The 10 best books of world literature according to the Norwegian Book Circle

The Norwegian Book Circle is a book club created in 2002 by three Norwegian publishing houses: Gyldendal, Aschehoug, and Pax Forlag. In 2002, the organization decided to develop the list of the 100 best books of all time. The selection was made from proposals from 100 writers from 54 different countries. Each writer could choose 10 books according to their tastes and striving to reflect cultural, temporal, and spatial diversity. Here is the list in random order (this is not a classification between the works). However, the jury of authors named Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes as the best “literary work ever written”. The descriptions that accompany the works come mainly from Wikipedia.

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1. The World is Collapsing by Chinua Achebe (1958, Nigeria) 

Through the fate of Okonkwo, a notable of his clan, Chinua Achebe recalls the culture shock that represented for the arrival of indigenous Britons Igbo, in the late nineteenth-century colonization of Nigeria by the British. Almost cut off from the outside, the inhabitants of the equatorial forest could imagine a world in their image, made up of multiple gods, ancestor worship, rites, and taboos. The irruption of Europeans and their religion, Christianity, upsets all traditional beliefs, hence the title of the novel. 

2. Tales by Hans Christian Andersen (1835-1837, Denmark) 

Hans Christian Andersen wrote around one hundred and fifty fairy tales, the style, conciseness, and original inspiration of which brought him immediate fame in many countries. 

3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813, United Kingdom) 

Behind the romantic adventures of the five Bennet daughters, Jane Austen faithfully depicts the rigidities of English society at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. Through the behavior and thoughts of Elizabeth Bennet, her main character, she raises the issues faced by the women of the little country gentry to secure economic security and social status. 

 4. Father Goriot , Honoré de Balzac (1835, France)

 The novel opens in 1819, with the sordid and repulsive description of the Vauquer house, a Parisian pension located in the rue Neuve-Sainte-Geneviève, belonging to the widow Vauquer. Several residents live there, including Eugène de Rastignac, a young law student, a mysterious, somewhat boorish and rude character named Vautrin and a former vermicelli (pasta and bread maker) who made his fortune during the Revolution, now retired, completely penniless and widower, nicknamed Father Goriot by the widow Vauquer, frustrated in his marriage intentions with him when he arrived at the pension, rich, well dressed and in possession of a lot of furniture. Most of the residents have taken to calling him that too, ridiculing him and seeing him as senile and diminished. 

5. Molloy , Malone Morte , L’Innommable (trilogy) by Samuel Beckett (1951-1953, Ireland) 

Work with a very stripped-down style, which can make it difficult to access, but which takes the reader to the I of the characters. In its narrative form, Beckett’s writing seems to upset the usual grammatical structures and functions. As he will have Malone say in Malone Mies: “My fingers too write in other latitudes, and the air which breathes through my notebook and turns the pages without my knowing it, when I doze off, so that the subject moves away from the verb, and that the complement comes to rest somewhere in the void, this air is not that of this penultimate abode, and it is well thus. 

6. Decameron by Boccaccio (1349-1353, Italy)

This work which brings together 100 short stories is famous for its tales of amorous gallantry, which range from the erotic to the tragic. The Decameron, nicknamed by Boccace “Prince Gallehault”, in homage to the poet Dante Alighieri, is written in Italian and not in Latin, thus giving birth to Italian prose. 

7. Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges (1944, Argentina) 

With a few exceptions, these short stories all fall within the framework of fantastic literature, but renewing the genre, to the point that Borges could be said to have invented “philosophy-fiction”. It is in this book that Borges’ favorite themes appear: the many literary references, sometimes deliberately fanciful, metaphysics and theology, labyrinths, and the infinite.

8. The Heights of Stormwind by Emily Brontë (1847, United Kingdom)

A tale at once unusual and atrocious, Les Hauts de Hurlevent imposes itself as a novel with cruel characters – cruelty sometimes joining even the nicest characters – and where death is haunting. Far from being a moralizing tale, Emily Brontë nevertheless ends the novel in a serene atmosphere, suggesting the triumph of peace and good over vengeance and evil. 

9. The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942, France)

The novel features a character-narrator named Meursault, living in Algiers in French Algeria. The first sentence of the novel (the incipit) is one of the most famous in contemporary French literature: ” Today, my mother is dead. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know. 

10. The poems of… by Paul Celan (1952, France, Romania)

The extreme dispersion of Celan’s editions in French confers on this book the function of scouting, of viaticum. This invites more than the discovery of a major poet of this century: it favors an approach that turns into recognition. To the frightening question: how to write after Auschwitz? Celan replies: using the language of death. Because he had to face and live one of the most tragic paradoxes that there is: his mother tongue, German, is both the one that founds his culture and his identity, but also that which governs the extermination camp where his parents disappear. And yet, Celan cannot without “lying” (it is he who notes this) to escape this language of childhood and oppression mingled.

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