July 21, 2013 10:36 PM   Subscribe

Non-Americans! I'm beefing up my to-read pile (especially on my kindle), and I would like suggests of Great Classics of Your National Literature that would typically be assigned in secondary school.

So for example, a typical American High School student will read Mark Twain, Thoreau, The Scarlet Letter, The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, etc., when they do "American Lit." When you do $YOURFINECOUNTRY Lit, what books are you assigned? What are the books that every read in school?

This question is inspired partly by a discussion I had with a friend who's now a permanent resident in the U.S.; he was saying he probably ought to get around to reading some Mark Twin now that he lived here, and I was asking about what classic books he'd read in secondary school, and we were able to find some in english translation on gutenburg for me to read, and it was really fun!

I'm not necessarily interested in what the BEST book in your national literature is (although that's nice if it fits in my subset), but I'm interests in what books are used widely or universally throughout the national school system to teach Home Country Literature to students, books where if you mention it at a party, EVERYONE has read it, or at least pretended to read it in order pass the class.

I'm not picky about type of literature. I'm a bit more in a novel mood but I'll also take essays, poetry, whatever.
posted by Eyebrows McGee to Media & Arts (31 answers total) 149 users marked this as a favorite
If you haven't already seen it, you might enjoy this recent FPP featuring a woman who spent a year reading one book from each country (it includes the list of books as well as her blog posts reviewing them).
posted by forza at 10:43 PM on July 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

The curriculum has changed since I was at highschool, but I remember having to read the following Australian books:

My Place by Sally Morgan
A Fortunate Life by AB Facey
The Delinquents by Kylie Tennant
My Brother Jack by George Johnston
The Harp in the South by Ruth Park
My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin
Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay.
Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

For poetry we had to study Kenneth Slessor, Bruce Dawe, Judith Wright and Oodgeroo Noonuccal.
posted by girlgenius at 10:51 PM on July 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


As for Me and My House--Sinclair Ross
The Depford or Cornith Trilogies--Robertson Davies
Lives of Girls and Women--Munro
In The Skin of a Lion--Odantje
Wilderness Tips--Atwood
Paris Stories--Mavis Gallant.

also read bill bisset and bp nichol for poemsy
posted by PinkMoose at 11:13 PM on July 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm sure the Russian brigade will come along in a second, so here's a stab at the official Ukrainian curriculum. I doubt that most of these are readily available in English translation. Also, spelling is modulo transliteration differences.

The father figure in Ukrainian poetry is Taras Shevchenko. He was born into serfdom, was emancipated in his youth, traveled to Petersburg where he excelled at painting, but devoted most of his creative energies to narrative, epic, and protest poetry with strong Romantic, Ukrainian nationalist and separatist themes. He spent much of his life under arrest and in exile.

Shevchenko's literary successor Ivan Franko is also widely read in school curricula. Franko wrote both poetry and prose in a realist/ethnographic vein and was also considered a radical. A city in Ukraine is named after him.

The Ukrainian free-form burlesque adaptation of the Aeneid by Enlightenment poet Ivan Kotliarevsky is much read and often quoted.

Grigory Kvitka-Osnovianenko came slightly after Kotliarevsky and wrote in a variety of forms.

Beside Franko, other commonly studied realists include prose writer and playwright Panas Myrny and prose writer Marko Vovchok, who was a woman author writing under a male pseudonym.

More along the lines of modernism, there is the turn-of-the century poet Lesia Ukrainka.

There was some literary activity in Ukrainian between the world wars, but it's not much read in school. Ukrainian literature suffered setbacks during the Civil War, the famine of the early 30s, and the repressions that continued until the mid-50s.

There was another period of activity during the Khrushchev Thaw, but many of those authors were considered controversial and their activity was suppressed during the following decade. They may be assigned in schools now, but since a lot of them were writing about ugly realities, they may still be considered too controversial to be assigned to children.

To sum up, the Ukrainian school curriculum includes a set of classics, meaning works from the 18th through early 20th centuries, and later periods are represented by relatively anodyne writing by specifically YA authors.
posted by Nomyte at 11:18 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

In much of Canada we actually read a lot of US or UK lit, but if you had a CanLit fan as your teacher (as I sometimes luckily did) you would get:
W. O. Mitchell who has seen the wind
Margaret Laurence the Stone Angel or The Diviners
Stephen Leacock Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town
Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, and maybe in drama class The Ecstasy of Rita Joe would be used for scene work.

For younger readers, I remember being read books in class, such as Anne of Green Gables, works by Farley Mowatt, Alligator Pie (poetry), and I Heard the Owl Call my Name.

I grew up in BC so other provinces would be different.
posted by chapps at 11:22 PM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also (Australian):

Cloudstreet, by Tim Winton or
That Eye, The Sky, by Tim Winton

(Gotta have some Tim Winton in there!)
posted by Salamander at 11:23 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

New Zealand in the 1980s/1990s

Keri Hulme The Bone People

Witi Ihimaera, just about everything, but the one I particularly remember being assigned is Pounamu Pounamu

Katherine Mansfield, all the short stories.

Janet Frame, Owls Do Cry.

Poems by James K. Baxter.

We never read Ngaio Marsh at school, but you should :)
posted by lollusc at 11:33 PM on July 21, 2013

Oh, and how could I forget Maurice Gee? We read him more in primary school/intermediate school rather than highschool. We read Under the Mountain and Halfmen of O.
posted by lollusc at 11:50 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some titles I pulled out of a summer reading list compiled by one of the best private junior high/high schools in Japan (a whopping 72-pages pdf in Japanese, sorted by subject). Only the ones with English translations available. And since this list is by a really high-level school, I'll include some of the ones for junior high, too:

Hell Screen (Jigokuhen) by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
The Wild Geese (Gan) by Ougai Mori
Night on the Galactic Railroad (Ginga tetsudo no yoru) by Kenji Miyazawa

The Broken Commandment (Hakai) by Toson Shimazaki
And Then (Sorekara) by Soseki Natsume
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion
(Kinkakuji) by Yukio Mishima
Silence by Shusaku Endo
No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai
posted by misozaki at 11:51 PM on July 21, 2013 [6 favorites]

And now I've remembered the plays we had to study [Australia]
Away by Michael Gow
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll by Ray Lawler
The Heartbreak Kid by Richard Berrett
posted by girlgenius at 12:27 AM on July 22, 2013

Le Grand Meaulnes is as unavoidable for French schoolchildren as I imagine The Catcher in the Rye must be for American ones.
posted by Segundus at 1:12 AM on July 22, 2013

I can't speak with certainty but I imagine in Portugal you can't not do The Lusiads.
posted by Segundus at 1:14 AM on July 22, 2013

The current list of UK "high school" literature is listed here (although not all of it is British-authored).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:55 AM on July 22, 2013

Brazil- Jose Mauro de Vasconcelos - My Sweet Orange Tree
posted by SyraCarol at 3:10 AM on July 22, 2013

More Australian items:
'Wake in Fright' by Kenneth Cook
'Don't take your love to town' by Ruby Langford Ginibi
'The chant of Jimmie Blacksmith' by Thomas Keneally
And here's a list by Project Gutenberg
posted by Kerasia at 3:23 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Related previous Ask Mefi question: National Novels and Poems
posted by vacapinta at 5:27 AM on July 22, 2013

Though mostly Spanish literature, in Mexico we read,

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz - La Respuesta/The Answer
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra - Don Quijote
El Mio Cid
Benito Pérez Galdós - Marianela
Federico García Lorca - Bodas de Sangre/Blood Wedding
Benito Pérez Galdós - Fortunata y Jacinta/Fortunata and Jacinta
Gabriel García Márquez - Cien Años de Soledad/100 Years of Solitude
Gabriel García Márquez - Crónica de una muerte anunciada/Chronicle of a Death Foretold

and we did read
Animal Farm
The Great Gatsby
The Stranger.. and a variety of other books that are read in US schools as well.
posted by xicana63 at 5:30 AM on July 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

In Sweden, I don't think there are any books that everyone reads in school, but I remember reading The Emperor of Portugallia, Doctor Glas and The Red Room. I think The Emigrants by Vilhelm Moberg is also commonly assigned reading.

(For books that practically every Swede has read, I'd suggest Astrid Lindgren's children's books, like Pippi Longstocking, The Brothers Lionheart, Karlsson-on-the-Roof and Ronia the Robber's Daughter.)
posted by martinrebas at 6:17 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

From the Philippines:

* Noli Mi Tangere and El Filibusterismo by Jose Rizal
* His Native Soil by Juan Laya
* The Bamboo Dancers by N.V.M. Gonzalez
* Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn

There's a pretty good listing available in the footnotes to this essay on Filipino-American literature as well.
posted by evoque at 6:56 AM on July 22, 2013

From the UK, did my GCSEs in 1998, A-levels in 2000. I was in England - Scottish, Welsh and Irish syllabi may have been different.

Romeo and Juliet
The Crucible
Of Mice and Men
the war poems of Wilfred Owen
I think we may have also done Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge.
Poetry by Ted Hughes (Roe Deer?) for the oral component of our exam

A-Level (Lang and Lit):
The Importance of Being Earnest
The Tempest
The Wife of Bath (from the Canterbury Tales)
(At this age I also read Trainspotting and White Teeth, books which are on contemporary literature syllabuses at university level these days.)

When younger than that, we studied I Am David (I did this at both primary and secondary level for some reason) Charlotte's Web, Birdsong, Alan Bennett's Talking Heads (which I think are often assigned at A-level), A Midsummer Night's Dream. I did separate English lessons from the rest of my class in primary school but I believe some Roald Dahl books were studied then - possibly The Twits?

Catcher in the Rye and To Kill A Mockingbird aren't commonly assigned at school here, or weren't when I was a kid. I would be surprised if more schools these days aren't assigning more post-colonial literature. The books you read as part of class study were down to the teacher's choice pre-age 14, from 14 onwards when GCSE work starts, it depends on which exam board your exams will be under.
posted by mippy at 9:21 AM on July 22, 2013

I took the equivalent of British O-levels/GCSEs in Hong Kong in the mid-2000's. Here's some of the stuff that appeared as exam set texts in Chinese class, or that we were expected to have read:

1. The Four Great Classical Novels (on the if-you-haven't-read-them-you're-not-Chinese reading list)
- Water Margin (水滸傳)
- Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三國演義)
- Journey to the West (西遊記)
- Dream of the Red Chamber (紅樓夢)

2. Poems and text excerpts in Classical Chinese
- Zuiweng Tingji (醉翁亭記) by Ouyang Xiu
- Chu Shi Biao (出師表) by Zhuge Liang
- Bring In The Wine (將進酒) by Li Bai and Song of the Wagons (兵車行) by Du Fu
- poems by Su Shi, Li Qingzhao etc.
- Excerpts from Confucius's Analects, Zhuangzhi and Mencius

3. Modern Chinese lit (some appeared as exam texts; I only had to write reports for longer novels)
- Family, Spring, Autumn Trilogy (家春秋) by Ba Jin
- Taipei People (臺北人), Death in Chicago (芝加哥之死), Ashes (骨灰), Lonely Seventeen (寂寞的十七歲) by Pai Hsien-yung
- poems, e.g. Farewell Again, Cambridge (再別康橋) by Xu Zhimo
- Song of Everlasting Sorrow (長恨歌) by Wang Anyi
- anything by Eileen Chang

Lastly, martial arts novels (wuxia) are considered too lowbrow for schools to teach but they're completely addictive and I highly recommend them, especially anything by Jin Yong. Some of his best works are The Condor Trilogy, Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, The Deer and the Cauldron. (99% of kids I knew have read all his books - he's the most popular wuxia writer by far.)
posted by monocot at 9:35 AM on July 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


César Vallejo - El Tungsteno
Julio Ramón Ribeyro - Los gallinazos sin plumas
Alfredo Bryce Echenique - A World for Julius
Mario Vargas Llosa - The Cubs

Not sure if the first two have been translated to English, though.
posted by Tarumba at 4:38 PM on July 22, 2013

Brazil: anything by Machado de Assis — regarded as the greatest writer of our literature, Harold Bloom calls him "the supreme black literary artist to date".
posted by Tom-B at 6:45 PM on July 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Whoops, forgot a really obvious one - Lu Xun, whose works (encompassing essays, poetry, and novels) contain scathing social commentary on the end of dynastic China and the early Republic of China. He's considered somewhat of a national writer. We did A Madman's Diary, An Incident, and The True Story of Ah Q.
posted by monocot at 4:10 AM on July 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

You may also be interested in this previous Ask Metafilter thread: Which books are most representative of each country?
posted by dfan at 8:13 AM on July 23, 2013

There are so many you could do for the Netherlands, but focusing on works widely read in schools and available in English, and stopping myself before my answer itself expands to novel length, here's a very brief selection:

Multatuli - Max Havelaar (1860)

Satire protesting Dutch colonial policies in what is now Indonesia.

W.F. Hermans - The Darkroom of Damocles ("De donkere kamer van Damokles", 1958) / Beyond Sleep ("Nooit meer slapen", 1966)

Hermans often mentioned as part of a sort of Holy Trinity of post-war Dutch writers with Harry Mulisch and Gerard Reve, the latter of whom I'd have mentioned separately had someone bothered to translate prototypical post-war novel "De avonden" into English. "Damocles", a wartime thriller about a resistance hero accused of being a Nazi-affiliated double agent, is the better known work; but I'd be remiss not to recommend "Beyond Sleep", a fish-out-of-water / coming-of-age novel exemplary of Hermans' stoic brevity, often employed for thought-provoking humour: "Treading on snow heretofore untrodden by man is something anyone with a back garden can do in winter."

Jan Wolkers - Turkish Delight ("Turks fruit", 1969)

Tender and bitter recollections of a tragic love affair. Noted for its at the time groundbreakingly explicit descriptions of sex, and for its film adaptation which cemented Rutger Hauer's Dutch career and more or less paved the way for his anglophone one.

And, of course, Anne Frank's diary, which unsurprisingly perhaps is widely read in schools here, as it is in other countries.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:21 AM on July 23, 2013

Puerto Rico is sort of a country and sort of not, and for that you should read When I Was Puerto Rican/Cuando Era Puertorriqueña by Esmeralda Santiago, which is read in middle and high school both here and there.
posted by toodleydoodley at 5:28 PM on July 23, 2013

There's not a lot translated from Lithuanian into English, but Whithorn's Windmill and Forest of the Gods both are classic books required to read in schools here.
posted by ohforf at 10:06 AM on July 25, 2013

Croatia (a small subset of things we had to read):

Croatian tales of long ago (Priče iz davnine) by Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić (there's also a multimedia edition)

The Death of Smail-aga Čengić (Smrt Smail-age Čengića) by Ivan Mažuranić

Beware of the Hand of Senj/Pirates of Senj (Čuvaj se senjske ruke) by August Šenoa

The Glembays (Gospoda Glembajevi) by Miroslav Krleža (there's a movie)

poetry by Tin Ujević

The Pit (Jama) by Ivan Goran Kovačić
posted by gakiko at 8:47 AM on July 26, 2013

The following is not exactly prescribed reading list in high school in India. But it ought to be.

* Swami and Friends by R.K. Narayan
* Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
* The Discovery of India by Nehru
* All about H. Hatterr by Desani
posted by thaths at 8:21 AM on July 27, 2013

> So for example, a typical American High School student will read Mark Twain, Thoreau, The Scarlet Letter, The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, etc., when they do "American Lit." When you do $YOURFINECOUNTRY Lit, what books are you assigned? What are the books that every read in school?

Not the answer you're looking for, but you might find it interesting: in my 9th grade English class in Jamaica, we read To Kill a Mockingbird. I don't think we read any Jamaican authors.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:23 AM on July 29, 2013

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