Inferno by Dante Alighieri (Signet, $6). The first book in Dante's Divine Comedy can be characterized, in the most universal terms, as a forewarning in every age for the collective human consciousness.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (Oxford, $10). Don Quixote is another universal story, because it contrasts the life we live with the one we erroneously dream we are living.

Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol (Vintage, $16). Gogol's 1842 novel incorporates the two aforementioned masterpieces. The idea originated with the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, who suggested in a letter to Gogol that he should write a novel about the wanderings of a Russian Don Quixote who is at the same time the devil collecting souls. I think it was one of the most ingenious artistic ideas ever. It weaves together two different worlds.

(This article originally appeared in The Week magazine. Try 4 risk-free issues, and stay up to date with the week's most important news and commentary.)

Macbeth by William Shakespeare (Simon & Schuster, $6). I first came across the script for Macbeth between the ages of 11 and 12; it was the first book that shook my life. Because I did not yet understand that I could simply purchase it in a bookstore, I copied much of it by hand and took it home. My childhood imagination pushed me to feel like a co-author of the play.

The Trial by Franz Kafka (Dover, $4). While Dante's inferno and the hunger for power in Shakespeare evoke the communist universe where I've lived most of my life, the trial that Kafka describes makes this work seem written especially for our contemporary world.

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum by Heinrich Böll (Penguin, $14). Böll's 1974 tale about a young woman who's hunted down and vilified by a tabloid reporter after she's spent the night with a fugitive makes a payment on the debt that men owe for their suppression of women. It should be said that this repayment of the debt is still insufficient and that we, the people of the Balkan Peninsula, may feel this debt more than other Europeans.

— Ismail Kadare's 1978 novel, Twilight of the Eastern Gods, has recently been made available in English for the first time.