There’s no better way to immerse yourself in a new culture and country than by reading its most influential literature. The printing press is considered one of the most life-changing inventions ever created.
A great novel can light a spark that shapes the lives of millions. Once an idea spreads, it’s difficult to forget.
Although you can always argue that texts like Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and holy books from major religions have had much larger international influence, we wanted to gather fictional narrative stories. You can read the books on this list curled up on the couch with a cup of hot tea, while still challenging your views on the history of humankind.
These five compelling books have changed the world in some way or another, from ancient peoples to more recent generations. Read on and see if any might make a thoughtful gift for the voracious readers in your life during the next holiday season.
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1. The Illiad and The Odyssey by Homer (Ancient Greek)
One of the first novels ever published, The Illiad and The Odyssey are two epic poems that detail the fantastic events of the Trojan War and the subsequent adventures of the titular hero, Odysseus.
For a story written in the 8th century BC, the themes and gripping sense of adventure still captivate modern readers. Modern translations offer historical context. Although higher concentration might be needed to understand the antiquated prose, the average reader will be able to understand and enjoy the narrative.
Contemporary books like The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker and Circe by Madeline Miller continue to entrance audiences. They both elaborate on the myth’s story by detailing the events from the perspective of the female and enslaved characters. It’s a guarantee that future generations will continue to be influenced and amazed by these tales.
2. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Colombia)
The world was introduced to the magic realism of Latin American literature with Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 1967 masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Following several generations of love and loss in a Colombian family, this book changed the path of literature in the 20th century. Latin America had been experiencing decades of war and this novel displayed the tendency of each generation to make the same horrible mistakes.
Fictionalizing characters’ reactions to real historical events, this novel defined the Latin American identity. Present-day readers can identify with the characters and better understand the history of violence we all live with.
3. A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen (Norway)
This entertaining three-act play changed Norwegian thinking about a woman’s place in society. A Doll’s House was a catalyst for gender equality in 19th-century Scandinavia.
Opening in Denmark in 1879, it caused an instant sensation and sold out every show. Starring Nora, a wife and mother in a time when women had little opportunity, and struggles to fulfill her dreams. It was translated and then published and performed around the world.
Finally, the average person was talking about the limited rights of women. The sympathetic characters reminded audiences of themselves and the other women in their lives.
4. The War of the Worlds by HG Wells (England)
Picking up where Mary Shelley left off (her 1818 novel Frankenstein is considered the first true sci-fi novel), British writer HG Wells went all in on the science fiction genre.
His 1897 novel The War of the Worlds opened up the minds of the world in ways they could never have imagined. This was the first book to feature invading extraterrestrials and humankind’s struggles to survive against the plundering slavemaster Martians. Wells considered this invasion novel to be an allegory for the horrible effects of British colonization on native populations.
This novel was wildly acclaimed and has never been out of print. The story is an adventure from start to finish. It made the citizens of the most powerful country in the world at the time rethink their actions. Due to its massive popularity, science fiction has remained a part of the mainstream.
5. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria)
A harrowing story, Things Fall Apart is an engrossing masterpiece by Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe. Published in 1958 in English to global acclaim, it opened the eyes of the world to the disrupted communities of colonized Africans.
While the material can be difficult to read, this novel is unputdownable. It shows how life changes and deteriorates for the victims of European colonialism and forced Christianity. Now mandatory reading in many classrooms, it details a fictional first-hand account of a side of history that the Western world almost never hears.
Interested in broadening your horizons or giving a loved one something that will challenge them? Try one of these books and let us know if you have any other suggestions!
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