One of the many joys of speaking a second language is being able to enjoy literature in its original language.
Nelson Mandela once said:
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
In the same way, when someone communicates emotion with you in the language of their heart, your vision into their culture will be much more real and vivid. Your mind expands to share in foreign joys, foreign fears, foreign suffering.
Here is a (non-exhaustive) foreign book bucket list that must be read, whether in original or translated form:
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
by Victor Hugo
Notre-Dame de Paris, French (France)
After reading this novel, you will feel a small part of your childhood dreams seep away. Disney did not do this book justice, but you cannot blame them for softening the story considerably. This tragic tale is a cold wake-up call, depicting 15th century Paris from the highest to the lowest ranks in society.
The Diary of a Young Girl
by Anne Frank
Dutch (The Netherlands)
I hesitate in listing this entry along with novels. It is easy to forget that this is not a work of fiction, that it was intended for the eyes of one person only. Far from the front line but with the chill of war running through the diary, the mundane is documented through the eyes of an adolescent girl. Looking back on those teenage years with such a harsh backdrop teaches you a solemn humility.
Chronicle of a Death Foretold
by Gabriel García Márquez
Crónica de una Muerte Anunciada, Spanish (Colombia)
This is one of the lesser appreciated novels by this author, but it is a short and worthwhile read. The unfolding of the story happens in reverse which means that you do not fully understand any chapter before reading the following one. Chance, inevitability, and error plague the story, preparing the reader for certain truths of life.
The God of Small Things
by Arundhati Roy
There are a million small lessons you can learn from this incredible book. The English text is dotted with words from the author’s local Indian language and deals with themes of innocence, discrimination, and love in a way that will shatter your conceptions of childhood and identity. It is a window into another world that expands your mind and breaks your heart.
Note: As a blog for multilinguals, we wanted to included English as a foreign language also ☺
by Paulo Coehlo
O Alquimista, Portuguese (Brazil)
It should not come as a surprise that this novel has been included here. As a young person with aspirations, it is inspirational in demonstrating the strength of will power while giving a sense that the universe is benevolent. If you have dreams of travelling, or you are hesitant in the pursuit of what you want, this is the book for you.
The Little Prince
by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Le Petit Prince, French (France)
Many of us read this novel as a child, and while we enjoyed the pictures, did not learn much from the story. Our advice is to return to the fable as an adult and view it with wiser eyes. It will make you remember the absurdity of adult lives in the story, reminding you not to forget the limitless and open-eyed nature of childhood, which is something we should never lose.
What books have you come across in your lives that have been essential in teaching you about yourself and the world around you?