Martel's latest book, Beatrice and Virgil, his third novel, was published last month by Spiegel & Grau. Here, Martel's personal book recommendations:
The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati (David R. Godine, $18). A sober and luminous novel about a man who waits his whole life for his life to start. You read it and then you want to run out and act.
The Gift by Lewis Hyde (Vintage, $15). A work of nonfiction that looks at the meaning of gift-giving, of giving without seeking monetary reward in return. I read it—and wished damn money didn’t exist.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (Prestwick House, $4). Forget what you think you know about the story. It starts as a fairly conventional gothic horror story—until you get to the last chapter. There, you find one of the greatest descriptions in literature of the battle between good and evil in the human heart. We are all good Dr. Jekylls, and the moral question put to each of us by the novel is the same: What will you do with the evil Mr. Hyde lurking in you?
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (Anchor, $11). A remarkably evenhanded account of the colonization of Nigeria by the British. It’s a subtle, poignant story about the tragic clash between two civilizations that met and showed each other their worst sides.
The Divine Comedy by Dante, as translated by John Ciardi (New American Library, $19). From 14th-century Italy, one of the great allegories of world literature. Nothing stuffy or boring about it. It’s a moral map of the world Dante lived in, filled with evil characters but also the possibility of redemption.
Property by Valerie Martin (Vintage, $14). Property is about the insidious nature of injustice, how a system that is corrupt perverts not only its victims but also its victimizers. In this case, the injustice is slavery in the American South in the early 19th century. Manon Gaudet owns Sarah, but slavery owns Manon’s soul. A searing and gripping tale.