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Books that Change the World 2017-2018  -Theme: Books as Bridges

In reading and reflecting last year on who our neighbors are, participants were glad to stretch beyond the boundaries of the familiar. This year, we will continue to build bridges to the world through the works of award-winning authors. Both the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Anisfield-Wolf Award recognize authors for their contributions to human understanding, often across fault lines of bitter conflict, and for their use of language to illuminate humanity’s search for what is deeper and truer than politics and fear.


September The House of the Spirits (1982) Isabel Allende

In this novel, Allende traces four generations of a family in the context of Chile’s political turmoil. As a cousin of former Chilean President Salvador Allende, the author says that her life “has been determined by two things that have been extremely important: love and violence. There is sorrow, pain and death, but there’s another parallel dimension, and that is love.”  Allende will receive the Anisfield-Wolf Lifetime Achievement Award in Cleveland on September 7, 2017.


October Snow (2002) Orhan Pamuk

A Turkish poet returns from exile in Germany to report on an epidemic of teenage suicides. Isolated in a snowed-in town, the poet encounters a cross-section of Turkey’s post-war conflicts: Communists, moderate and radical Muslims, secularists, Kurds, and police. Awarding Pamuk the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006, the committee said that “Snow is a book about the right to uncertainty and vacillation, about love as a lifelong defeat and about the longing for God.”


November  Unlikely Brothers (2012) Michael Mattocks and John Prendergast

John Prendergast became a Big Brother to 7-year-old Michael Mattocks, beginning a relationship which has lasted over thirty years. In a troubled family in Washington D.C., Michael relies on J.P.’s guidance but still turns to dealing drugs at age 11. As an activist, Prendergast struggles to resolve Darfur’s troubles, but keeps coming back to Michael, whose idea it was to write the book together. Prendergast will give NDC’s annual Abrahamic Lecture on November 16, 2017.


December On Beauty (2006) Zadie Smith

Set at an Ivy League university, On Beauty examines (and toys with) issues of race and gender, politics and religion, class and academe, and love and its representations, through the parallel stories of two Rembrandt experts, on American and one British, and their families. With this novel, Smith won the 2006 Anisfield-Wolf Award in Fiction.


January – Movie Night – Love in the Time of Cholera  (1985) Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Both Urbino and Florentino love Fermina, who marries one of them; for fifty years, the other tries to remain faithful to his love. When Fermina’s husband dies, his old rival reappears. Garcia Marquez won the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature “for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent’s life and conflicts”. This 2007 adaptation of the novel features Javier Bardem and Benjamin Bratt.


February Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China  (2003) Jung Chang

From the days of the last warlords, through the Japanese invasion and World War II, to the rise of Communism and Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Wild Swans is a memoir which follows the women in three generations of the author’s family, capturing the enormous changes that have occurred in the world’s most populous nation. Chang now lives in Britain; her book is banned in mainland China.


March Judas (2016) Amos Oz

Shmuel abandons his thesis in 1959 to work as live-in companion to an elderly man who shares his Jerusalem house with a woman whose Zionist father had opposed Jewish statehood. (Shmuel’s topic: Jewish and Christian views of Jesus and Judas.) The New York Times review says the novel “grapples with the humanity of Jesus; the basis of anti-Semitism in particular and prejudice in general; the hope for eventual peace in the state of Israel; love.”


April Waiting for the Barbarians (1980) J.M. Coetzee

An allegory set on the fringe of a great Empire, the novel centers on the idealistic and comfortable Magistrate who feels responsible for maintaining order. His world is disrupted when he meets a girl, “a barbarian,” one of the feared and despised he should dominate. Morally paralyzed, the Magistrate is unable to do what he should. “It is in exploring weakness and defeat that Coetzee captures the divine spark in man,” said the Nobel Committee in awarding him the Literature Prize in 2003.



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