Like many coming to terms with Brexit – Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – I struggled with the negative emotions emerging from the fracturing of our local and international communities. So as a book lover, I turned to fiction to help me process these events. This is short reading list of some of my favourite European authors. It also forms a literary self-help programme to get you out of despair and back fighting for tolerance and diversity.
Stage 1. Despair; or, it could be worse…
The Passport by Herta Müller
For those inclined to indulge their despair, you can start with Herta Müller’s The Passport. Müller won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2009 for her ability to depict “the landscape of the dispossessed,” so you might be able to guess why The Passport makes a good choice. This novella details the attempts of a miller desperately trying to get a passport to emigrate to Germany. Müller’s stark prose is offset by arresting, unsettling imagery that perfectly conveys the bleak existence of those suffering under Ceaușescu’s rule. Reading The Passport is a cathartic experience. Also, what better way to acknowledge the benefits of the movement of people and ideas than by reading something by a Romanian-born German author translated into English!
Stage 2. Ignorance; or, la la la…
The Discworld Series by Terry Pratchet
Sometimes you need to bury your head in the sand and try to forget what is happening around you. Can I suggest now would be a good time to start on Terry Pratchet’s Discworld series? Or re-read them if you’re already a fan, especially given Terry’s sad passing last year. There are over forty Discworld books depicting a fantasy world populated by a beautifully bizarre mix of comic creations – including The Librarian, my favorite fictional orangutan. I love Terry Pratchet and he provides perfect literary escapism, all the while nudging the reader towards tolerance, inclusivity and diversity.
Stage 3. Acceptance; or, remember we are all the same…
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
It may seem odd to choose a book about the First World War in a list celebrating Europe. However, Remarque’s novel is an important reminder of our shared humanity. It doesn’t matter that his “unknown soldier” is German. The experiences, small joys, and grand suffering he undergoes could be those of any young man thrown into a war they have no control over. That they are human transcends the “sides” imposed upon them. This book is a reminder of those who really suffer when forces beyond us conspire to break the connections between us.
Stage 4. Celebrate, or, we are all different…and that’s great!
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
Ignore the controversy. Embrace the controversy. Just read The Satanic Verses and admire as Salman Rushdie performs his linguistic fireworks. At its heart this book is an exploration of migration, which Rushdie portrays through the fantastical transformation of his central characters. Two survivors of a mid-air plane explosion plummet to the ground and begin to take on Angelic and Demonic attributes. The book is critical of small-mindedness and unanswerable authority. It instead revels in the polyphony of storytelling and diversity of perspective. Immerse yourself in this amazing piece of post-colonial fiction that celebrates the importance of interaction between people and cultures.
As the uncertainty continues here in the UK, these are the books I read to help me put things in perspective. They remind me of what’s important. Things could be worse – and for many people they are – but we should celebrate tolerance and diversity, and make sure we fight to retain these values.