Best Foreign Work of Fiction Chosen by Francophone Writers

This is one of the 280 lists we use to generate our main The Greatest Books list.

  • Ulysses by James Joyce

    Set in Dublin, the novel follows a day in the life of Leopold Bloom, an advertising salesman, as he navigates the city. The narrative, heavily influenced by Homer's Odyssey, explores themes of identity, heroism, and the complexities of everyday life. It is renowned for its stream-of-consciousness style and complex structure, making it a challenging but rewarding read.

  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

    This classic novel follows the adventures of a man who, driven mad by reading too many chivalric romances, decides to become a knight-errant and roam the world righting wrongs under the name Don Quixote. Accompanied by his loyal squire, Sancho Panza, he battles windmills he believes to be giants and champions the virtuous lady Dulcinea, who is in reality a simple peasant girl. The book is a richly layered critique of the popular literature of Cervantes' time and a profound exploration of reality and illusion, madness and sanity.

  • Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry

    Set in Mexico on the Day of the Dead in 1938, the novel follows the last day in the life of Geoffrey Firmin, a British consul with a severe alcohol addiction. Through his interactions with his estranged wife and half-brother, the book explores themes of despair, betrayal, and the destructive power of addiction, against the backdrop of political and social unrest. The impending eruption of the nearby volcano serves as a metaphor for Firmin's deteriorating mental state and the looming world war.

  • The Real Life of Sebastian Knight by Vladimir Nabokov

    "The Real Life of Sebastian Knight" is a novel centered around the protagonist's quest to understand and write a biography about his deceased half-brother, a famous author. However, as he delves deeper into his brother's life, he encounters numerous obstacles and confusions, including misleading information, false leads, and the challenge of distinguishing between the man and his literary persona. Ultimately, the protagonist's journey becomes a profound exploration of identity, truth, and the blurred line between fiction and reality.

  • The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

    The novel is a complex exploration of the tragic Compson family from the American South. Told from four distinct perspectives, the story unfolds through stream of consciousness narratives, each revealing their own understanding of the family's decline. The characters grapple with post-Civil War societal changes, personal loss, and their own mental instability. The narrative is marked by themes of time, innocence, and the burdens of the past.

  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

    A young orphan boy, living with his cruel older sister and her kind blacksmith husband, has an encounter with an escaped convict that changes his life. Later, he becomes the protégé of a wealthy but reclusive woman and falls in love with her adopted daughter. He then learns that an anonymous benefactor has left him a fortune, leading him to believe that his benefactor is the reclusive woman and that she intends for him to marry her adopted daughter. He moves to London to become a gentleman, but his great expectations are ultimately shattered when he learns the true identity of his benefactor and the reality of his love interest.

  • American Pastoral by Philip Roth

    This novel tells the story of Seymour "Swede" Levov, a successful Jewish-American businessman and former high school athlete from Newark, New Jersey. Levov's happy and conventional upper middle class life is ruined by the domestic social and political turmoil of the 1960s during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, which in the novel is seen through the eyes of the narrator, Nathan Zuckerman, a budding writer who idolizes the Levovs. The novel portrays the impact of this turmoil on Levov and his family, particularly his rebellious daughter who becomes involved in revolutionary political activities.

  • Demons by Fyodor Dostoevsky

    "The Possessed" is a complex political novel set in a provincial Russian town, exploring the destructive influence of radical ideologies on society. The narrative revolves around a group of revolutionaries, their philosophical debates and their destructive actions, driven by nihilism and anarchism. The story is a critique of the political and social chaos of the time, showcasing the author's deep understanding of human psychology and his profound insights into the human condition. It is an exploration of faith, reason, and the nature of freedom and is considered one of the most significant works of Russian literature.

  • Twenty Four Hours In The Life Of A Woman by Stefan Zweig

    The novella delves into the intense emotional landscape of a middle-aged English widow who, while staying at a Riviera resort, becomes deeply fascinated by the plight of a young man consumed by a gambling addiction. Over the course of a day, their lives intertwine, leading her to reflect on the nature of obsession and the fleeting moments of passion that can irrevocably alter one's life. As she recounts her own story of moral and emotional upheaval, the narrative explores themes of societal expectations, personal liberation, and the profound impact of ephemeral encounters.

  • Weights And Measures by Joseph Roth

    "Weights and Measures" is a poignant narrative that delves into the life of a conscientious imperial weights and measures inspector, who is uprooted from his contented existence in the city to a remote border town. In this new environment, he struggles with the corruption and indifference of the local merchants, which stands in stark contrast to his own principled nature. His sense of duty and his quest for justice become increasingly burdensome, leading to a profound personal crisis that reflects the broader decay of societal values in a world on the brink of great change and upheaval.

  • The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann

    In this novel, the protagonist, a young, ordinary man, visits his cousin at a tuberculosis sanatorium in the Swiss Alps. Intending to stay for only a few weeks, he ends up remaining there for seven years, becoming a patient himself. The book explores his experiences and relationships with other patients and staff, delving into philosophical discussions on life, time, and the nature of disease. It also provides a vivid portrayal of the European society and intellectual life on the eve of World War I.

  • A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor

    This collection of short stories is set in the American South and explores themes of morality, ethics, and the complexity of human nature. The stories feature a variety of characters, each grappling with their own moral dilemmas and personal struggles. The title story centers around a family's disastrous road trip, during which they encounter a notorious escaped convict. Through these narratives, the book examines the concept of "goodness" and the capacity for redemption and grace in a flawed world.

  • A Million Little Pieces by James Frey

    The book is a controversial memoir that details the author's intense struggle with addiction, chronicling his experiences from the depths of substance abuse to the painful path of recovery. It vividly portrays his time in a rehabilitation facility, the colorful characters he meets there, and the personal demons he battles along the way. The narrative delves into themes of redemption, the harsh realities of addiction, and the complex journey towards self-forgiveness and healing, despite later being revealed to contain fabrications and embellishments of the author's experiences.

  • Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

    This memoir offers a glimpse into the life of a young American writer living in Paris during the 1920s. The book is filled with personal anecdotes and observations about his life and experiences, including his relationships with other expatriate writers and artists of the Lost Generation. The focus is on the joy of life, the art of writing, and the struggle of a writer. The book also explores the author's love for the city of Paris, which he refers to as a "moveable feast".

  • A Writer's Diary by Virginia Woolf

    This book is a collection of entries extracted from the personal diaries of a prominent 20th-century British novelist, providing readers with a unique glimpse into her artistic process, literary ambitions, and the daily preoccupations that influenced her work. Spanning over two decades, the diary entries offer an intimate portrait of her struggles with mental health, her opinions on contemporary literature, and her insights into the craft of writing. The book serves as a valuable resource for understanding the mind of a literary genius and the internal and external factors that shaped some of the most innovative fiction of the modernist era.

  • Ada or Ardor by Vladimir Nabokov

    Set in an alternate universe where Earth is known as "Antiterra," the novel follows the lives of Ada and Van, two wealthy siblings who fall into a passionate and incestuous love affair. Their relationship evolves over a span of 70 years, as they navigate through family secrets, personal tragedies, and the complex nature of time. The book is a blend of romance, science fiction, and philosophical exploration, all told through the author's signature wordplay and intricate narrative style.

  • All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

    This novel follows the journey of a young Texas cowboy who, after his grandfather's death, ventures into Mexico with his best friend in search of a life of freedom and adventure. Their journey becomes complicated when they are arrested and imprisoned, and the protagonist falls in love with the daughter of a wealthy ranch owner. The book explores themes of love, loss, friendship, and the harsh realities of life.

  • Ambiguous Adventure by Cheikh Hamidou Kane

    The novel explores the inner conflict of its protagonist, a young African man from a noble lineage, as he grapples with the cultural dichotomy between his Islamic faith and traditional values and the Western education he receives at a French school. This intellectual and spiritual journey leads him to question his identity, the meaning of progress, and the role of religion in a rapidly changing world. As he navigates through these existential challenges, he becomes emblematic of the broader postcolonial struggle to reconcile indigenous heritage with modernity, ultimately seeking a path that honors both without losing oneself in the process.

  • Bacacay by Witold Gombrowicz

    "Bacacay" is a collection of darkly humorous and surreal short stories that delve into the absurdities of human behavior and social norms. The tales are set in a variety of locations and time periods, featuring a cast of eccentric characters who find themselves in bizarre and often grotesque situations. Through sharp wit and a playful manipulation of language, the stories satirize the pretensions and follies of society, challenging the reader's perceptions of reality and the boundaries of conventional storytelling.

  • Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

    This book is a collection of 10 letters written by a renowned poet to a young aspiring poet, offering advice and guidance on matters of life, love, and the pursuit of poetry. The author encourages the young poet to look inward for inspiration and to embrace solitude as a means of self-discovery. He also emphasizes the importance of patience, personal growth, and the necessity of experiencing life's hardships to truly understand and depict the human condition in poetry.

  • A Burnt Child by Stig Dagerman

    The novel delves into the psychological turmoil of a young man grappling with the complexities of adulthood and the haunting specter of his father's death. As he navigates the murky waters of guilt, desire, and rebellion, he becomes entangled in a web of relationships that challenge his understanding of love, morality, and his own identity. Set against the backdrop of post-war Sweden, the story is a poignant exploration of grief, the struggle for self-discovery, and the painful journey towards coming-of-age in a world that seems both indifferent and unforgiving.

  • Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann

    "Buddenbrooks" is a novel that chronicles the decline of a wealthy north German merchant family over the course of four generations. The narrative focuses on the fluctuating fortunes and internal struggles of the family, reflecting the societal changes and economic decline of the period. The family's personal and business relationships, their moral values, and their struggle to maintain social status are all explored against the backdrop of the changing political and social landscape.

  • Burmese Days by George Orwell

    This novel is a scathing critique of British colonial rule in Burma during the 1920s. The protagonist, a disillusioned teak merchant, struggles with the bigotry and racism of his fellow Europeans, and his forbidden love for a Burmese woman. The narrative explores the effects of imperialism on both the oppressors and the oppressed, highlighting the hypocrisy, corruption, and inhumanity that result from such a system.

  • The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

    The novel follows the story of a teenager named Holden Caulfield, who has just been expelled from his prep school. The narrative unfolds over the course of three days, during which Holden experiences various forms of alienation and his mental state continues to unravel. He criticizes the adult world as "phony" and struggles with his own transition into adulthood. The book is a profound exploration of teenage rebellion, alienation, and the loss of innocence.

  • Concrete by Thomas Bernhard

    The book is a darkly introspective narrative that delves into the mind of a reclusive, obsessive intellectual who is struggling to complete his scholarly work on the composer Mendelssohn. As he grapples with his own ailments and the perceived mediocrity of his surroundings, the protagonist's stream-of-consciousness monologue reveals his deep-seated anxieties, self-loathing, and profound isolation. The narrative is a relentless examination of the protagonist's psyche, showcasing his critical view of society and his own personal relationships, which are fraught with tension and dysfunction. Through this, the novel explores themes of artistic creation, intellectual elitism, and the suffocating nature of expectations and familial obligations.

  • Confessions of Zeno by Italo Svevo

    "Confessions of Zeno" is a satirical, semi-autobiographical novel that follows the life of Zeno Cosini, a neurotic Italian businessman, as he tries to quit smoking. The book is presented as a diary, written at the suggestion of Zeno's psychoanalyst, and it details Zeno's thoughts on his health, his family, his business ventures, and his infatuation with a beautiful woman. Throughout the story, Zeno's attempts to quit smoking serve as a metaphor for his struggles with his personal weaknesses and his quest for self-understanding.

  • Cutting It Short by Bohumil Hrabal

    Set in a small Czech town during the 1920s, the narrative follows the life of a vivacious and free-spirited young woman married to the town's brewery manager. Her playful and unconventional behavior often leads to humorous and sometimes scandalous situations, as she navigates through the social norms and expectations of the time. The story captures the charm and eccentricities of rural life through a series of anecdotes, reflecting on the themes of freedom, tradition, and the joy of the everyday. The protagonist's zest for life and her interactions with the colorful cast of characters create a whimsical and endearing portrait of a community on the brink of modernization.

  • The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse

    Set in the 23rd century, the novel revolves around a highly intellectual game, the Glass Bead Game, which incorporates all fields of human and cosmic knowledge. The story follows the life of Joseph Knecht, a scholar who becomes a Magister Ludi (Master of the Game). The book explores his life and thoughts, including his relationships with others and his questioning of the values of his society. The narrative is a profound exploration of human life, knowledge, and spirituality.

  • David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

    This novel follows the life of its titular protagonist from his childhood to maturity. Born to a young widow, David endures a difficult childhood when his mother remarries a harsh and abusive man. After his mother's death, he is sent to a boarding school before being forced into child labor. As he grows, David experiences hardship, love, and loss, all the while meeting a colorful array of characters. The novel is a journey of self-discovery and personal growth, showcasing the harsh realities of 19th-century England.

  • Death Of A Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong

    "Death Of A Red Heroine" is a crime novel set in 1990s Shanghai, China. The story follows Inspector Chen Cao as he investigates the murder of a young woman, whose body is found in a canal. As Chen delves deeper into the case, he uncovers a web of corruption, political intrigue, and personal secrets that challenge his loyalty to the Communist Party and force him to confront the complexities of modern Chinese society. Through vivid descriptions of Shanghai's changing landscape and insightful commentary on social issues, the novel offers a captivating portrayal of a country in transition.

  • The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil

    "The Man Without Qualities" is a satirical novel set in Vienna during the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It follows the life of Ulrich, a thirty-two-year-old mathematician, who is in search of a sense of life and reality but is caught up in the societal changes and political chaos of his time. The book explores themes of existentialism, morality, and the search for meaning in a rapidly changing world.

  • The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

    "The Reader" is a poignant narrative centered around a young German boy's complex relationship with an older woman, who later turns out to be a former Auschwitz guard. Their relationship begins with her teaching him to read, but takes a drastic turn when she disappears, only to reemerge on trial for war crimes. The novel explores themes of guilt, shame, and redemption, as the boy, now a law student, grapples with his feelings for a woman he once loved, but whose past actions he cannot reconcile with.

  • Disgrace by J M Coetzee

    "Disgrace" is a novel that explores the life of a middle-aged professor in South Africa who is dismissed from his position after having an affair with a student. After losing his job, he moves to the countryside to live with his daughter, where they experience a violent attack that significantly alters their lives. The story delves into themes of post-apartheid South Africa, racial tension, sexual exploitation, and the struggle for personal redemption.

  • Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann

    The novel is a reimagining of the Faust legend set in the context of the first half of the 20th century and the turmoil of Germany in that period. It tells the story of a composer who makes a pact with the devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited creative genius. The protagonist's life and work reflect the cultural and political journey of Germany leading up to World War II, providing a deep exploration of the individual's role in a society undergoing dramatic change. The novel is also a profound meditation on the nature of time, the art and the artist, and the destructiveness of human ambition.

  • Doruntine by Ismail Kadare

    The book is a haunting tale that weaves together Albanian folklore and history, centered on the mysterious return of Doruntine to her family home after her brother Constantine, who had sworn on his honor to bring her back from her faraway marriage, is found to have been dead for years. The story delves into the depths of a medieval society's beliefs and the unbreakable vow known as the "besa," exploring themes of familial duty, the supernatural, and the struggle between modernity and tradition. As the local authorities investigate the enigmatic circumstances of Doruntine's return, the narrative unfolds into a gripping examination of the collective psyche and the power of an unyielding promise that transcends death.

  • Epepe by Ferenc Karinthy

    The book revolves around a linguist who finds himself inexplicably trapped in a nightmarish city where he cannot understand the language or communicate with the inhabitants. Despite his expertise in languages, the protagonist's skills are rendered useless in this alien environment, leading to a series of Kafkaesque encounters as he desperately tries to make sense of his surroundings and find a way back home. His isolation is compounded by the city's indifferent bureaucracy and the strange, often absurd, customs of its citizens, turning his ordeal into an existential struggle for identity and understanding in the face of an incomprehensible world.

  • Exemplary Stories by Miguel de Cervantes

    "Exemplary Stories" is a collection of novellas that explore various themes such as deception, love, jealousy, and the unpredictability of fortune, through a tapestry of engaging narratives. Written by the same author who penned the famous tale of a delusional knight, this anthology showcases his versatility and wit. The stories often feature a moral lesson, and the characters range from the noble to the common, each providing a unique glimpse into the complexities of human nature and the social issues of the time. The author's masterful storytelling and rich language make this collection a significant contribution to the canon of Western literature, reflecting the author's keen observation of the human condition and his satirical edge.

  • Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    The book is a tragic play in two parts that tells the story of a scholarly man named Faust, who becomes dissatisfied with his life and makes a pact with the devil, Mephistopheles. In exchange for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures, Faust agrees to give his soul to Mephistopheles after death. The narrative explores themes of ambition, despair, love, and redemption, ultimately leading to Faust's salvation.

  • Ferdydurke by Witold Gombrowicz

    "Ferdydurke" is a satirical novel that explores the themes of maturity, identity, and societal norms. The protagonist, a thirty-year-old writer, is forcibly regressed by two professors back to his adolescence and placed in a school setting. The narrative critiques the artificiality of adulthood and the pressure of societal expectations, while also exploring the struggle for self-expression and individuality. The book is known for its absurdist humor and its examination of the human condition.

  • Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges

    "Collected Fiction" is a compilation of stories by a renowned author that takes readers on a journey through a world of philosophical paradoxes, intellectual humor, and fantastical realities. The book features a range of narratives, from complex, multi-layered tales of labyrinths and detective investigations, to metaphysical explorations of infinity and the nature of identity. It offers an immersive and thought-provoking reading experience, blurring the boundaries between reality and fiction, past and present, and the self and the universe.

  • Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes

    The novel centers around a retired doctor's obsession with the life and works of Gustave Flaubert, a 19th-century French writer. The doctor's fascination leads him on a quest to find a stuffed parrot that once belonged to the writer. The novel is a blend of biography, literary criticism, and personal memoir, and it explores themes such as the nature of art and the difficulties of interpreting the past.

  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

    The book is a poignant science fiction narrative that follows the life of Charlie Gordon, a man with an IQ of 68, who undergoes an experimental surgical procedure intended to increase his intelligence. The story is told through Charlie's progress reports, which initially showcase his limited comprehension and writing ability. As the treatment takes effect, Charlie's intelligence surpasses that of the average person, leading to a dramatic increase in his understanding of the world, relationships, and his own past. However, the transformation is not without its pitfalls, as Charlie grapples with the emotional and social implications of his newfound abilities, and the impermanence of the experiment's success becomes a haunting reality. The novel explores themes of intellect, human dignity, and the ethics of scientific experimentation.

  • Forever Flowing by Vasily Grossman

    The book is a poignant exploration of life, freedom, and the human condition, set against the backdrop of the Soviet Union after World War II. It follows the story of a former Gulag inmate who, upon his release, grapples with the profound changes in society and his own personal struggles. Through his journey, the narrative delves into the nature of totalitarianism, the resilience of the human spirit, and the search for truth and redemption amidst the oppressive political landscape of the time. The protagonist's reflections and interactions with other characters offer a deep meditation on the cost of war, the meaning of liberty, and the enduring quest for justice.

  • Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

    Set during the end of World War II, the novel follows Tyrone Slothrop, a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, as he tries to uncover the truth behind a mysterious device, the "Schwarzgerät", that the Germans are using in their V-2 rockets. The narrative is complex and multi-layered, filled with a vast array of characters and subplots, all connected by various themes such as paranoia, technology, and the destructive nature of war. The book is known for its encyclopedic nature and its challenging, postmodernist style.

  • Greguerias by Ramón Gómez de la Serna

    The book is a collection of witty, poetic, and often surreal aphorisms and reflections that blend humor, irony, and keen observation to capture the essence of everyday objects and experiences in a unique and thought-provoking way. These brief, imaginative musings offer a window into the author's playful mind, as he transforms the mundane into the extraordinary with his inventive use of language and metaphor. The work is a testament to the author's innovative spirit and his ability to see the world through a lens of whimsical creativity.

  • Hadrian the Seventh by Frederick Rolfe

    "Hadrian the Seventh" is a novel about a failed Catholic priest, who after a series of unlikely events, becomes the Pope. The protagonist, a bitter and eccentric man, uses his newfound power to make radical changes in the Church, while also settling personal scores. The novel is known for its biting satire and unique exploration of the Catholic Church and papacy.

  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

    This classic novel follows the journey of a seaman who travels up the Congo River into the African interior to meet a mysterious ivory trader. Throughout his journey, he encounters the harsh realities of imperialism, the brutal treatment of native Africans, and the depths of human cruelty and madness. The protagonist's journey into the 'heart of darkness' serves as both a physical exploration of the African continent and a metaphorical exploration into the depths of human nature.

  • I'm Not Stiller by Max Frisch

    The book is a profound exploration of identity and the human condition, revolving around a man who is arrested upon his return to his home country, Switzerland, after spending time in America. Although he insists he is not the man, Stiller, that everyone believes him to be, his protests are ignored. The story unfolds as he writes in his prison cell, reflecting on his past life and relationships, and grappling with the question of who he truly is. It's a thought-provoking narrative that challenges conventional notions of selfhood and personal identity.

  • I And My Chimney by Herman Melville

    The narrative centers around the protagonist's deep affection for his large, central chimney, which stands as a symbol of stability and tradition in his family home. Despite pressure from his wife and visitors to modernize and alter the structure, the protagonist staunchly defends the chimney's significance and resists change. The story unfolds as a humorous and satirical commentary on the conflicts between modernity and tradition, personal attachment to one's home, and the dynamics of marital compromise, all while showcasing the narrator's whimsical and obstinate character in his crusade to preserve his beloved chimney.

  • Into The Heart Of Borneo by Redmond O'Hanlon

    The book is an enthralling travelogue that recounts the daring journey of two adventurers as they embark on an expedition into the dense rainforests of Borneo. With a blend of humor and erudition, the narrative captures their encounters with the island's unique wildlife, challenging terrain, and the indigenous Dayak people, whose customs and way of life are as intriguing as the natural wonders surrounding them. The travelers face numerous hardships and moments of awe, providing a vivid account of their quest to reach the center of one of the world's last great wildernesses.

  • Jar City by Arnaldur Indriðason

    In this gripping Icelandic crime novel, a seasoned detective investigates the murder of an elderly man, only to uncover a web of long-buried secrets. As the detective delves deeper into the case, he discovers a connection to a decades-old unsolved rape, a mysterious genetic condition, and a hidden "jar city" of preserved human tissue samples. The investigation challenges the detective to confront ethical dilemmas surrounding genetic privacy and the ghosts of the past, while navigating the complexities of his own personal life. The novel intertwines a compelling mystery with the stark atmosphere of Iceland, creating a dark and thought-provoking narrative that keeps the reader engaged until the very end.

  • Jernigan by David Gates

    The novel is a darkly comic portrayal of a man's descent into alcoholism and self-destruction. The protagonist, a middle-aged father, grapples with the banality of his suburban life, the loss of his wife, and a strained relationship with his teenage son. His narrative is marked by sharp wit and a keen sense of the absurd, as he increasingly turns to the bottle for solace. The book offers a raw and unflinching look at the protagonist's attempt to navigate his existential despair, showcasing the tragicomic elements of his downward spiral.

  • Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa

    This collection delves into the unsettling corners of the human psyche through eleven interconnected stories that explore themes of desire, pain, and retribution. Each tale weaves a haunting narrative where characters confront peculiar incidents and twisted relationships, often finding themselves entangled in situations where the line between reality and the surreal blurs. The stories, set against the backdrop of everyday life in Japan, reveal the quiet horror lurking beneath the surface of ordinary encounters, as the protagonists grapple with the consequences of their dark obsessions and the inexorable pull of vengeance.

  • Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte

    "Kaputt" is a semi-autobiographical novel that portrays the bleak and disturbing experiences of the author during World War II. The narrative is set in Eastern Europe and offers a vivid depiction of the war's atrocities, including the Holocaust, as seen through the eyes of a war correspondent. The book is known for its surreal and grotesque imagery, combined with the author's sharp and cynical observations of the war's impact on humanity.

  • Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis

    The novel is a bleak portrayal of the nihilistic and morally vacant lives of affluent teenagers in 1980s Los Angeles. The story follows a young college freshman returning home for winter break, only to find himself drifting through a world of casual drug use, vapid sex, and senseless violence. Disconnected from his emotions and the people around him, the protagonist observes the empty existence of his friends and the loss of humanity in a culture obsessed with materialism and hedonism, ultimately questioning the very nature of his own reality and purpose.

  • Leviathan by Arno Schmidt

    "Leviathan" is a complex narrative that delves into the psyche of a German intellectual coping with the aftermath of World War II. The protagonist, a reclusive translator, grapples with his own personal demons and the broader existential crisis of a nation in ruins. Through a series of introspective monologues and interactions with both real and imagined characters, the book explores themes of guilt, isolation, and the search for meaning in a world that has been irrevocably altered by the horrors of war. The novel's dense and challenging prose, combined with its allusions to mythology and literature, creates a rich tapestry that demands the reader's engagement with the historical and philosophical questions it raises.

  • Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman

    "Life and Fate" is a sweeping epic that explores the human condition during the Siege of Stalingrad in World War II. The novel delves into the lives of a wide range of characters, from soldiers and scientists to children and victims of the Holocaust, providing a stark and unflinching portrayal of the horrors of war, the brutality of totalitarianism, and the resilience of the human spirit. At the same time, it also examines themes of love, loss, and the struggle for freedom and dignity in the face of overwhelming adversity.

  • Life Of Quintus Fixlein by Jean-Paul Richter

    The book is a charming and idiosyncratic novel that chronicles the life of a small-town German schoolteacher, whose simple and contented existence is depicted through a series of letters and diary entries. The protagonist's life is marked by modest ambitions, endearing relationships, and a deep appreciation for the joys of everyday life. With a focus on the beauty of the mundane and the richness of the inner life, the narrative offers a poignant reflection on happiness, the passage of time, and the value of cherishing the small moments and personal connections that give life its true meaning.

  • Light in August by William Faulkner

    Set in the American South during the 1930s, this novel explores complex social and personal issues through the intertwining stories of its characters. The narrative primarily follows a man of ambiguous racial identity on a quest to find his father, a pregnant woman searching for the father of her unborn child, and a disgraced minister attempting to navigate his own moral compass. The book delves into themes of identity, race, and the human struggle for understanding and redemption, all set against the backdrop of the deep-rooted prejudices and social norms of the time.

  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

    The novel tells the story of Humbert Humbert, a man with a disturbing obsession for young girls, or "nymphets" as he calls them. His obsession leads him to engage in a manipulative and destructive relationship with his 12-year-old stepdaughter, Lolita. The narrative is a controversial exploration of manipulation, obsession, and unreliable narration, as Humbert attempts to justify his actions and feelings throughout the story.

  • Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

    The novel revolves around a young, idealistic British seaman, who commits a crime of cowardice at sea. He abandons his ship, leaving hundreds of passengers to their fate. He is publicly censured for this act and spends the rest of his life in shameful obscurity in the South Seas, trying to repress the guilt of his past and regain his lost honor. His quest for redemption leads him to a remote island where he gets a chance to prove his courage, but his tragic flaw ultimately leads to his downfall.

  • Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    This novel follows the story of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, who fall passionately in love in their youth. However, Fermina eventually marries a wealthy doctor, leaving Florentino heartbroken. Despite this, Florentino remains devoted to Fermina for over fifty years, patiently waiting for her husband's death to have another chance at her love. The story is set against the backdrop of a cholera epidemic, serving as a metaphor for the transformative power of love and the destructive power of obsession.

  • Lust by Elfriede Jelinek

    This book is a provocative exploration of the dynamics of power and desire within the confines of a loveless marriage. Set against the backdrop of the Austrian Alps, it delves into the life of a woman trapped in a relationship with her abusive and unfaithful husband, a powerful paper mill owner. The narrative dissects the commodification of sex, the objectification of women, and the societal structures that perpetuate these themes. Through a stark and unflinching examination of the protagonist's degradation and the pervasive corruption in her world, the novel presents a scathing critique of consumerism, the patriarchy, and the hollow nature of modern relationships.

  • Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos

    This novel presents a panoramic view of New York City between the 1890s and the 1920s, capturing the sense of the city through the lives of its inhabitants. The narrative weaves together the stories of numerous characters from diverse backgrounds, including immigrants, businessmen, and bohemians. These characters' lives intersect and diverge, reflecting the dynamism and complexity of the city itself. The city is portrayed as a place of both opportunity and disillusionment, where dreams are both realized and shattered.

  • Mars by Fritz Zorn

    "Mars" is a poignant autobiographical account of a young man's life and his battle with terminal cancer. The narrative delves into the author's affluent yet emotionally barren upbringing in a Swiss suburb, which he refers to as "Mars," symbolizing its cold and alienating environment. The book is a critique of his repressive bourgeois society, which he believes contributed to his psychological and physical illness. Through introspective and often angry prose, the author explores themes of alienation, the search for identity, and the impact of societal norms on individual well-being. His struggle is not only against the disease but also against the cultural and familial constraints that stifled his emotional development.

  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

    The book tells the story of a man who wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a giant insect. His transformation causes him to lose his job and become ostracized from his family, who are horrified and repulsed by his new form. As he grapples with his new reality, he becomes increasingly isolated and starts to lose his sense of humanity. The book explores themes of alienation, guilt, and identity, and is a profound examination of the human condition.

  • Middlemarch by George Eliot

    Set in the fictitious English town of Middlemarch during the early 19th century, the novel explores the complex web of relationships in a close-knit society. It follows the lives of several characters, primarily Dorothea Brooke, a young woman of idealistic fervor, and Tertius Lydgate, an ambitious young doctor, who both grapple with societal expectations, personal desires, and moral dilemmas. Their stories intertwine with a rich tapestry of other townsfolk, reflecting themes of love, marriage, ambition, and reform, making a profound commentary on the human condition.

  • Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

    The novel tells the story of Saleem Sinai, who was born at the exact moment when India gained its independence. As a result, he shares a mystical connection with other children born at the same time, all of whom possess unique, magical abilities. As Saleem grows up, his life mirrors the political and cultural changes happening in his country, from the partition of India and Pakistan, to the Bangladesh War of Independence. The story is a blend of historical fiction and magical realism, exploring themes of identity, fate, and the power of storytelling.

  • Mouth Full Of Earth by Branimir Scepanovic

    This novel delves into the psychological and existential journey of a man who, while on a hunting trip, becomes the prey after being mistaken for an enemy. As he flees from his relentless pursuers through a desolate landscape, he is forced to confront the primal instincts of survival, the absurdity of his situation, and the nature of violence and death. The narrative explores the thin line between civilization and savagery, and the protagonist's struggle becomes a metaphor for the human condition and the inherent conflicts within society.

  • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

    The novel chronicles a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a high-society woman in post-World War I England, as she prepares for a party she is hosting that evening. Throughout the day, she encounters various characters from her past, including a former suitor and a shell-shocked war veteran. The narrative jumps back and forth in time and in and out of different characters' minds, exploring themes of mental illness, existentialism, and the nature of time.

  • Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim

    The novel delves into the lives of two young men who are linked by a traumatic event from their childhood. One of them becomes obsessed with alien abductions, believing his lost time and strange memories are evidence of extraterrestrial encounters, while the other spirals into a dark world of sexual exploration and prostitution. As they grow older, their individual quests for truth lead them on a collision course with their past, forcing them to confront the reality of what happened to them and its lasting impact on their lives. The narrative explores themes of memory, trauma, and the complexities of human sexuality, set against the backdrop of 1980s America.

  • My Friend Flicka by Mary O'Hara

    The book is a coming-of-age story set in the Wyoming ranchlands, where a young boy's yearning for a horse of his own leads to a deep bond with a spirited filly named Flicka. Despite his parents' reservations and the challenges of ranch life, the boy's determination and love for Flicka help him grow and take responsibility. Their adventures together not only shape his character but also reveal the profound connections between humans and animals, and the life lessons that emerge from nature and perseverance.

  • Night Visitor by B Traven

    "Night Visitor" is a suspenseful tale that delves into the psychological and physical journey of a protagonist who is haunted by a mysterious nocturnal presence. Set against a backdrop that is both ordinary and eerie, the narrative explores themes of isolation, fear, and the unknown as the central character grapples with the increasingly intense visits that challenge their grip on reality. As the story unfolds, the line between hallucination and actuality blurs, leading to a climactic confrontation that forces a confrontation with both inner demons and external threats.

  • Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov

    The book is a satirical critique of the nobility in 19th century Russia, focusing on the titular character, a lazy and apathetic nobleman who prefers to daydream and live in his own fantasies rather than engage with the real world. His indolence is contrasted with the energetic and ambitious character of his friend who tries to get him involved in societal affairs and business. The protagonist's lethargy and inability to adapt to changing times symbolize the decay and stagnation of the Russian nobility.

  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac

    This novel follows the story of a young man and his friend as they embark on a series of cross-country road trips across America during the late 1940s and early 1950s. The protagonist, driven by a desire for freedom and a quest for identity, encounters a series of eccentric characters and experiences the highs and lows of the Beat Generation. The narrative is a testament to the restlessness of youth and the allure of adventure, underscored by themes of jazz, poetry, and drug use.

  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    This novel provides a detailed account of a single day in the life of a prisoner, Ivan Denisovich, in a Soviet labor camp in the 1950s. The narrative follows Ivan as he navigates the harsh realities of his daily routine, from the moment he wakes up to when he goes to bed. The book provides a stark portrayal of the brutality and inhumanity of the Soviet gulag system while also highlighting the resilience and dignity of the human spirit under such oppressive conditions.

  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    This novel is a multi-generational saga that focuses on the Buendía family, who founded the fictional town of Macondo. It explores themes of love, loss, family, and the cyclical nature of history. The story is filled with magical realism, blending the supernatural with the ordinary, as it chronicles the family's experiences, including civil war, marriages, births, and deaths. The book is renowned for its narrative style and its exploration of solitude, fate, and the inevitability of repetition in history.

  • Operation Shylock by Philip Roth

    In this intriguing novel, the protagonist, a famous writer, travels to Israel to cover the trial of a former Nazi war criminal. While there, he encounters a man who is his doppelgänger and who has been using his fame to promote a controversial political agenda, including the idea that Jews should abandon Israel and return to Europe. The narrative explores themes of identity, Jewish history, and the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, all while blurring the line between fiction and reality.

  • Pan by Knut Hamsun

    The novel is a lyrical exploration of the beauty and savagery of nature, set in the wild landscapes of Northern Norway. It follows the story of a solitary hunter and former military man who lives in harmony with the wilderness. His peaceful existence is disrupted when he falls in love with a young woman, leading to a tumultuous relationship that reflects the untamed and unpredictable forces of the natural world around them. The narrative delves into themes of passion, isolation, and the human longing for connection, all while painting a vivid portrait of the changing seasons and the primal allure of the forest.

  • Patrimony by Philip Roth

    The book is a poignant non-fiction account that delves into the complex relationship between a son and his aging father, who is grappling with a fatal brain tumor. As the father's health deteriorates, the son is confronted with the impending loss and the weight of familial duty, love, and the shared history that binds them. The narrative is a deeply personal exploration of identity, memory, and mortality, offering a raw and honest look at the challenges of caregiving and the process of saying goodbye to a loved one. Through this journey, the son gains a deeper understanding of his father's life and legacy, as well as his own place in the continuum of their family's story.

  • Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo

    This novel transports readers to the ghost town of Comala, where the protagonist, Juan Preciado, ventures in search of his estranged father, Pedro Páramo. Upon arrival, he encounters a realm where the living and the dead coexist, and through fragmented narratives and spectral encounters, the story of Pedro Páramo's life, his love, tyranny, and the curses that plague the town unfolds. The novel's innovative structure, blending memory and reality, has cemented its status as a pioneering work of magical realism, offering a haunting exploration of power, guilt, and the inescapable echoes of the past.

  • Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth

    The novel is a first-person narrative, a monologue by a young Jewish man, Alexander Portnoy, who is speaking to his psychoanalyst. He shares his struggles with his identity as a Jewish man in America, his sexual fantasies and frustrations, his complex relationship with his overbearing mother, and his experiences of guilt and shame. The book uses humor and frank language to explore themes of identity, sexuality, and the Jewish experience in America.

  • The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

    This classic novel explores the life of a young, independent American woman who inherits a large amount of money and moves to Europe, where she falls into a manipulative and oppressive marriage. The story delves into themes of personal freedom, responsibility, and betrayal, as the protagonist navigates the complexities of high society, love, and the consequences of her choices.

  • Purple America by Rick Moody

    In this emotionally charged novel, we delve into the complexities of family dynamics and personal despair. The protagonist returns to his childhood home to care for his mother, who is afflicted with a debilitating illness. As he confronts the challenges of his mother's care, he also grapples with the dissolution of his own marriage and the haunting legacy of his absent father. Set against the backdrop of a decaying suburban America, the narrative weaves together themes of love, loss, and the search for identity, painting a portrait of a man struggling to make sense of his responsibilities and his place in a world that seems to be falling apart around him.

  • Rabbit at Rest by John Updike

    The novel is a final look into the life of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, a former high-school basketball star, now in his mid-fifties, overweight and grappling with several health issues. Despite his success in business, his personal life is in shambles, with his wife addicted to alcohol and his son to drugs. Harry, struggling with his mortality, is trying to understand his past and make sense of his future, while dealing with the changing American society and the consequences of his own choices.

  • Really The Blues by Milton Mezz Mezzrow

    "Really The Blues" is a jazz memoir that takes the reader on a journey through the life of a clarinetist and saxophonist who immerses himself in the world of jazz and the African American experience during the early to mid-20th century. The book chronicles his transformation from a young Jewish boy in Chicago to a central figure in the Harlem jazz scene, his friendships with legendary musicians, and his experiences with racism, drug addiction, and imprisonment. It offers a candid and colorful perspective on the complexities of race, music, and counterculture, providing an insider's look at the evolution of jazz and its cultural impact.

  • Red Cavalry by Isaac Babel

    The book is a collection of short stories that delve into the experiences of a Jewish political commissar serving with the Cossack regiment in the Soviet Red Army during the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1921. Through a series of vivid, often brutal vignettes, the narrative explores the harsh realities of war, the cultural tensions between the Jewish intellectual and the Cossack soldiers, and the moral ambiguities faced by individuals caught in the turmoil of conflict. The stories are renowned for their stark, powerful prose and their unflinching examination of the human condition amidst the chaos of war.

  • Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby

    "Requiem for a Dream" is a harrowing tale that explores the depths of addiction and its devastating consequences. The narrative follows the lives of four characters, each battling their own form of substance abuse. The main character, a woman in her old age, becomes addicted to diet pills in her quest to lose weight and appear on a television game show, while her son, his girlfriend, and his best friend are all caught up in heroin addiction. As their dependencies deepen, their lives spiral out of control, leading to tragic endings. The book serves as a stark and brutal depiction of drug addiction and its destructive effects on individuals and their relationships.

  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

    The book is a classic adventure novel about a man who spends 28 years on a remote tropical island near Trinidad, encountering cannibals, captives, and mutineers before being rescued. The story is noted for its realistic portrayal of the protagonist's physical and psychological development and for its detailed depiction of his attempts to create a life for himself in the wilderness. The novel has been interpreted as an allegory for the development of civilization, as well as a critique of European colonialism.

  • Satyricon by Petronius

    The book in question is a satirical Roman work that provides a vivid, episodic portrayal of the decadent society during the reign of Nero. It follows the misadventures of the narrator and his companions as they navigate a world of excess, corruption, and hedonism. Through a series of events ranging from banquets to shipwrecks, the narrative offers a critique of the moral decay of Roman society, using humor, irony, and the perspective of characters from various social strata. The fragmented nature of the surviving text adds to its enigmatic and chaotic depiction of the period's social mores.

  • Scenes From The Life Of A Faun by Arno Schmidt

    "Scenes from the Life of a Faun" is a complex and experimental novel that delves into the psyche of a German civil servant living in the aftermath of World War II. The protagonist, burdened by the guilt and trauma of the war, retreats into a fantasy world where he imagines himself as a mythological faun. Through a fragmented narrative structure and a dense web of literary and historical references, the book explores themes of memory, responsibility, and the struggle to find meaning in a shattered world. The protagonist's internal journey is a reflection on the moral ambiguities of his time, as he grapples with his complicity in the horrors of the past while seeking redemption in his personal mythology.

  • Signs Of Fire by Jorge de Sena

    "Signs of Fire" is a historical novel set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War and the onset of World War II, exploring the coming-of-age of a young Portuguese man. The protagonist, caught between the expectations of his bourgeois family and his own political awakening, grapples with the tumultuous events of the era, his personal relationships, and his burgeoning intellectual and ideological convictions. As he navigates love, friendship, and the struggle for meaning in a world on the brink of chaos, the novel delves into themes of identity, resistance, and the impact of historical forces on individual lives.

  • Sinuhe The Egyptian by Mika Waltari

    The novel is a sweeping historical narrative set in ancient Egypt, following the life of a physician named Sinuhe from his humble beginnings to his rise through Egyptian society. As a witness to the political machinations and cultural shifts of his time, Sinuhe encounters love, betrayal, and the complexities of human nature against the backdrop of significant historical events, including the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaten and the religious revolution he instigated. Through his travels and experiences, Sinuhe reflects on the nature of fate, power, and the eternal search for meaning in a changing world.

  • Snow by Orhan Pamuk

    Set in the small city of Kars in northeastern Turkey, the novel follows a Turkish poet who has spent several years in political exile in Germany. He returns to Turkey during a time of political unrest, with tensions high between religious and secular factions. As he becomes embroiled in the turmoil, he also becomes involved in a romantic relationship with a beautiful woman. The city is cut off from the rest of the world by a relentless snowstorm, leading to a series of tragic events. The novel is a contemplation on love, faith, and the tensions between tradition and modernity.

  • Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse

    The novel presents a poignant exploration of a man's struggle with his dual nature. The protagonist, a middle-aged man, finds himself torn between his humanistic, intellectual tendencies and his more primitive, wolf-like instincts. As he navigates his way through the surreal and sometimes hallucinatory world, he encounters various characters who challenge his views and push him towards self-discovery and transformation. The narrative delves into themes of alienation, the subconscious mind, and the search for meaning in life.

  • Sundog by Jim Harrison

    The novel revolves around the life and reflections of a rugged individualist, a construction magnate who has led a life filled with intense experiences and relationships. As he recounts his story to a writer, the protagonist delves into his past, exploring themes of nature, passion, and the pursuit of the authentic self. Set against the backdrop of the American wilderness, the narrative weaves through various landscapes and personal encounters, painting a portrait of a man deeply connected to the physical world and driven by an insatiable desire to live life to its fullest, even as he grapples with the complexities of his own nature and the consequences of his actions.

  • The Anatomy Lesson by Philip Roth

    The book centers on a once-successful writer who, plagued by chronic pain and unable to continue his literary work, experiences a profound identity crisis. As he grapples with his physical agony and the disintegration of his personal life, he embarks on a desperate quest for a cure and a new sense of purpose. This leads him to consider a drastic career change, which takes him on a darkly comic journey through the medical community and his own tortured psyche. The narrative delves into themes of mortality, the meaning of suffering, and the search for redemption in the face of overwhelming despair.

  • The Bacchae by Euripides

    "The Bacchae" is a classic Greek tragedy where the god Dionysus, disguised as a mortal, returns to his birthplace in Greece to punish the impious King Pentheus who denies Dionysus's divine nature and refuses to worship him. The narrative explores themes of revenge, mortality, and the relationship between man and god. Dionysus uses his power to drive the women of the city into a crazed frenzy, leading to a tragic end for King Pentheus and his mother Agave.

  • The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

    In this classic detective novel, a private investigator is hired by a wealthy family to resolve a blackmail issue involving the younger daughter. As he delves deeper into the case, he uncovers a web of deceit, murder, and organized crime. The detective's investigation is further complicated by his growing attraction to the older daughter, adding a layer of personal involvement to an already complex case. The novel is renowned for its gritty depiction of 1930s Los Angeles and its sharp, witty dialogue.

  • Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

    This novel follows the life of a successful Wall Street bond trader who, after a wrong turn in the Bronx, finds his life spiraling out of control. After a hit-and-run accident in a predominantly black neighborhood, he becomes the target of a political witch hunt, exacerbating racial tensions in the city. As the protagonist's world unravels, the story provides a satirical commentary on 1980s New York City, exploring themes of racism, classism, politics, and greed.

About this list

French literary magazine Transfuge, 135 Books

The French literary magazine Transfuge asked a group of francophone writers to pick their best foreign work of fiction.

The authors polled are: Pierre Assouline, Frédéric Beigbeder, Nina Bouraoui, Michel Butor, Eric Chevillard, Claro, Charles Dantzig, Jacques Darras, Florence Delay, Jean-Paul Dubois, Eric Faye, Alain Finkielkraut, Eric Fottorino, Jérôme Garcin, Régis Jauffret, Jacques Julliard, Philippe Labro, Linda Lê, Gilles Lipovetsky, Richard Morgiève, Marie Ndiaye, Claude Pirotte, Lydie Salvayre, Jean-François Sirinelli, Alain-Gérard Slama, Phillipe Sollers, Tzvetan Todorov, Michel Tournier

Added 2 months ago.

How Good is this List?

This list has a weight of 84%. To learn more about what this means please visit the Rankings page.

Here is a list of what is decreasing the importance of this list:

  • Voters: are mostly from a single country/location
  • List: only covers translated or foreign books than where voters are from

If you think this is incorrect please e-mail us at contact@thegreatestbooks.org.