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Classic Pairings

Classic Pairings

One way that Literary Affairs helps book clubs move Beyond the Book is by creating pairings between contemporary novels and classic works. Many groups like to challenge themselves by reading deeper and by adding the pairing the discussions are enriched. We recommend doing pairings over the summer when readers have more time to read multiple texts but one can integrate pairings at any time and we hope your group considers some of our suggestions.

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain

The bestselling author of The Paris Wife returns to the subject of Ernest Hemingway in a novel about his passionate, stormy marriage to Martha Gellhorn — a fiercely independent, ambitious young woman who would become one of the greatest war correspondents of the twentieth century.

In 1937, twenty-eight-year-old Martha Gellhorn travels alone to Madrid to report on the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War and becomes drawn to the stories of ordinary people caught in the devastating conflict. It’s the adventure she’s been looking for and her chance to prove herself a worthy journalist in a field dominated by men. But she also finds herself unexpectedly — and uncontrollably — falling in love with Hemingway, a man on his way to becoming a legend.

In the shadow of the impending Second World War, and set against the turbulent backdrops of Madrid and Cuba, Martha and Ernest’s relationship and their professional careers ignite. But when Ernest publishes the biggest literary success of his career, For Whom the Bell Tolls, they are no longer equals, and Martha must make a choice: surrender to the confining demands of being a famous man’s wife or risk losing Ernest by forging a path as her own woman and writer. It is a dilemma that could force her to break his heart, and hers.

Heralded by Ann Patchett as “the new star of historical fiction,” Paula McLain brings Gellhorn’s story richly to life and captures her as a heroine for the ages: a woman who will risk absolutely everything to find her own voice.

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Travels With Myself and Another by Martha Gellhorn

“Martha Gellhorn was so fearless in a male way, and yet utterly capable of making men melt,” writes New Yorker literary editor Bill Buford. As a journalist, Gellhorn covered every military conflict from the Spanish Civil War to Vietnam and Nicaragua. She also bewitched Eleanor Roosevelt’s secret love and enraptured Ernest Hemingway with her courage as they dodged shell fire together.

Hemingway is, of course, the unnamed “other” in the title of this tart memoir, first published in 1979, in which Gellhorn describes her globe-spanning adventures, both accompanied and alone. With razor-sharp humor and exceptional insight into place and character, she tells of a tense week spent among dissidents in Moscow; long days whiled away in a disused water tank with hippies clustered at Eilat on the Red Sea; and her journeys by sampan and horse to the interior of China during the Sino-Japanese War.

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For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

In 1937 Ernest Hemingway traveled to Spain to cover the civil war there for the North American Newspaper Alliance. Three years later he completed the greatest novel to emerge from “the good fight,” For Whom the Bell Tolls.

The story of Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades attached to an antifascist guerilla unit in the mountains of Spain, it tells of loyalty and courage, love and defeat, and the tragic death of an ideal. In his portrayal of Jordan’s love for the beautiful Maria and his superb account of El Sordo’s last stand, in his brilliant travesty of La Pasionaria and his unwillingness to believe in blind faith, Hemingway surpasses his achievement in The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms to create a work at once rare and beautiful, strong and brutal, compassionate, moving, and wise. “If the function of a writer is to reveal reality,” Maxwell Perkins wrote Hemingway after reading the manuscript, “no one ever so completely performed it.” Greater in power, broader in scope, and more intensely emotional than any of the author’s previous works, it stands as one of the best war novels of all time.

Mrs. Osmond by John Banville

Isabel Archer is a young American woman, swept off to Europe in the late nineteenth century by an aunt who hopes to round out the impetuous but naïve girl’s experience of the world. When Isabel comes into a large, unexpected inheritance, she is finagled into a marriage with the cruel and deceitful Gilbert Osmond, whose connection to a certain Madame Merle is suspiciously intimate. On a trip to England to visit her cousin Ralph Touchett on his deathbed, Isabel is offered a chance to free herself from the marriage, but nonetheless chooses to return to Italy.

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Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

When Isabel Archer, a beautiful, spirited American, is brought to Europe by her wealthy aunt Touchett, it is expected that she will soon marry. But Isabel, resolved to enjoy the freedom that her fortune has opened up and to determine her own fate, does not hesitate to turn down two eligible suitors. Then she finds herself irresistibly drawn to Gilbert Osmond. Charming and cultivated, Osmond sees Isabel as a rich prize waiting to be taken. Beneath his veneer of civilized behaviour, Isabel discovers cruelty and a stifling darkness. In this portrait of a ‘young woman affronting her destiny’, Henry James created one of his most magnificent heroines, and a story of intense poignancy.

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she’s accepted an invitation from a mentor in America that allows her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When he resurfaces half a globe away, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed. Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Son of a powerful political figure, he has his own birthright to live up to—or defy. Suddenly, two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined.

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Antigone by Sophocles

Towering over the rest of Greek tragedy, the three plays that tell the story of the fated Theban royal family—Antigone, Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus—are among the most enduring and timeless dramas ever written. Robert Fagles’s authoritative and acclaimed translation conveys all of Sophocles’s lucidity and power: the cut and thrust of his dialogue, his ironic edge, the surge and majesty of his choruses and, above all, the agonies and triumphs of his characters. This Penguin Classics edition features an introduction and notes by the renowned classicist Bernard Knox.

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The Burial at Thebes – A version of Antigone by Seamus Heaney

Sophocles’ play, first staged in the fifth century B.C., stands as a timely exploration of the conflict between those who affirm the individual’s human rights and those who must protect the state’s security. During the War of the Seven Against Thebes, Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus, learns that her brothers have killed each other, having been forced onto opposing sides of the battle. When Creon, king of Thebes, grants burial of one but not the “treacherous” other, Antigone defies his order, believing it her duty to bury all of her close kin. Enraged, Creon condemns her to death, and his soldiers wall her up in a tomb. While Creon eventually agrees to Antigone’s release, it is too late: She takes her own life, initiating a tragic repetition of events in her family’s history. In this outstanding new translation, commissioned by Ireland’s renowned Abbey Theatre to commemorate its centenary, Seamus Heaney exposes the darkness and the humanity in Sophocles’ masterpiece, and inks it with his own modern and masterly touch.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Cora is a young slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. An outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is on the cusp of womanhood—where greater pain awaits. And so when Caesar, a slave who has recently arrived from Virginia, urges her to join him on the Underground Railroad, she seizes the opportunity and escapes with him. In Colson Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor: engineers and conductors operate a secret network of actual tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora embarks on a harrowing flight from one state to the next, encountering, like Gulliver, strange yet familiar iterations of her own world at each stop. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the terrors of the antebellum era, he weaves in the saga of our nation, from the brutal abduction of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is both the gripping tale of one woman’s will to escape the horrors of bondage—and a powerful meditation on the history we all share.

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Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

Set in the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality. With a sharp, probing imagination, James Baldwin’s now-classic narrative delves into the mystery of loving and creates a moving, highly controversial story of death and passion that reveals the unspoken complexities of the human heart.

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I Am Not Your Negro: A Documentary by James Baldwin

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his longing for his mother, he clings to the one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations charts the course of orphan Pip Pirrip’s life as it is transformed by a vast, mysterious inheritance. A terrifying encounter with the escaped convict Abel Magwitch in a graveyard on the wild Kent marshes; a summons to meet the bitter, decrepit Miss Havisham and her beautiful, cold-hearted ward Estella at Satis House; the sudden generosity of a mysterious benefactor – these form a series of events that change the orphaned Pip’s life forever, and he eagerly abandons his humble station as an apprentice to blacksmith Joe Gargery, beginning a new life as a gentleman.

Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar

London, 1905: The city is alight with change, and the Stephen siblings are at the forefront. Vanessa, Virginia, Thoby, and Adrian are leaving behind their childhood home and taking a house in the leafy heart of avant-garde Bloomsbury. There they bring together a glittering circle of bright, outrageous artistic friends who will grow into legend and come to be known as the Bloomsbury Group. And at the center of this charmed circle are the devoted, gifted sisters: Vanessa, the painter, and Virginia, the writer.

Each member of the group will go on to earn fame and success. Together, this sparkling coterie of artists and intellectuals throw away convention and embrace the wild freedom of being young, single bohemians in London. As tragedy and betrayal threaten to destroy the family, Vanessa must decide if it is finally time to protect her own happiness above all else.

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Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

In Mrs. Dalloway, the novel on which the movie The Hours was based, Virginia Woolf details Clarissa Dalloway’s preparations for a party of which she is to be hostess, exploring the hidden springs of thought and action in one day of a woman’s life.

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To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

The serene and maternal Mrs. Ramsay, the tragic yet absurd Mr. Ramsay, and their children and assorted guests are on holiday on the Isle of Skye. From the seemingly trivial postponement of a visit to a nearby lighthouse, Woolf constructs a remarkable, moving examination of the complex tensions and allegiances of family life and the conflict between men and women.

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Anna Benz lives with her Swiss husband, Bruno and their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zürich. Though she leads a comfortable life, Anna is falling apart inside. Adrift and increasingly unable to connect with the emotionally unavailable Bruno or even with her own thoughts and feelings, Anna tries to rouse herself with new experiences: German language classes, Jungian analysis, and a series of sexual affairs she enters with an ease that surprises even her. But Anna can’t easily extract herself from these affairs. When she wants to end them, she finds it’s difficult. Tensions escalate, and her lies start to spin out of control. Having crossed a moral threshold, Anna will discover where a woman goes when there is no going back.

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Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

For this novel of French bourgeois life in all its inglorious banality, Flaubert invented a paradoxically original and wholly modern style. His heroine, Emma Bovary, a bored provincial housewife, abandons her husband to pursue the libertine Rodolphe in a desperate love affair. A succès de scandale in its day, Madame Bovary remains a powerful and scintillating novel.

On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee

In a future, long-declining America, society is strictly stratified by class. Long-abandoned urban neighborhoods have been repurposed as highwalled, self-contained labor colonies. And the members of the labor class find purpose and identity in their work to provide pristine produce and fish to the small, elite, satellite charter villages that ring the labor settlement. In this world lives Fan, a female fish-tank diver, who leaves her home in the B-Mor settlement, when the man she loves mysteriously disappears. Fan’s journey to find him takes her out of the safety of B-Mor, through the anarchic Open Counties to a faraway charter village, in a quest that will soon become legend to those she left behind.

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Animal Farm by George Orwell

‘All animals are equal – but some are more equal than others’ When the downtrodden animals of Manor Farm overthrow their master Mr Jones and take over the farm themselves, they imagine it is the beginning of a life of freedom and equality. But gradually a cunning, ruthless élite among them, masterminded by the pigs Napoleon and Snowball, starts to take control. Soon the other animals discover that they are not all as equal as they thought, and find themselves hopelessly ensnared as one form of tyranny is replaced with another.

Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan

At the age of thirty-five, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne has left her philandering husband in San Francisco to set sail for Belgium to study art. Not long after her arrival, however, tragedy strikes, and Fanny and her children repair to a quiet artists’ colony in France where she can recuperate. Emerging from a deep sorrow she meets Robert Louis Stevenson who falls instantly in love with the “belle Americaine.” In time, the two begin a fierce love affair that spans the decades and the globe. The shared life of these two strong-willed individuals unfolds into an adventure as impassioned and unpredictable as any of Stevenson’s own unforgettable tales.

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The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde have become synonymous with the idea of a split personality. More than a morality tale, this dark psychological fantasy is also a product of its time, drawing on contemporary theories of class, evolution, criminality, and secret lives.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules’s now-married best friends, become shockingly successful. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken.

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Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk

A starry-eyed young beauty, Marjorie Morgenstern is nineteen years old when she leaves New York to accept the job of her dreams-working in a summer-stock company for Noel Airman, its talented and intensely charismatic director. Released from the social constraints of her traditional Jewish family, and thrown into the glorious, colorful world of theater, Marjorie finds herself entangled in a powerful affair with the man destined to become the greatest-and the most destructive-love of her life.

Mary Coin by Marisa Silver

In 1936, a young mother resting by the side of the road in central California is spontaneously photographed by a woman documenting migrant laborers in search of work. Few personal details are exchanged and neither woman has any way of knowing that they have produced one of the most iconic images of the Great Depression. In present day, Walker Dodge, a professor of cultural history, stumbles upon a family secret embedded in the now-famous picture. In luminous prose, Silver creates an extraordinary tale from a brief event in history and its repercussions throughout the decades that follow—a reminder that a great photograph captures the essence of a moment yet only scratches the surface of a life.

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The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

First published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and tells the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads—driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into Haves and Have-Nots evolves a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its human dignity. A portrait of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, of one man’s fierce reaction to injustice, and of one woman’s stoical strength, the novel captures the horrors of the Great Depression and probes into the very nature of equality and justice in America.

One Amazing Thing by Chitra Divakaruni

When an earthquake rips through the afternoon lull, trapping nine very different characters together in a passport and visa office, their focus first jolts to their collective struggle to survive. At a moment when the psychological and emotional stress seems nearly too much for them to bear, a young graduate student suggests that each tell a personal tale, “one amazing thing” from their lives, which they have never told anyone before. And as their surprising stories of romance, marriage, family, political upheaval, and self-discovery unfold against the urgency of their life-or-death circumstances, the novel proves the transcendent power of stories and the meaningfulness of human expression itself.

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The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio

In the summer of 1348, as the Black Death ravages their city, ten young Florentines take refuge in the countryside. They amuse themselves by each telling a story a day for the ten days they are destined to remain there—a hundred stories of love, adventure and surprising twists of fate. Less preoccupied with abstract concepts of morality or religion than with earthly values, the tales range from the bawdy Peronella hiding her lover in a tub to Ser Cepperello, who, despite his unholy effrontery, becomes a Saint. The result is a towering monument of European literature and a masterpiece of imaginative narrative.

The Innocents by Francesca Segal

Newly engaged and unthinkingly self-satisfied, Adam Newman is the prize catch of Temple Fortune, a small, tight-knit Jewish suburb of London. He has been dating Rachel Gilbert since they were both sixteen and now they are finally to marry. To Adam, Rachel embodies the highest values of Temple Fortune and marrying her will cement his role in a warm, inclusive family he loves. But as the wedding approaches, Adam feels the first faint touches of claustrophobia, and when Rachel’s younger cousin Ellie Schneider moves home from New York, she unsettles him more than he’d care to admit. Ellie offers a liberation that he hadn’t known existed. Adam finds himself questioning everything, suddenly torn between security and exhilaration, tradition and independence.

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The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The return of the beautiful Countess Olenska into the conventional society of New York sends reverberations throughout the upper reaches of society. Newland Archer, an eligible young man of the establishment is about to announce his engagement to May Welland, a pretty ingenue, when May’s cousin, Countess Olenska, is introduced into their circle.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey

The resonant story of a young woman’s struggle to take charge of her own future, The Flight of Gemma Hardy is a modern take on a classic story — Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre — that will fascinate readers of the Gothic original and fans of modern literary fiction alike, with its lyrical prose, robust characters, and abundant compassion. Set in early 1960s Scotland, this breakout novel from award-winning author Margot Livesey is a tale of determination and spirit that, like The Three Weissmanns of Westport and A Thousand Acres, spins an unforgettable new story from threads of our shared, still-living literary past.

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Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Having grown up an orphan in the home of her cruel aunt and at a harsh charity school, Jane Eyre becomes an independent and spirited survivor-qualities that serve her well as governess at Thornfield Hall. But when she finds love with her sardonic employer, Rochester, the discovery of his terrible secret forces her to make a choice. Should she stay with him whatever the consequences or follow her convictions, even if it means leaving her beloved?

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

Bellwether Prize winner Hillary Jordan’s provocative new novel, When She Woke, tells the story of a stigmatized woman struggling to navigate an America of a not-too-distant future, where the line between church and state has been eradicated and convicted felons are no longer imprisoned and rehabilitated but chromed―their skin color is genetically altered to match the class of their crimes―and then released back into the population to survive as best they can. Hannah is a Red; her crime is murder. In seeking a path to safety in an alien and hostile world, Hannah unknowingly embarks on a path of self-discovery that forces her to question the values she once held true and the righteousness of a country that politicizes faith.

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The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Set in the harsh Puritan community of seventeenth-century Boston, this tale of an adulterous entanglement that results in an illegitimate birth reveals Nathaniel Hawthorne’s concerns with the tension between the public and the private selves. Publicly disgraced and ostracized, Hester Prynne draws on her inner strength and certainty of spirit to emerge as the first true heroine of American fiction. Arthur Dimmesdale stands as a classic study of a self divided; trapped by the rules of society, he suppresses his passion and disavows his lover, Hester, and their daughter, Pearl.

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the days before, when she lived and made love with her husband Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now….

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Hadley Richardson has all but given up on love and happiness — until she meets Ernest Hemingway. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in the lively and volatile “Lost Generation”. Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill prepared for the hard-drinking, fast-living, and free-loving life of Jazz Age Paris. As Ernest pours himself into his novel, Hadley strives to hold on to her sense of self as her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Eventually they find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage — a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.

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A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

The memoir by American author Ernest Hemingway about his years as a struggling young expatriate journalist and writer in Paris in the 1920s. The book describes the author’s apprenticeship as a young writer while he was married to his first wife, Hadley Richardson.

By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham

Peter and Rebecca Harris are prosperous denizens of Manhattan. He’s an art dealer, she’s an editor. They live well. They have their troubles ― their ebbing passions, their wayward daughter, and certain doubts about their careers ― but they feel as though they’re happy. Happy enough. Until Rebecca’s much younger, look-alike brother, Ethan, comes to visit. And after he arrives, nothing will ever be the same again.

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Death in Venice by Thomas Mann

Gustav von Aschenbach, a successful but lonely author, travels to the Queen of the Adriatic in search of an elusive spiritual fulfillment that turns into his erotic doom. Spellbound by a beautiful Polish boy, he finds himself fettered to this hypnotic city of sun-drenched sensuality and eerie physical decay.

Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick

When her estranged, difficult brother asks divorced schoolteacher Bea Nightingale to travel to Europe to retrieve a nephew she barely knows, she becomes entangled in the lives of his family. Over the course of a few months she travels from New York to Paris to Hollywood, aiding and abetting her nephew and niece while waging a war of letters with her brother, and finally facing her ex-husband to shake off his lingering sneers from decades past. As she inadvertently wreaks havoc in their lives, every one of them is irrevocably changed.

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The Ambassadors by Henry James

Concerned that her son Chad may have become involved with a woman of dubious reputation, the formidable Mrs Newsome sends her ‘ambassador’ Strether from Massachusetts to Paris to extricate him. Strether’s mission, however, is gradually undermined as he falls under the spell of the city and finds Chad refined rather than corrupted by its influence and that of his charming companion, Madame de Vionnet, and her daughter, Jeanne. As the summer wears on, Mrs Newsome concludes that she must send another envoy to confront the errant Chad – and a Strether whose view of the world has changed profoundly.

The Book of Salt by Monique Truong

Viewing his famous mesdames and their entourage from the kitchen of their rue de Fleurus home, Binh — the Vietnamese cook employed by Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas — observes their domestic entanglements while seeking his own place in the world. In a mesmerizing tale of yearning and betrayal, Monique Truong explores Paris from the salons of its artists to the dark nightlife of its outsiders and exiles. She takes us back to Binh’s youthful servitude in Saigon under colonial rule, to his life as a galley hand at sea, to his brief, fateful encounters in Paris with Paul Robeson and the young Ho Chi Minh.

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The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas was written in 1933 by Gertrude Stein in the guise of an autobiography authored by Alice B. Toklas, who was her lover. It is a fascinating insight into the art scene in Paris as the couple were friends with Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. They begin the war years in England but return to France, volunteering for the American Fund for the French Wounded, driving around France, helping the wounded and homeless. After the war Gertrude has an argument with T. S. Eliot after he finds one of her writings inappropriate.

The House on Fortune Street by Margot Livesey

It seems like mutual good luck for Abigail Taylor and Dara MacLeod when they meet at university and, despite their differences, become fast friends. Years later they remain inseparable: Abigail, the actress, allegedly immune to romance, and Dara, a therapist, throwing herself into relationships with frightening intensity. Now both believe they’ve found “true love.” But luck seems to run out when Dara moves into Abigail’s downstairs apartment. Suddenly both their friendship and their relationships are in peril, for tragedy is waiting to strike the house on Fortune Street.

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Great Expectations by Margot Livesey

Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations charts the course of orphan Pip Pirrip’s life as it is transformed by a vast, mysterious inheritance. A terrifying encounter with the escaped convict Abel Magwitch in a graveyard on the wild Kent marshes; a summons to meet the bitter, decrepit Miss Havisham and her beautiful, cold-hearted ward Estella at Satis House; the sudden generosity of a mysterious benefactor – these form a series of events that change the orphaned Pip’s life forever, and he eagerly abandons his humble station as an apprentice to blacksmith Joe Gargery, beginning a new life as a gentleman.

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Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

The topsy-turvy dream worlds of Wonderland and the Looking-Glass realm are full of the unexpected: A baby turns into a pig, time stands still at a “mad” tea-party, and a chaotic game of chess turns seven-year-old Alice into a queen. These unforgettable tales—filled with sparkling wordplay and unbridled imagination—balance joyous nonsense with poignant moments of longing for the lost innocence of childhood.

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee

In 1942, Englishman Will Truesdale falls headlong into a passionate relationship with Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasian socialite. But their affair is soon threatened by the invasion of the Japanese as World War II overwhelms their part of the world. Ten years later, Claire Pendleton comes to Hong Kong to work as a piano teacher and also begins a fateful affair. As the threads of this spellbinding novel intertwine, impossible choices emerge-between love and safety, courage and survival, the present, and above all, the past.

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The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham

When Kitty Fane’s husband discovers her adulterous affair, he forces her to accompany him to the heart of a cholera epidemic. Stripped of the British society of her youth and the small but effective society she fought so hard to attain in Hong Kong, she is compelled by her awakening conscience to reassess her life and learn how to love.

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

On a dark road in the middle of the night, a car plunges into a ravine. The driver survives the crash, but his injuries confine him to a hospital burn unit. There the mysterious Marianne Engel, a sculptress of grotesques, enters his life. She insists they were lovers in medieval Germany, when he was a mercenary and she was a scribe in the monastery of Engelthal. As she spins the story of their past lives together, the man’s disbelief falters; soon, even the impossible can no longer be dismissed.

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The Divine Comedy: Volume One: Inferno by Dante

In Dante’s Inferno, the Pilgrim travels through Hell, guided by the Roman poet Virgil. Together, they pass through the nine circles of Hell, witnessing the atrocities inflicted on the souls of the damned.

What Happened to Anna K. by Irina Reyn

Vivacious thirty-seven-year-old Anna K. is comfortably married to Alex K., an older, prominent businessman in her tight-knit Russian immigrant community in Queens. But a longing for freedom is reignited in this bookish, overly romantic and imperious woman when she meets her beloved cousin Katia’s boyfriend, an outsider and aspiring young writer on whom she pins her hopes for escape. As they begin a reckless affair, Anna launches into a tailspin that alienates her from her husband, family, and entire world.

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Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina seems to have everything – beauty, wealth, popularity and an adored son. But she feels that her life is empty until the moment she encounters the impetuous officer Count Vronsky. Their subsequent affair scandalizes society and family alike and soon brings jealously and bitterness in its wake. Contrasting with this tale of love and self-destruction is the vividly observed story of Levin, a man striving to find contentment and a meaning to his life – and also a self-portrait of Tolstoy himself.

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

Following a disastrous affair with her married professor, Willie Upton arrives on the doorstep of her ancestral home in Templeton, New York — the one place to which she swore she’d never come back. As soon as she arrives, though, a prehistoric monster surfaces in Lake Glimmerglass, changing the very fabric of the town. What’s more, Willie’s mother, Vi, tells her a secret she’s been hiding for nearly thirty years: that Willie’s father wasn’t the random man that Vi had led her to imagine, but someone from this very town. As Willie digs for the truth about her lineage, she discovers that the secrets of her family run deep when past and present blur, dark mysteries come to light, and the shocking truth about more than one monster is revealed.

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The Pioneers by James Fenimore Cooper

In this classic novel, James Fenimore Cooper portrays life in a new settlement on New York’s Lake Otsego in the closing years of the eighteenth century. He describes the year’s cycle: the turkey shoot at Christmas, the tapping of maple trees, fishing for bass in the evening, the marshalling of the militia. But Cooper is also concerned with exploring the development of the cultural and philosophical underpinnings of the American experience. He writes of the conflicts within the settlement itself, focusing primarily on the contrast between the natural codes of the hunter and woodsman Natty Bumppo and his Indian friend John Mohegan and the more rigid structure of law needed by a more complex society.

The Gathering by Anne Enright

The nine surviving children of the Hegarty clan gather in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother Liam. It wasn’t the drink that killed him – although that certainly helped – it was what happened to him as a boy in his grandmother’s house, in the winter of 1968.

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The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Wiley

Laurel McKelva Hand, a young woman who has left the South, returns to New Orleans, where her father is dying. After his death, she and her silly young stepmother go back still farther, to the small Mississippi town where she grew up. Along in the old house, Laurel finally comes to an understanding of the past, herself, and her parents.

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As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

The Bundren family travels across the Mississippi countryside to bury Addie, their wife and mother. Narrated in turn  by each of the family members — including Addie herself — as well as others the novel ranges in mood, from dark comedy to the deepest pathos.

Trespass by Valerie Martin

Chloe Dale’s life is in good order. Her only child, Toby, has started his junior year at New York University; her husband, an academic on sabbatical, is working at home on his book about the Crusades; and Chloe is busy creating illustrations for a special edition of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Yet Chloe is disturbed — especially by Toby’s new girlfriend, Salome. Raised in the Croatian expatriate community of New Orleans, Salome is a toxic mix of the old world and the new, but her past is a mine of dangerous secrets. As Toby’s obsession with Salome grows, Chloe’s mistrust of the girl deepens, alienating her from her husband and son.

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Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Lockwood, the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange, situated on the bleak Yorkshire moors, is forced to seek shelter one night at Wuthering Heights, the home of his landlord. There he discovers the history of the tempestuous events that took place years before. What unfolds is the tale of the intense love between the gypsy foundling Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw. Catherine, forced to choose between passionate, tortured Heathcliff and gentle, well-bred Edgar Linton, surrendered to the expectations of her class. As Heathcliff’s bitterness and vengeance at his betrayal is visited upon the next generation, their innocent heirs must struggle to escape the legacy of the past.

The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud

Marina, Danielle, and Julius are friends, now on the cusp of their thirties, making their way — and not — in New York City. The delicious complications that arise among them become dangerous when Marina’s cousin, Frederick “Bootie” Tubb comes to town. As the skies darken, it is Bootie’s unexpected decisions — and their stunning, heartbreaking outcome — that will change each of their lives forever.

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War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Set against the sweeping panoply of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, War and Peace is often considered the greatest novel ever written. At its center are Pierre Bezukhov, searching for meaning in his life; cynical Prince Andrei, ennobled by wartime suffering; and Natasha Rostov, whose impulsiveness threatens to destroy her happiness.

The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

When Laurel Estabrook is attacked while riding her bicycle through Vermont’s back roads, her life is forever changed. Formerly outgoing, Laurel withdraws into her photography, spending all her free time at a homeless shelter. There she meets Bobbie Crocker, a man with a history of mental illness and a box of photographs that he won’t let anyone see. When Bobbie dies, Laurel discovers a deeply hidden secret – a story that takes her from Jay Gatsby’s Long Island in the Roaring Twenties to rural New England in the twenty-first century, and into a cat-and-mouse game with pursuers who claim they want to save her.

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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession.”

The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa

Ricardo Somocurcio is in love with a bad girl. He loves her as a teenager known as “Lily” in Lima in 1950, when she flits into his life one summer and disappears again without explanation. He loves her still when she reappears as a revolutionary in 1960s Paris, then later as Mrs. Richardson, the wife of a wealthy Englishman, and again as the mistress of a sinister Japanese businessman in Tokyo. However poorly she treats him, he is doomed to worship her.

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Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

For this novel of French bourgeois life in all its inglorious banality, Flaubert invented a paradoxically original and wholly modern style. His heroine, Emma Bovary, a bored provincial housewife, abandons her husband to pursue the libertine Rodolphe in a desperate love affair. A succès de scandale in its day, Madame Bovary remains a powerful and scintillating novel.

The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki

Tsuruko, the eldest sister of the once-wealthy Makioka family, clings obstinately to the prestige of her family name even as her husband prepares to move their household to Tokyo, where that name means nothing. Sachiko compromises valiantly to secure the future of her younger sisters. The shy, unmarried Yukiko is a hostage to her family’s exacting standards, while the spirited Taeko rebels by flinging herself into scandalous romantic alliances and dreaming of studying fashion design in France. Filled with vignettes of a vanishing way of life, The Makioka Sisters is a poignant yet unsparing portrait of a family — and an entire society — sliding into the abyss of modernity.

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Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

When Elizabeth Bennet first meets eligible bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, she thinks him arrogant and conceited; he is indifferent to her good looks and lively mind. When she later discovers that Darcy has involved himself in the troubled relationship between his friend Bingley and her beloved sister Jane, she is determined to dislike him more than ever. In the sparkling comedy of manners that follows, Jane Austen shows us the folly of judging by first impressions and superbly evokes the friendships, gossip and snobberies of provincial middle-class life.

The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander

In the heart of Argentina’s Dirty War, Kaddish Poznan struggles with a son who won’t accept him; strives for a wife who forever saves him; and spends his nights protecting the good name of a community that denies his existence. When the nightmare of the disappeared children brings the Poznan family to its knees, they are thrust into the unyielding corridors of the Ministry of Special Cases, a terrifying, byzantine refuge of last resort.

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The Trial by Franz Kafka

The terrifying tale of Josef K., a respectable bank officer who is suddenly and inexplicably arrested and must defend himself against a charge about which he can get no information. Whether read as an existential tale, a parable, or a prophecy of the excesses of modern bureaucracy wedded to the madness of totalitarianism, Kafka’s nightmare has resonated with chilling truth for generations of readers.

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The Nose by Nikolai Gogol

Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov awakens to discover that his nose is missing, leaving a smooth, flat patch of skin in its place. He finds and confronts his nose in the Kazan Cathedral, but from its clothing it is apparent that the nose has acquired a higher rank in the civil service than he and refuses to return to his face.

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