Lima Nights is the latest novel from National Book Award finalist Marie Arana. Here, the former editor of The Washington Post’s Book World chooses her favorite novels about love.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Penguin, $17). It was panned as “a trifling romance” when it was released over the course of five years in a Russian periodical. But Dostoyevsky declared this novel flawless. It centers on the doomed love between a married woman and a dashing count, and it’s as urgent as a potboiler. I’d even call it the greatest novel of all time.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (Harper Perennial, $10). Tereza loves her husband, Tomas, although he’s a flagrant womanizer. Tomas’ mistress, Sabina, loves him, too, but can’t help falling into bed with Franz. Set in Prague before the Velvet Revolution, this is a sly, marvelous story about sex, freedom, and the human animal.
The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa (Picador, $14). The tale of a heartless woman and the man who loves her unequivocally—no matter how awful she can be. This modern-day picaresque is quirky and quintessentially Latin, and there’s something very lovable about that.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (Dell, $14). A beguiling epistolary novel about people in love with books. They love, too, the Channel Island on which they live, and the solidarity that emerges when Nazis arrive to occupy it. Eventually, love springs everywhere: Between a Nazi soldier and an English nurse; between a scribe and an orphan; between a spunky woman and a humble man.
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez (Vintage, $15). Florentino Ariza falls in love with Fermina Daza when she is still a child. She grows up to marry someone else, but his love never flags, even after 50 years. This is a novel of love in its infinite variety: spiritual, carnal, young, old, romantic, quotidian, and, finally, eternal.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (Vintage, $14). Forbidden love! An utterly wicked story about a middle-aged man infatuated with a doll-faced 12-year-old, but told by one of literature’s most angelic voices. A masterpiece. The English language gets no better than this.