Most book lists on this and other sites contain the usual suspects, but I think by now everyone who wants to read Haruki Murakami or Thomas Pynchon, already has. Moreover, most of these lists tend to focus on American and British literature, whereas the world is bigger than that. And last but not least: who needs realism if you can have books that create a surreal and absurd world? That's why I've created this list of 5 books written by non-English authors that can be called either experimental or offbeat. No worries for the non-polyglots: all the books on this list have been translated into English.
Alessandro Baricco is an Italian author, who is most known for his very small novella 'Silk.' He is often called the successor of Italo Calvino, and though that comparison isn't exactly right, it gives at least a vague guideline of what to expect. I always think of his novels as disturbed Disney movies, and especially 'Ocean Sea' fits that description. In a small seaside town, professor Bartlebloom is trying to find out where the sea ends. There is also a painter who only paints the ocean, using water of the ocean as paint. And then there is this girl suffering from a mysterious illness. All characters stay at the same inn, and all look at the sea for answers.
Roland Topor may not ring a bell, but the 70s movie 'The Tenant' by Roman Polanski is perhaps better known. It was based on a novel by Topor and tells the story of a Polish file clerk who rents a room in Paris and soon discovers that the previous tenant has tried to kill herself. Furthermore, his neighbors act really weird around him. Topor, a French artist, was perhaps even more known for his illustrations. His short stories are also very enjoyable, especially a morbid funny story about a school bus that crashes and kids who throw their limbs through the bus.
Penguins - who doesn't love them? Victor, the main character in 'Death and the Penguin,' does and when the zoo in his hometown decides to give away animals because they can no longer feed them, he takes home a depressed pet penguin. From this point the story turns into a twisted crime novel. Victor writes obituaries for living people, but soon finds out that all the people he writes about die. That's all I can tell, but there is a reason why Kurkov is the most successful Ukranian author at the moment. And it's not just the penguin.
Being a writer in a communist regime must feel like being a dwarf in a country of giants. Russian Daniil Kharms was even more unlucky, because his fondness of absurdism and the avant-garde, had to be hidden. Social realism was the only literary genre the Soviet regime allowed. Luckily Kharms discovered that he had more freedom if he turned to children's literature. Kharms hated children by the way. Still, more interesting are the small stories or 'scenes' he wrote in secret. Most of them have no real plot and are just absurd, but his use of language makes it very interesting to read. One of my favorite stories is called 'Falling Ladies,
Another Russian writer, although he is more known for his American novels. Lolita is quite an off-beat book because of its theme, but 'Invitation to a Beheading' is even more eccentric. The novel tells the story of Cincinnatus C., who is awaiting his execution in a big prison without any fellow prisoners. He is accused for some vaguely defined human trait he has. What follows is a novel that somewhere was described as "Franz Kafka meets the Marx Brothers." Cincinnatus gets visits from the prison ward all the time and when a fellow prisoner occupies the cell next to him, things get really weird (and funny). The story quite resembles 'The Trial' by Kafka (though Nabokov said he hadn't heard of the Czech writer back then).
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