Closer to The Edge: Our Favourite International Novels


Ghana Must Go – Taiye Selasi

Studying African literature has undoubtedly been one of the highlights of my degree so far, which made choosing just one novel for this collaboration very difficult. However, it’s fair to say that Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go is one of the greatest novels I have ever read. It tells the story of Kweku Sai, a disgraced doctor who leaves his family home one day and never goes back. His wife and four children are each deeply affected by his leaving, spreading themselves across the world to try and move on, until one day they are brought back together by a tragic event. Selasi’s writing style is beautifully poetic, and it is difficult not to become emotionally invested in each character’s fate as they are forced to face into their traumas. As a warning, there are incredibly dark aspects to this novel, but once you get into it it is impossible to put down.

– Becky Davies

Call Me By Your Name – Andre Aciman

Call Me By Your Name may have taken the world by storm when it’s adaptation came out in 2017, but the original book has been a personal favourite of mine for years. It tells the story of 17 year old Elio and 24 year old Oliver, chronicling their romance over one fateful Italian summer in 1983. Heart-breaking, beautiful, and wrong, I think the book captures the immorality of the relationship much more than the film does. Elio’s turmoil and confusion at his feelings regarding Oliver, and vice versa, erupt in long passages detailing his derailing train of thought, and Bateman-levels of obsession with his older lover. It makes the ending, of which occurs much farther in the future than the adaptation (although this is going to explored in a proposed sequel), so much more tragic, giving  a quiet sadness regarding young love. It’s eye opening, gut-wrenching, and strangely personal, and is well worth a read.

– Alice Fortt

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner, although originally printed in English and written by an Afghani-American, is an incredible representation of Middle Eastern culture. The vivid imagery of Kabul, and the interactions of Amir with his surroundings are incredible. The human torture of kept secrets and lost friendships echo throughout the work. Although a work of fiction, the novel has a basis within the world. The fall of the Afghanistan military, the Soviet takeover and the subsequent rise of the Taliban, are all covered in the novel, which traces the transition from child to man of Amir. He is the central character and you travel alongside on his journey from Kabul to California. His relationships with his childhood friend Hassan, wife Soraya and his father Baba told through Amir’s eyes, with emotion running wild and dangerous thoughts racing though his head and onto the page, its complex character relationships keep you gripped throughout.

– Jack Nash

The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera

Published in French and English in 1984, and then in the original Czech in 1985, Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a gripping exploration into love and sex, disappointing teenage Nietzsche fans far and wide. The novel is set in the Czech Republic during the 1960s and 70s, following the Prague Spring. It shows the perspectives of Tomáš, an adulterous surgeon, his wife, Tereza, a photographer, Sabina, a free-spirit artist of whom Tomáš is a lover, and Franz, an academic as well as another lover of Sabina.

Each viewpoint offered by the main characters is absolutely fascinating. From Tomáš’s distinction between love and sex to justify his adultery, to Tereza’s conscious self-degradation over the condemnation of her husband’s actions, to Sabina’s artistic and intellectual frustration due to the rampant censorship in Prague, each development in the plot displays a contrast between the ‘lightness’ or ‘weight’ of being.

– Elizabeth Sorrell

Ham on Rye – Charles Bukowski

Ham on Rye is one of Charles Bukowski’s greatest novels it’s a semi-autobiographical novel depicting Bukowski’s alter ego Henry Chinaski during his early years. The book focuses around the theme of the American dream and how this dream is only available to middle-class white America and as a German immigrant Bukowski was not a part of the dream. Ham on Rye holds a special place in my heart and many others because of its straightforward prose and free-flowing style, this allows Bukowski to create a story that is genuine and real. Bukowski is not afraid to show the bad aspects of his life and doesn’t glamourized them for a story, instead, he is blunt and honest with the realities of the struggles he has faced. Bukowski’s alter ego in the book had a deep battle between right and wrong often questioning if its “always only a matter of choosing between something bad and something worse?”. Quotes like such exemplify the importance of this story, the questions and the themes produced though are from early 1920s America feel extremely relevant in today’s world.

– Morgan McMillan

We Need New Names – NoViolet Bulawayo

We Need New Names is the debut novel by Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo and is very well-received by many critics, and covers some extremely important and relevant topics. The novel was written as an extension from its first chapter, ‘Hitting Budapest’, which was Bulawayo’s prize-winning short story.

We Need New Names explores the topics of childhood innocence, cultural differences and the sufferings of individuals, in both Africa and America. Bulawayo navigates readers through various chapters in two parts – the first deals with protagonist and narrator, Darling, and her life in Zimbabwe, featuring upsetting themes of rape, political violence and poverty. The second half begins with the chapter ‘Destroyedmichygen’, allegorising an innocent view on American life and culture, featuring violence and mental illness. Not only are the plot and character developments thrilling and (depressingly) realistic, this novel is a true eye-opener to perceived cultural differences and everyday life in both Zimbabwe and Michigan. If the novel’s plot and characters don’t impress you, Bulawayo’s impressive adoption of a child’s perspective certainly will.

– Georgie Holmes


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