Rabih Alameddine's 6 favorite books
The Lebanese-American writer recommends stories of eternal quests, longing, and remembrances of youth
The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa (Penguin, $19). The narrator of my new novel translates works of literature into Arabic, including all six of these books. Disquiet is her favorite. What makes this fictional diary transcendent is that it deals with eternal quests, everything from the meaning of life and of death to deciphering the soul's disquiet. It can quench a thirsty mind and flood an arid heart.
Sepharad by Antonio Muñoz Molina (Harvest, $22). I have read each of the books on this list at least three times, and I mentioned this because Sepharad continues to dazzle in a peculiar way. Every time I read this novel on the Sephardic Jewish diaspora, I feel I am doing so for the first time. It is a book of longing.
Microcosms by Claudio Magris (out of print). Microcosms deals with the writer's homeland, the borderlands between Italy and what is now Croatia. Magris has the ability to make history's bit players sparkle on the page; he breathes life into Jason and Medea, as well as an Istrian fisherman who evaded conscription by Mussolini's Fascists and Tito's Communists.
How I Came to Know Fish by Ota Pavel (Penguin UK, $17). A heartfelt, affecting, miraculous memoir of youth. When Pavel's father and brothers are taken to a concentration camp and the Nazis confiscate the family's small lake, the boy is forced to steal the lake's fish from under the noses of the watchful SS.
The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald (New Directions, $17). My favorite Sebald — well, for this week at least. The book's four stories about German emigrants seem unconnected at first, but they gel into a harrowing look at the effects of the Holocaust, which is hardly, if ever, mentioned. Sebald refuses to soil grief with sentimentalism. The result is devastating.
Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16). The ultimate magic act, this novel is so impeccably rendered that one can't believe it's fiction. A historical record, a novel of government and power, a love story; it is all that and more.
— Lebanese-American writer Rabih Alameddine is the author of The Hakawati (The Storyteller), a 2008 international best-seller. His fourth novel, An Unnecessary Woman, was published this week by Grove Atlantic.