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Jonathan Littell
Jonathan Littell

The 2009 Globe Books 100

Foreign fiction Add to ...

To read the Globe's review of the books listed here, click on the title.

THE KINDLY ONES By Jonathan Littell, translated by Charlotte Mandell, McClelland & Stewart, 935 pages, $34.99

The Kindly Ones is the harrowing, morally complex first-person fictional memoir of an SS captain named Maximilian Aue, who witnesses some of the worst Nazi atrocities of the war: The first 400 pages are devoted to the heartless massacre of thousands of Eastern European Jews. But by the time Aue reaches Stalingrad, reality and fantasy switch places. The destruction of Berlin and the end of the war are depicted as an unpleasant and deeply odd psycho-sexual nightmare. André Alexis

EVERY MAN DIES ALONE By Hans Fallada, translated by Michael Hofmann, Melville Press, 542 pages, $32

At 51, Hans Fallada was locked up in a Nazi insane asylum. After the war, a friend gave him the Gestapo file of a working-class couple who performed many acts of resistance in Berlin. In 24 days, Fallada produced Every Man Dies Alone, based on this file. In 1947, two weeks before the novel's publication, he died. This testament is Fallada's attempt to retrieve the few shreds of honour and courage the Nazis, no matter how viciously they tried, could not manage to destroy. Alan Furst

THE BELIEVERS By Zoë Heller, Knopf Canada, 355 pages, $32

Some of the best contemporary writing is about subtle culture clashes, producing novels populated by characters with feet in two different worlds. Zoë Heller's latest novel focuses on the idea of having faith in what you belong to - and vice versa. The Believers is funny, serious, well plotted and well written, sympathetic without being sentimental, thought-provoking and enjoyable; in short, that rare specimen every reader hopes for when opening a new book. J.C. Sutcliffe

THE ACT OF LOVE By Howard Jacobson, Penguin Canada, 308 pages, $24

Felix Quinn, jilted in early adolescence by a movie date, feels compelled as an adult to re-enact the searing pain in order to vanquish it. He seeks out women who will cheat on him, then tells himself that this is what he actually likes. To Jacobson, love is still patient, still kind, still bears all things. It's just so much else besides: complicated, funny, cruel, sick and always worth one's while. Much like this wickedly terrific book. Cynthia Macdonald

All the lists

THE CHILDREN'S BOOK By A.S. Byatt, Knopf Canada, 615 pages, $36.95

The Children's Book follows a group of Fabian families from the closing years of the 19th century to the end of the First World War. Olive Wellwood is a writer of fairy tales and the mother of seven. The children's lives seem idyllic, with the socialist consciences of their parents not precluding big houses and expensive schools. The Children's Book is an intelligent, erudite and charming companion. I should have expected no less. J.C. Sutcliffe

ALL THE LIVING By C.E. Morgan, Knopf Canada, 199 pages, $29.95

C.E. Morgan's sensitive and wise debut novel is a passionate and deeply thoughtful tale of love and loss, set against an unforgettable southern landscape. When Aloma Earle and Orren Fenton fall in love, they aren't thinking about the future, but then Orren inherits a drought-ridden tobacco farm, the differences between them, disregarded in the heady rush of their first love, become painfully obvious. This is a story about endurance and commitment, about marriage as a calling to adulthood. Fiona Foster

LOVE AND OBSTACLES By Aleksandar Hemon, Riverhead, 210 pages, $32.50

Hemon's virtues as a writer include his ability to straddle two distinct cultures, to twist stories in unexpected directions, to find startling uses for the English language. Born in Sarajevo in 1964, he arrived in the United States in 1992 as a tourist, only to find himself stranded when Bosnia descended into chaos. He worked a variety of jobs while teaching himself English, and this freshness of language helps him explore the mechanics of cultural dislocation. Stephen Amidon

SACRED HEARTS By Sarah Dunant, Virago, 465 pages, $32

Serafina must be hastily cloistered at the convent of Santa Caterina when the man she was intended to marry prefers her sister. Her rebellion against imprisonment turns convent life upside down. Dunant interweaves multiple suspenseful tales with skill and ease. Her sumptuous writing style and talent at making history relevant and characters vivid mean that Sacred Hearts is like the feisty heroine in a highbrow costume drama: gorgeously dressed, highly accomplished and impeccably mannered, but with plenty going on between the ears. J.C. Sutcliffe

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