Andre Brink’s books include An Instant in the Wind and Rumours of Rain, both of which were shortlisted for the Booker Prize. His new novel, The Other Side of Silence, about colonial Africa in the early 20th century, is published by Secker.
1. Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust
Still the most remarkable demonstration of memory in action in fiction; a lasting evocation of the power and the magic of the world within us.
2. The Trial by Franz Kafka
No other book I know matches the devastation and the terrifying black humour with which Kafka captures the frailty of the individual as a victim of incomprehensible forces lurking within the everyday world.
3. Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
The most moving and illuminating image I know of a woman’s life from birth to death, embedded in the turmoil of a patriarchal world as it rages through the 14th century.
4. The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil
Musil demonstrates an astounding grasp of the mills of history as they grind around a group of individuals on the eve of the first world war. He recreates the subjective mind as a battlefield of good and evil, breaking through all the fictional conventions of time and place.
5. Independent People by Haldor Laxness
A 20th century saga and a “fanfare for the common man”, discovering in a stark and unsentimental (yet profoundly compassionate) way the tragic heroism of a man pitted against the power of nature as he struggles to preserve his soul, even if he loses his life in the effort. The final scene, bringing together father and daughter after a lifetime of estrangement, is as close to perfection as anything I have ever read.
6. The Plague by Albert Camus
An archetypal novel of the sickness of the century, anticipating parables as diverse and as terrifying as Golding’s Lord of the Flies or Saramago’s Blindness: the slow crack-up of an ordered society as it succumbs to the chaos once contained within its own structures; informed by a profound humanity as it redefines courage and compassion in the face of death and oblivion.
7. Belle du Seigneur by Albert Cohen
Quite simply the most beautiful love story ever told in fiction, oscillating between the sublime and the grotesque, the lyrical and the crude, the splendour of the imagination and the horrors and banalities that lurk behind it.
8. The Tin Drum by Gunther Grass
Shaping the shapeless terror of the second world war into the discordant and anarchist life of Oskar Matzerath who refuses to take the place assigned to him in a world gone mad, and rages against the dying light with all the means that sex, politics, anger and (who knows) love place at his disposal.
9. 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
In the microcosm of Macondo the reader encounters the magic and the illusions of the real, and the reality of the magical. As time captures the members of an unruly family in its unpredictable yet fatal loops it turns the history of a village into a founding myth.
10. If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino
The last century’s most dazzling example of a story that exists purely by virtue of, and for the sake of, the processes of its telling; an exhilarating quest for meaning and closure in a world which has lost precisely the illusions of meaning and closure, and which restores to literature that great leap of the imagination with which fiction began as it poses the mother of all questions: “What if …?”