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Around The World In 13 Books

Before the age of flight promos, budget deals, and easy destinations, one travelled the world through the pages of a book—in my youth, books transported me to Milan Kundera’s Prague, Michael Ondaatje’s Cairo, and Margaret Mitchell’s Atlanta. It also allowed me to time travel without going to actual museums and monuments.  In these three books alone, I travelled through the antebellum South of the 1860’s, pre-war Egypt in the 1940’s, and the Prague Spring of the 1960’s.  

It’s heartwarming to see a return to our old bookish ways—or at least to see coordinated efforts to return us to the tried and tested, worn and dog-eared world of pulp and print. The latest of these local efforts is the First European Literature Fair in Manila. Hosted by National Bookstore in Glorietta, the fair runs from April 4-21, 2018.

This project is the brainchild of Czech Ambassador Jaroslav Olša, Jr. who spearheads EUNIC, an informal European cultural group based in Manila.

The books available at the fair cover a range of European countries and literary genres.  Below are thirteen books from different European countries.  So sit back or curl cat-like on a daybed—no need to buckle up for these bookish destinations.


1. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (Spain)

The most important novel to come out of Spain, Don Quixote follows the misadventures of Alonso Quijano, a delusional noble who fancies himself a knight. He seeks a life of chivalry and romance, which plays out to both comical and tragic effect.


2. Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino (Italy)

A collection of twelve short stories by Italo Calvino, Cosmicomics reimagines the world one scientific fact at a time.  These facts—some of which have turned into fallacy in today’s new world—are given their own stories, their own spectacle, and their own place in history.


3. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (Czech Republic)

A novel about an amoral yet irresistible anti-hero named Tomas, the book recalls the Prague Spring and its political, moral, and romantic implications in the world of the unlikely hero and his circle of lovers and friends.


4. My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk (Turkey)

A beautiful novel about miniaturists in 16th Century Turkey, the book gave Pamuk international acclaim  and led to his winning the Nobel Prize in 2006.


5.  Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (Russia)

The infamous and irresistible novel by Nabokov which chronicles the shady love story between a middle-aged professor named Humbert Humbert and a wily American adolescent named Lolita Haze.


6.  Poems New and Collected by Wislawa Syzmborska (Poland)

This anthology collects the most visceral and human poems by Poland’s most beloved poet and reveals the large political panoramas hidden in our small everyday lives.


7.  My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (Italy)

A complex but intensely loving story about two friends, “My Brilliant Friend”  is the first book in The Neapolitan Novels, a four-part series penned by Ferrante to great critical and commercial acclaim.


8. The Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson (Sweden)

One of the most compelling crime trilogies of the past decade, the Millenium Trilogy was the creation of Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson. Its component books, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and the The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, follows the lives of socially-impaired genius-hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist as they solve grizzly crimes committed by billionaires and politicians.


9. Selected poems by Fernando Pessoa (Portugal)

Possibly Portugal’s premier poet, Pessoa wrote under three literary personas— which showcased his empathy, humanism and wild imagination. Unlike other poets who also used pseudonyms, Pessoa actually lived out all the lives of his personas who were, by turns, a poet, a physician and an engineer.


10. Les Miserablés by Victor Hugo (France)

We all know the musical and the movie based on the musical, but Hugo’s classic is one for the books. Following the life of ex-con Jean Valjean who languishes in jail for literally stealing a baguette, Les Miz is all kinds of stories mixed into one huge chunk of pulp. By turns love story, political tale and social commentary, the book is everything a book should be.


11. Blindness by José Saramago (Portugal)

Described as a “symphonic new novel,” Blindness was penned by Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago. It’s a novel that’s been touted for its generosity and wisdom and intriguing plotall but one of the characters goes blind in this wildly orchestrated and clear-eyed book.


12.  Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar (Czech Republic)

A satirical  novel by Czech-American writer Jaroslav Kalfar, Spaceman of Bohemia has received massive praise since its US publication less than two years ago. It’s half cosmic shenanigan and half Czech history and a full-on good read.


13. Agos: Modern European Writers in Filipino

The festival also sees the launch of Agos—the sequel to Layag: European Classics in Filipino. Agos takes a modern turn and translates the work of European frontrunners like of Alois Hotshnig, Garry Kilworth and Jaroslav Kalfar into the common vernacular.


The First European Literature Fair in Manila runs from April 4-21, 2018 in National Bookstore Glorietta.