14 Diamonds in the Rough

Marie NDiaye, Franco-Senegalese Writer and Playwright

In this year of the quarantine, I have found particular solace in reading writers that most people have never heard of before—and some that were new to me as well. The list is alphabetical by author, followed by the name of the book(s) I read in 2020:

  • Algren, Nelson (1909-1981). The Man with the Golden Arm. This novelist had a years-long relationship with Simone de Beauvoir, who is also on this list.
  • Bakewell, Sarah. At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails. A wonderful nonfiction book primarily about the French and German Existentialist philosophers from Husserl to Sartre.
  • Beauvoir, Simone de (1908-1986). The Mandarins. A powerful novel about the French postwar existentialists.
  • Collins, Wilkie (1824-1889). No Name and A Rogue’s Life. Not as well known as Dickens, but I think a better writer. His best novel is The Woman in White.
  • Dourado, Autran (1926-2012). Pattern for a Tapestry. This Brazilian writer from Minas Gerais is a real find.
  • Hrabal, Bohumil (1914-1997). I Served the King of England. I wonder why this great Czech novelist never won the Nobel Prize. Consistently great.
  • Marra, Anthony. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. The youngest writer (only 36) on the list, but shows promise of great things to come.
  • Modiano, Patrick. Dora Bruder. Winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature. He is one of my favorite living novelists.
  • NDiaye, Marie. The Cheffe and My Heart Hemmed In. Winner of the Prix Goncourt in France. Clearly deserves the Nobel as well.
  • Neruda, Jan (1834-1891). Prague Tales. The Czech writer whose last name Pablo Neruda hijacked for himself.
  • Portis, Charles (1933-2020). Gringos. I really admire this Arkansas novelist’s work. Best known for True Grit, which is also worth reading.
  • Stasiuk, Andrzej. Fado. Hurry up and translate more of this great Polish writer’s work!
  • Westover, Tara. Educated. A nonfiction autobiographical book about growing up in an Idaho survivalist household.
  • Wright, Austin Tappan (1883-1931). Islandia. A novel in a genre by itself: A realistic fantasy novel set in a nonexistent Southern Hemisphere country.

As you can see, this list skips around the world and across two centuries.