Suspended Sentences by Patrick Modiano (Yale, $16). Modiano's 2014 Nobel Prize allowed many American critics to exhibit soul-crushing provincialism. Their objections to the French novelist boiled down to If we don't know him, he's not worth knowing. The three novellas in this book show a consistent, inherently logical artistic vision — a sign of a great writer. Modiano's sadness, expressed in his sparseness of style and in obsessive leitmotif connections, is unique.
HHhH by Laurent Binet (Picador, $16). Binet's novel about the real-life assassination of Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich is an intellectually rewarding thriller. It activates swarms of questions about the modalities of narration, among them fiction, factions, and truth in storytelling.
World Light by Halldór Laxness (Vintage, $17). Within a couple sentences I understood that Laxness was a genius and felt remorse for having wasted my time on lesser books. The main character, a budding poet, barely leaves his bed in the first 50 or so pages, but Laxness somehow makes it all into a nail-biter.
Citizen by Claudia Rankine (Graywolf, $20). The heartbreaking thing about America is its steadfast racism, coupled with the habit of looking away from it. The ache, anger, and beauty in this 2014 book makes it an emotional record of America's failure to respect all its people.
Panic in a Suitcase by Yelena Akhtiorskaya (Riverhead, $12). Sentence for sentence, this is the wittiest, most intelligent book by a first-time author I've read in a long time. It shows us a Russian family stretched between Brooklyn and Odessa, love and confusion. Panic is a sad book for good-humored people, a funny one for those who know how to be sad.
Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov (Vintage, $15). Nabokov's main characters are often haughty — if fascinating — sociopaths. But I love Timofey Pnin because his incapacity for handling the world is downright heroic. Everyone admires Nabokov for his turn of sentence and sparkle of metaphor. He was also a very funny man, and one of the great literary architects. Every piece is in its place because there is no other place for it.
—Aleksandar Hemon is the author of the novels Nowhere Man and The Lazarus Project, both National Book Award finalists. His new novel, The Making of Zombie Wars, follows a writer working on a screenplay about a zombie apocalypse.