Western literature has expanded in the past decade and now tell a variety of stories. Novels, plays and epics have opened the space to tell diverse stories that are worth experiencing.
Here are some titles to add to your reading list. These recommendations are either important stories to read, experience and praise or variations of classic novels which showcase the perspectives of characters distorted by broader social narratives.
“Beloved” by Toni Morrison – Widely acclaimed and considered an American classic. This novel detailing the lasting trauma of slavery for the enslaved and freed Black family is a must-read for everyone. Set in the immediate aftermath of the American Civil War, “Beloved” follows one mother’s attempt to reclaim her family, herself and her happiness.
“Girl, Woman, Other” by Bernadine Evaristo – This novel follows the lives of twelve women or nonbinary people in modern Britain through an exploration of art, race, love and growth. Evaristo intertwines the twelve seemingly independent narratives in unexpected yet beautiful ways that shatter the reader’s heart, only to piece it back together with love.
“Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Adichie’s novel confronts topics including racism, identity and cultural diaspora. “Americanah” straddles the unique environments of Nigeria and the United States to engage artfully and hilariously with social hierarchies of power. Ifemelu is the lead character readers need, as her journey to self-actualization and empowerment is relatable and inspiring.
“Wide Sargasso Sea” by Jean Rhys – This retelling of Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre” reconsiders the novel from the perspective of the “madwoman in the attic.” Antoinette Cosway, renamed Bertha Mason, was locked in the third floor of Mr. Rochester’s home upon her arrival in England. Oft-overlooked in readings of “Jane Eyre,” Cosway was born and raised in Jamaica. Rhys’ novel explores the classic novel from a feminist, anti-colonialist and anti-racist perspective.
“The Penelopaid” by Margaret Atwood – Atwood’s “The Penelopaid” is lesser-known reinterpretation of the ancient epic “The Odyssey” from the perspective of Penelope. “The Penelopaid” explores Penelope’s experience on left to fend for herself on Ithaca for twenty years, warding off often violent suitors and navigating the flammable political scene with her maids. Atwood’s novel is both a stunningly beautiful prose poetry piece, and an important call to interrogate masculine figures society has accepted as both heroic and praise-worthy.
“Silence of the Girls” by Pat Barker – The name Achilles is one of the most well-known names in the world, revered for his heroism and skill in battle; however, Barker’s novel exposes the truth behind the Trojan War. “Silence of the Girls” tells the story of the women captured, abused and forced into servitude. Barker’s novel is a beautiful and searing indictment of the rape culture that persisted in Greek communities and has become normalized today.