mani is important not only because it helps to understand the shaping of the Jewish past and present through the eyes of a master storyteller, but also because it provides a keen insight into the mind and mood of contemporary Israel. [Michael Grunberger]
The Japanese word keiretsu, a brilliant device for incorporating advanced technology into one cooperative body when capital is scarce, has become part of the vocabulary of modern Japanese capitalism and international trade. Shimizu's novella provides a rare glimpse into the costs of Japan, Inc., to corporations of lesser size and to their workers. The two other stories, "Silver Sanctuary" and "The Ibis Cage," give readers an inside look at how female labor is used by both corporations seeking profits and private individuals of wealth and power seeking pleasure. Shimizu, long known for his critiques of modern Japan in his business novels or tales of commerce, casts even greater doubt on the Japanese model in human terms than recent financial failures have indicated on balance sheets. [Thaddeus Ohta]
Acclaimed as the most powerful and important piece of modern Korean writing, the epic sweep of Land is breathtaking in its conception and execution. Set against the background of the struggle between conservative and modernizing forces at the turn of the century, it follows the fortunes of several generations of Korean villagers during a time of unsurpassed turbulence and change. Beginning with the celebration of the Harvest Moon Festival in the village in 1897 and continuing for the next forty years, the saga invites the reader to a new understanding of the Korean past by following its protagonists' unresolved conflicts, hereditary sorrows, and regrets and by showing how individual character, heredity, environment, and history often interact. [Joobong Kim]
Set in the contemporary Netherlands, this novel uses theology, history, myth, and the natural sciences to probe the age-old themes of humanity's quest for knowledge and its relationship to morality. Beginning in heaven, where God considers the implications of recent discoveries in genetics, astronomy, and astrophysics, its characters seek the meaning of life by traveling to Rome and Jerusalem and by delving into the worlds of music, linguistics, religion, and astronomy. At a time when many novels deal only with limited and very private worlds, The Discovery of Heaven continues an older tradition of the continental European novel by combining lively story-telling in search of answers to "big questions." The novel provides no answers to what ultimately are questions of faith, but it manages to present them in interesting ways to broad groups of readers. [John Van Oudenaren/Margrit Krewson]
This work by the veteran Norwegian explorer and scientist combines autobiography, philosophical reflection, and appeal for preservation of the global environment. Heyerdahl recalls his boyhood in Norway and early interest in "the question of whether we were heading for--or coming from--a better world," and how it led to the Kon Tiki and later expeditions. He describes his work in the Pacific and concludes with a philosophical chapter that attempts to reconcile scientific theories about the origins of the universe, earth, and humanity with traditional religious teachings about creation and an earthly paradise. The book is noteworthy as an attempt at synthesis and generalization by a man who spent more than fifty years thinking about and studying the questions that he addresses in this work. [John Van Oudenaren]
The winner of the 1997 Pegasus Prize, this novel recreates the Roman world during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius in 221 A.D. as it was constructed in the far-flung provincial town of Tarcicis (in present-day Portugal). Its hero Lucius Valerius Quincius, a middle-aged official, faces the very problems that beset his present-day counterparts--rising crime, potential attacks from foreign enemies, endless bickering among the powerful--in an atmosphere additionally threatened by followers of a strange cult devoted to the worship of a Jewish man crucified 150 years before. Throughout the book, Carvalho painstakingly recreates the life of one good man and his brave attempts to protect everything he holds dear in a rapidly-changing environment as he subtly encourages readers to imagine their own behavior in similar circumstances. [Iêda Siqueira Wiarda]
Originally published in Britain under the title The KGB's Literary Archive, this book contains translations of the files held by the secret police on such luminaries as Isaac Babel, Mikhail Bulgakov, Osip Mandelstam, and other important writers killed in Stalin's terror in the 1930s. Based on Shentalinsky's exhaustive searches in the KGB archives, the work adds a dimension to our understanding of the Stalinist terror and reflects the effort by Russian scholars in the post-Communist era to rediscover and reconstruct the Russian literary heritage that Stalin and his associates sought to obliterate. As Robert Conquest notes in his introduction, the book shows "just how the creative minds were crushed, or corrupted, how meanly as well as how murderously the regime treated the true bearers of the nation's culture." [Harry Leich]
The highly acclaimed Somali novelist, Nuruddin Farah, is known for his insightful studies of modern Somali women. Through the life of one such Somali woman, the structure of personal relations is examined as she is treated as a "gift" in marriage and is a dependent needing assistance in her society. Set in the context of a Somalia in crisis, the narrative of family relationships involved in gift-giving suggests parallels with donor and recipient roles in foreign aid between nations and international organizations. Although treating serious issues, the novel is well balanced with comic elements. [Joanne Zellers]
The sequel to his The Mind of South Africa, a history of apartheid written while Sparks was editor of the South African anti-apartheid newspaper the Rand Daily Mail, Tomorrow is Another Country takes the reader through the events and episodes culminating in the election of Nelson Mandela as the first president of a democratic South Africa. He remains highly optimistic about his country's future, believing that what unites South Africans is greater than what divides them. His views seem particularly pertinent to the contemporary U.S. government-sponsored dialogues on race since Sparks believes that South Africa can be seen as a "kind of laboratory for the future of race relations around the world." [Laverne Page]
NOT YET IN ENGLISH
Although this most recent work of one of Brazil's most prominent and prolific writers has not yet been translated, it is already a best-seller in Brazil. The novel tells the story of the Jewish physician Noel Nutels, who left his native Russia most likely because of religious and political persecution, and came to Brazil to help improve the sanitary conditions and general health of the Indians there. Through his imaginative rendering of Nutels' life, Scliar wants readers to see Brazilian Indians as a misunderstood and alienated minority, much like its Jews, living in a country that does not appreciate their many gifts. [Iêda Siqueira Wiarda]
Published by Editions Livre Sud S.A. (EDILIS), an African publisher that emphasizes material produced by younger African writers, the eight short stories explore gender roles among a new generation of African women in the urban environment of Abidjan in West Africa. Each story reveals some aspect of old cultural values in conflict with behavioral expectations of the late twentieth century. The publication raises universal questions about women's roles, their self esteem, and other feminist issues. The realistic depiction of women's lives may account for its popularity. [Marieta Harper]
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