1. "The True History of the Conquest of the New Spain", by Bernal Diaz del Castillo. I know it's not fiction, but this is surely the most incredible tale of adventure. There is basically no difference between an extraterrestrial invasion and what happened to the Aztecs. On the other hand, the Spaniards discovered a whole different world: a series of civilizations which combined sophistication beyond Europe with a savagery and primitiveness of the Stone Age, with human sacrifices an cannibalism. The odds were heavily stacked against the Spaniards: read how they conquered these strange civilizations and what trials they endured (and inflicted on the natives).
2. "Complete Short Stories", by Franz Kafka. I will have to provide separately a full review. Reading the tales in chronological order makes for a fascinating experience, as you witness the development of this strange but genius man's strange mind. It's an indispensable work if you want to understand "the soul of man in the XX and XXI centuries".
3. "My Name is Red", by Orhan Pamuk. A beautiful story of love / unlove, a thriller, an essay on the differences between Renaissance Europe and declining Islam's contrasting pictorial styles and what it says about the larger cultural differences between both cultures. All set in magical XVI Century Istanbul.
4. "Facundo", by Domingo F. Sarmiento. The foundation of Argentine letters, a strange non-novel in which Sarmiento denounces the brutal dictatorship of Rosas by depicting the career of his sidekick Facundo Quiroga. A primer on Argentinian geography, society and history, and a very violent story.
5. "The Painted Veil", by Somerset Maugham. Maugham is a favorite of mine, and this short novel (with disturbing similarities of main subject, though not of plot line, with Wharton's "The Custom of the Country") dissects the Western middle class woman's situation and the miseries to which it may lead. This one is set in Hong Kong and the fictional village of Mei-tan-fu in China, ravaged by a cholera epidemic.
Now on to "The Garden of Evening Mists".
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