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Necessary Reading

by Taylor Berry
Warm weather and vacation time make summer a popular time to get away and go abroad.  But if you are like me, a recent graduate financially crippled by student loans, any significant kind of travel is a monetary impossibility.  So instead of marinating in sweat and bitterness while riding the TTC, I recommend traveling with some world literature.   Here are some of my world lit favourites.

Starting at the other side of the world with Japan, I recommend Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore as a light but fantastic summer read.  The novel has two distinct plots that become intertwined, one focusing on 15-year old Kafka who is running away from home to avoid an Oedpial curse, the other focusing on Nakata, a 40-year old man mentally impaired by the atomic bomb who can talk to cats.  That’s right, there’s talking cats, a Hegel-quoting prostitute, and a rainstorm of fish, you need to read this book. 

Onto Africa, a more serious novel you should pick up this summer is Nuruddin Farah’s Maps, a coming-of-age story set against the historical backdrop of the war between Somalia and Ethiopia.  It’s the story of a Somalian orphan named Askar taken in after the death of his parents by an Ethiopian woman named Misra.  Maps deals with Askar’s struggle to come to know himself and his native country and taught me a lot about a conflict I didn’t previously know much about.

From India, land of chapatis and chutneys, I highly recommend Salman Rushdie’s classic magic realist novel Midnight’s Children.  In this mythical story, any child born at midnight on the day of India’s independence is born with magical powers—one boy has the gift of alchemy, another can shrink and grow at will, a set of twin girls can make any man fall in love with them, and the novel’s main character, Saleem Sinai, can read minds.  Saleem’s story is directly intertwined with that of his country, so his journey is a magical one through Indian history.

If you haven’t read Columbian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude you need to make time to do it this summer. Hundred Years of Solitude follows generations of the Buendia family in the invented town of Macondo.  Get your Latin American fix and have an instant conversation piece with English lit majors worldwide.

Finally, because I’m a sucker for a good Russian novel, check out Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita.   It’s about the Devil visiting Moscow, but the Soviet Union being as atheist as it was, nobody believes it can be the work of the devil when heads are chopped off by streetcars, witches fly on brooms in the sky and a gun-toting cat named Behemoth walks around the city on his hind legs.  Plus there’s a love story for the ladies, and a Pontius Pilate subplot.  I give it two enthusiastic thumbs up. 

All of these books can be found at Type Books (883 Queen St. W), your friendly neighbourhood bookstore with three different locations in the city. Visit http://www.typebooks.ca for more info.