I am looking for some good high interest novels for World Literature. I already have Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Life of Pi and Siddhartha. My challenge is that many of my students have a lower reading level, about 8th grade, but they are seniors so I don't want to lose them by reading middle school books. Any suggestions would be appreciated!
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You could check out novels by the Czech writers Milan Kundera and Bohumil Hrabal. Many works by them have been translated into English.
Heinrich Boll is a German writer who wrote Billiards at Half-Past Nine," which is great stuff. I haven't read much else of his yet, though.
I don't know that the vocab., etc., is particularly difficult, although the ideas revealed are abstract and interpretation will take some reasoning ability. I don't think an initial reading of these works is particularly prohibitive, though.
I would try If This Is a Man by Primo Levi, a book which documents Levi's survival in the concentration camp of Auschwitz and can also lend itself to interesting links with history. You could also try Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Ragazzi or A Violent Life which are both set in the slums of Rome following the Second World War and feature difficult adolescents as protagonists. The books do not sentimentalize poverty and Pasolini challenges preconceived ideas about slum dwellers, celebrating the solidarity they are capable of establishing among themselves.
I've always found success with Things Fall Apart. Students tend to recognize the kind of "everyman" embodied in Okonkwo's tragedy. A much more recent novel is What is the What, by Dave Eggers. Eggers wrote in in conjunction with the main character. It's a memoir of The Lost Boys' emigration from Sudan into Kenya. The attention drawn to the conditions in Darfur in the past few years makes this a rather timely piece. Rain of Gold by Victor Villasenor is an easier read (although quite long), and a fascinating one.
Cry the Beloved Country is a great one about South Africa and is on the tenth-grade reading list at our school. It's not particularly difficult. My students normally enjoy it. The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay is another excellent world lit. book; it, too, is set in South Africa but gives an interesting look into the tension between the Germans, British, and Black South Africans during WWII. It's considered a young adult novel.
I agree with Post 4 that What Is the What is an pertinent book for current problems in Darfur, but I've had a lot of problems with that book. All of my students who have chosen that for independent reading (these are honors students) have had a very difficult time following the flashbacks and the author's style. They liked the basic storyline but were so frustrated that they would not recommend the book to others.
If you are looking for a good nonfiction book, Diane Ackerman's The Zookeeper's Wife is a great read. It should be on your students' reading level, and it tells the true story of a zookeeper and his wife who hide Jews in parts of the Warsaw Zoo during World War II.
A good Swedish modern writer is Stieg Larsson who writes The Girl Who . . ." series. They are interesting contemporary mysteries, but you have to consider your students and their parents because some of the books deal with some pretty dark parts of the human existence. If your students' parents don't have a problem with Khaled Hosseini's works, then they most likely won't have a problem with Larsson's.
Lisa See wrote a very readable and assessable book called Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. It is the story of two young women in an arranged friendship in China in the mid 1800's. The novel opens when the young girls are enjoying their last days as children before they have their feet bound. The novel goes into some facinating detail of how and why the binding was done, but as a narrative it makes the history lesson come alive. As the girls grow up the symbol of the fan becomes central to their relationship. The two women use the fan as a record of events in their lives that they each write on the blades of the fan and then pass it back and forth. The novel spans other historical events and the aftermath of those events on these two women. It is a very compelling look at a time and culture that most students know little about.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende have that magical realism component that can be very interesting and engaging. We teach both Marquez and Allende in our World Literature course, although they can be troublesome for struggling readers. My students usually enjoy Things Fall Apart. We have also done The Joy Luck Club, which students usually like. Students might find some nonfiction engaging. What about Schindler's List in combination with Night?
My IB seniors have over the years enjoyed Allende's House of the Spirits. It is fairly easy to read and very suspenseful. She tells a good story. BUT it does have some questionable content that might give you problems with parents. I've never had any objections, but you never know. Now I teach Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, which is more difficult to read. But his Chronicle of a Death Foretold is quite powerful and is rather short. Your students might handle the latter quite well.
I'm with #5 in recommending The Zookeeper's Wife. Non-fiction is often more compelling to students who may not feel capable of the kind of literary analysis they think you might expect. You didn't ask for short stories, but I can't resist recommending "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Lots of fun to start a good literary discussion in disguise.
I'm surprised no one has mentioned All Quiet on the Western Front. I would never teach it to middle school students, but certainly it would be easy for them to read. I love it for World Lit because it seems WW1 is all but forgotten about in the entertainment industry. Kids just do not have the grasp on this war that they do on WW2 and the many others that have been turned into countless movies. I also love to do it first in the semester because it has so many easy examples of literary elements. Boys like the story more than girls, but it is not a difficult read and it really reinforces a lot of skills that are foundational.
I liked Eggars new book, What is the What, but I'm not sure that this would be a choice for a text with a group of students with a lower than average reading level.
While the French writers usually produce tomes, Victor Hugo's Notre-Dame de Paris [The Hunchback of Notre-Dame] is a compelling read. There are some fairly good abridged editions that mostly delete Hugo's digressions about architecture (his purpose in writing this novel was to promote the preservation of the Gothic architecture in Paris), so the narrative remains intact.
Students who have read it enjoy comparing it to the movie, a fact which opens discussion. Most are glad that they have read the novel as the story of Esmerald's mother who locks herself away, wearing the other little slipper that matches the one Esmeralda wears herself, intrigues them.
I am sorry to hear that many students find Garcia Marquez rather difficult to read. I am lucky that I can do it in Spanish and I can sincerely say that is indeed the greatest pleasure one can have. Not only the richness and originality of expression but the way he weaves his words like a beautiful and complex tapestry is superb. He has such facility in mixing all genres, romance, erotica, history, social comedy, magic and who knows what else... to end up always with a perfect work of art, something that lingers on in one's memory...
I have read everything he has ever written but sadly, there have not been any new novels for many years... or am I missing something?
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