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Reading the Road Less Traveled: A Global Journey

Africa: Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Written in 2006, Adichie’s wrenching tale chronicles five people’s lives as they navigate politics, power, academics, journalism, women’s rights, marriage, and the struggle for daily survival during Nigeria’s Civil War in the late 1960s.  How blurred are the lines between life and death?  What does it mean to be in love?  How does war affect humanity—and its soul?

Asia: Flowers in the Mirror, Li Ruzhen

A Chinese classic on feminism, circa 1827.  While the Qing Dynasty period wasn’t known for embracing femininity, the author was. Ruzhen offers us a subversion of gender roles in a fantasy classic—often with a humorous twist.  He believed in equal rights for men and women and wrote Flowers in the Mirror as one fantastical version of what that kind of world could look like.

Europe: The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Travel to Barcelona, on Zafón’s meticulously detailed streets with young Daniel in 1945, just after the Spanish Civil War.  Pick up an obscure, tattered book in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and join Daniel on a dangerous mystery that will take you throughout past and then-present Barcelona—and the heartbreak of the human spirit.  Also Try Zafón’s 2009 prequel, The Angel’s Game, written in 2008, seven years after Shadow of the Wind.

Middle East: Spectres, Radwa Ashour

Winner of the Cairo International Book Fair Prize, Egyptian author Radwa Ashour details the ethnic cleansing of Deir Yassini in April of 1948.  Using metaphoric “doubles,” Ashour parallels the stories of two women, Shagar Abdel Ghaffar, and “Radwa Ashour” who live through atrocities—both personal and political—in a fractured time and place.  How much strength can the human spirit hold?

North America: The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen

Winner of the National Book Award, The Corrections offers us an ironic and often funny glimpse of a multi-generational family fraying at the edges at the beginning of the 21st century.  With larger themes like economic collapse overshadowing the finer movements of a family’s collapse, Franzen sets the stage with an older couple hosting “one last Christmas” with their middle-aged children.  Anxiety, uncertainty, and apprehension apply to the state of the family—and the state of the world.

Oceania: Cloudstreet, Tim Winton

1991 Winner of the Miles Franklin and NBC Awards in Australia, Cloudstreet details the bonds created between two families who flee rural life for different reasons.  Watch them scrabble, struggle, laugh and cry twenty years in the city before they find what they want. What do they want?  What we all do.  Love and acceptance.

South America: One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Marquez

Marquez’s magical realism does not disappoint in his 1967 epic that chronicles seven generations of the fortunes—and humorous misfortunes—of the Buendía family and their grandfather’s town, Macondo.  The story of the family is the story of the town. History, for better or worse, consistently repeats itself.  With lyrical beauty, Marquez explores the ghosts of family and place—and what it means to be a part of both.