- War with the Newts, by Karel Capek, Ewald Osers, translator (older vers. ok too)
This legendary but previously hard-to-get novel is a hilarious dystopian satire about the choice between ecological catastrophe and making your quarterly financial goals. As both a commentary on capitalism and the rise of fascism, as well as an early work of science fiction, it is one of the most important books of the twentieth century. When the curmudgeonly sailor Captain von Toch discovers a breed of large, intelligent newts in far-off Polynesia, he realizes that, with a little training, they could be used as a virtual army of complacent pearl-divers in shark-infested waters. Then von Toch’s financial backers realize that the newts can be trained for all kinds of underwater civil engineering projects, or to build new islands, even to defend shorelines—wielding weapons, no less! There’s only one problem: released from their previous environment, the newts replicate like, well, aqua-bunnies. And soon they aren’t so complacent anymore. Acclaimed by many as the first dystopian novel, and others as the best book of science fiction ever written, Karel Capek’s masterpiece remains all that and more: smart, funny, and relevant.
- Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino, William Weaver, translator
"Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions, but the emperor of the Tartars does continue listening to the young Venetian with greater attention and curiosity than he shows any other messenger or explorer of his." So begins Italo Calvino's compilation of fragmentary urban images. As Marco tells the khan about Armilla, which "has nothing that makes it seem a city, except the water pipes that rise vertically where the houses should be and spread out horizontally where the floors should be," the spider-web city of Octavia, and other marvelous burgs, it may be that he is creating them all out of his imagination, or perhaps he is recreating fine details of his native Venice over and over again, or perhaps he is simply recounting some of the myriad possible forms a city might take. (less)
- The Juniper Tree, by Barbara Comyns
In their idyllic garden, Gertrude and Bernard forge a perfect triangle of friendship with Bella, the scarred mother of an illegitimate child. Then Gertrude conceives the child which has long eluded her, and the spell breaks into foreboding, menace and madness. (Goodreads summary.) Comments from Goodreads reviewers: Zuska: "This modern retelling of the classic (Grimm's) fairy tale is full of creeping horror, and shows why fairy tales have such lasting power." Ali: "Comyns is not unlike Angela Carter, their fiction is often unexpected, there is darkness, magic, their worlds seem very slightly out of kilter while being entirely recognisable. Having said that, Comyns is absolutely and entirely herself..." Rachel Jones: "Barbara Comyns is very English. And very twisted. I love her writing. Spare but compelling."
- The Last Hours, by Minette Walters
When the Black Death enters England through the port in Dorsetshire in June 1348, no one knows what manner of sickness it is—or how it spreads and kills so quickly. The Church cites God as the cause, and fear grips the people as they come to believe that the plague is a punishment for wickedness. But Lady Anne of Develish has her own ideas. Educated by nuns, Anne is a rarity among women, being both literate and knowledgeable. With her brutal husband absent from the manor when news of this pestilence reaches her, she looks for more sensible ways to protect her people than daily confessions of sin. She decides to bring her serfs inside the safety of the moat that surrounds her manor house, then refuses entry to anyone else, even her husband. ... Compelling and suspenseful, The Last Hours is a riveting tale of human ingenuity and endurance set against the worst pandemic in history. In Lady Anne of Develish—leader, savior, heretic—Walters has created her most memorable heroine to date.
- The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid
At a café table in Lahore, a bearded Pakistani man converses with an uneasy American stranger. As dusk deepens to night, he begins the tale that has brought them to this fateful encounter… Changez is living an immigrant's dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by an elite valuation firm. He thrives on the energy of New York, and his budding romance with elegant, beautiful Erica promises entry into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore. But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned, and his relationship with Erica shifting. And Changez's own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and maybe even love.
In a narrative as mysterious as memory itself – at once both shadowed and luminous – Warlight is a vivid, thrilling novel of violence and love, intrigue and desire. It is 1945, and London is still reeling from the Blitz and years of war. 14-year-old Nathaniel and his sister, Rachel, are apparently abandoned by their parents, left in the care of an enigmatic figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a criminal, and grow both more convinced and less concerned as they get to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women with a shared history, all of whom seem determined now to protect, and educate (in rather unusual ways) Rachel and Nathaniel. But are they really what and who they claim to be? A dozen years later, Nathaniel begins to uncover all he didn’t know or understand in that time, and it is this journey – through reality, recollection, and imagination – that is told in this magnificent novel.
- Women Without Men, by Shahrnush Parsipur
Shortly after the 1989 publication of Women Without Men in her native Iran, Shahrnush Parsipur was arrested and jailed for her frank and defiant portrayal of women’s sexuality. Now banned in Iran, this small masterpiece was eventually translated into several languages and introduces U.S. readers to the work of a brilliant Persian writer. With a tone that is stark, and bold, Women Without Men creates an evocative allegory of life for contemporary Iranian women. In the interwoven destinies of five women, simple situations such as walking down a road or leaving the house become, in the tumult of post-WWII Iran, horrific and defiant as women escape the narrow confines of family and society only to face daunting new challenges.
- Lila, by Marilynne Robinson
Author Marilynne Robinson returns to the town of Gilead with an unforgettable story of a girlhood lived on the fringes of society in fear, awe, and wonder. Lila, homeless and alone after years of roaming the countryside, steps inside a small-town Iowa church - the only available shelter from the rain - and ignites a romance and a debate that will reshape her life. She becomes the wife of a minister, John Ames, and begins a new existence while trying to make sense of the life that preceded her newfound security.
- An Artist of the Floating World, by Kazuo Ishiguro
In the face of the misery in his homeland, the artist Masuji Ono was unwilling to devote his art solely to the celebration of physical beauty. Instead, he put his work in the service of the imperialist movement that led Japan into World War II. Now, as the mature Ono struggles through the aftermath of that war, his memories of his youth and of the “floating world”—the nocturnal world of pleasure, entertainment, and drink—offer him both escape and redemption, even as they punish him for betraying his early promise. Indicted by society for its defeat and reviled for his past aesthetics, he relives the passage through his personal history that makes him both a hero and a coward but, above all, a human being.
- Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville
Beneath the towering bleached ribs of a dead, ancient beast lies the city of New Crobuzon, where the unsavory deal is stranger to no one--not even to Isaac, a gifted and eccentric scientist who has spent a lifetime quietly carrying out his unique research. But when a half-bird, half-human creature known as the Garuda comes to him from afar, Isaac is faced with challenges he has never before encountered. Though the Garuda's request is scientifically daunting, Isaac is sparked by his own curiosity and an uncanny reverence for this curious stranger. Soon an eerie metamorphosis will occur that will permeate every fiber of New Crobuzon....