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Recommended Reading for International English

Published: 20.09.2012, Updated: 04.03.2017
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Recommended summer reading

On this site we have listed novels (from after 1950) that students and teachers have enjoyed and found useful in this course in International English. The list is in no way complete, and we would like to update and extend the list based on your feedback.

 

The teaching plan in International English emphasises the following competency aims under the heading "Kultur, samfunn og litteratur": "Mål for opplæringen skal være at eleven skal kunne: analysere og drøfte minst ett lengre litterært verk og en film og drøfte et utvalg av litteratur og sakprosa fra tiden etter 1950 og fram til i dag." Students are often recommended to choose novels that highlight curricular issues. Above all, however, it is a good reading experience which is important. In order to combine the two requirements: "lengre litterært verk og en film", some choose to study how "their" novel is adapted to the big screen.

 Recommended Links

Shmoop Literature Guide offers a more extensive list of literature along Caught ReadingCaught Reading
Opphavsmann: Jayel Aheram
 with excellent learning guides with summaries, questions, description of characters, quotes, themes, quizzes, facts, essay questions, photos and more.
GCSE Bitesize Literature offers study guides to prose fiction, short stories and dramas. The site also provides audio clips and videos. Note that many of the literary texts are written before 1950.

A lot of students will be asked to write a novel report. If you are looking for other ways to work with novels, we recommend this site Working with Novels.
If you are asked to analyze novels, you will find useful links here, How to Analyze a Novel.

Stocket, Katheryn: The Help (2009), film adaptation (2011)

The Help focuses on the stories of three women dealing with the problems of segregation and race relations in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s. A young, white woman, Eugenia Phelan, and two black maids, Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson, speak out against inequality and institutionalized racism. With the threat of isolation and brutal violence hanging over their heads, they choose to cross lines and tear down the old barriers between blacks and whites, built up from the time of slavery and the establishment of the rigid Jim Crow Laws.

Read more about the novel, including an excerpt, on The Help. If you want to work with the complete novel, you will find a study guide here, A Study of The Help  

Levy, Andrea: Small Island (2004), BBC adaptation (2009)

Inspired by her Jamaican parents' stories from their first encounter with England in the years immediately after World War II and the Jamaican British diaspora's experience, Levy brings to life the young school teacher Hortense and the RAF sergeant Gilbert. Thus she gives a voice to the Afro-Caribbean immigrants in post-war UK. World War II transformed the lives of the English couple Queenie and Bernard and the Jamaican couple Hortense and Gilbert. This is a novel depicting lives that are mysteriously intertwined and with huge culture clashes, but in spite of everything, new options open up which bring hope for a brighter future.

Read more about the novel and work with tasks on Small Island   

Roberts, Gregory David: Shantaram (2003)

"It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured." This is how Shantaram opens, the almost autobiographical novel by Gregory David Roberts. The story is based on the writer's own experiences. After being convicted of a series of robberies committed to support his heroin habit, he was jailed in an Australian maximum security prison and sentenced to nineteen years. In 1980, he escaped over the prison’s front wall and became one of the most wanted men in Australia at the time. For the next ten years he eluded the authorities, living for most of that time in Bombay, where he established a free medical clinic for slum-dwellers, and worked as a counterfeiter, smuggler, gunrunner, and street soldier for the Bombay mafia. Read an excerpt and work with tasks here 

Forrest, Emma: Namedropper (2000)

In Namedropper, the narrator, 16-year old Viva Cohen, carries a striking resemblance to the author, Emma Forrest. Emma Forrest dropped out of school before her GCSE, and at 16, while her peers were conscientiously listening to their teachers, she kick-started her career as a journalist in the Evening Standard and the Sunday Times. Five years later she created her heroine, Viva Cohen, in her first novel, Namedropper. Viva attends a private school, but the school uniform is just a disguise, underneath she hides her vintage stockings and knickers. Her no. 1 preoccupation is her icons, Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. In real life she has just a handful of friends. Read an excerpt and work with tasks here 

Beah, Ishmael: A Long Way Gone (2007)

We follow 12-year-old Ishmael Beah who lives a fairly happy life in Sierra Leone until the civil war breaks out and he is forced to run for his life. By the age of thirteen he is forcefully recruited by the government army and trained as a child soldier to kill his enemies in the most brutal ways. The novel also depicts the period after he is sent to a UNICEF rehabilitation center.

Read more about the novel, including an excerpt, and watch an interview with Beah on A Long Way Gone.

Alexie, Sherman: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007)

What is it like to be an American Indian today? Arnold Spirit Jr. is a fourteen-year-old Indian growing up on the reservation. However, he is the reservation outcast – an outsider – and he is routinely bullied and beaten up. Arnold, like Sherman Alexie, makes a choice to leave the reservation and attend a white school. Considered a traitor, Arnold is caught between two worlds: his home on the reservation and the white high school he attends. You can listen to the first chapter and read the two first chapters from the book here

Boyle T.C.: The Tortilla Curtain (1995)

The Tortilla Curtain is set in Topanga Canyon, California during the 1990s. The novel is considered one of Boyle's most controversial books with its focus on illegal immigration, middle class values and how the two groups interpret the American Dream. It deals with two couples, Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher, a yuppie American family, and Cándido and América Rincon, Mexican illegals living in the bushes on the outskirts of the city. Boyle focuses on the hardships and brutality illegal immigrants experience at the hands of unscrupulous “patróns” or Mexican and American employers once they get over the border.

Read more about the novel, including an excerpt, and learn more about the writer on The Tortilla Curtain

Cleave, Chris : The Other Hand (Little Bee) (2008)

The Other Hand,  also known as Little Bee is a story about Little Bee, a Nigerian asylum-seeker, and Sarah, a British magazine editor, who meet during the oil conflict in the Niger Delta, and are re-united in England several years later. The novel examines the treatment of refugees by the asylum system, as well as issues of British colonialism, globalization, political violence and personal accountability.

Waterstones.com has made this promotional video of the novel featuring Chris Cleave The Other Hand. Read an excerpt here, The Other Hand

Zusak, Markus: The Book Thief (2005), film adaptation (2013)

Australian Markus Zusak 's writing career took off when The Book Thief was released in 2005. Yet another book about the Holocaust and the persecution of Jews, how could it become so immensely popular? One reason might be that the story line is mirrored in his German parents' war experiences and what they brought to him as a child. Another is the unusual twist to the novel; Death is personified and placed in the driving seat as the narrator. Read an excerpt and watch an interview with the writer here and work with tasks here 

Boyne, John: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2006), film adaptation (2008)

When John Boyne, the author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, in an interview posted on Bookbrowse  was asked what made him come up with the story about the eight-year-old Bruno and his way of perceiving the disasters of World War II, he referred to a story that he himself read as a child. The story was about four children that were forced to leave Poland because of the Nazi regime. It made him wonder how he would have coped if he had been exposed to the same terrors and agonies. His 2006 novel, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, is to a great extent a continuation of this reading experience. The novel was orginally meant as a children's book, but has been embraced by an adult audience all over the world. Read an excerpt, watch a film clip and work with tasks here 

McCourt, Frank: Angela's Ashes (1996), film adaptation (1999)

Frank McCourt opens his autobiograhpical novel, Angela's Ashes, with a startling statement: "Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood." In the novel he recounts his childhood memories from the streets of Limerick, Ireland in the 1930s and early 40s. Read and listen to a dramatized excerpt and work with tasks here  

Kincaid, Jamaica: A Small Place (1988)

The novel was written when the author returned to her birthplace, Antigua, for the first time after spending many years in the USA. She left the small Caribbean island as a seventeen-year-old. The novel contains her childhood experiences and her ideas about the British colonial past and present-day Antigua. Read an excerpt from one of her short stories and work with tasks Jamaica Kincaid - an American Caribbean Writer 

Foer, Jonathan Safron: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005), film adaptation (2011)

Oskar is an extraordinary child in many ways. He loves French and one of his dearest idols is the physicist Stephen Hawkings. To cope with his feeling of guilt for not picking up the phone when his dad called from the Twin Towers and the loss of his best friend, his dad, he starts a quest to find a lock matching his dad's key. Oskar believes that the lock belongs to someone by the surname "Black" who can reveal more about whom his dad was.
Check this link to read an excerpt and watch an interview with the author. September 11th - Through the Eyes of Oskar (9)

Humphreys, Margaret: Empty Cradles (1994), Oranges & Sunshine, film adaptation (2011)

In 1986, Margaret Humphreys, a Nottingham social worker, received a letter from a woman who claimed that, at the age of four, she had been put on a boat to Australia by the British government. At first, Margaret Humphreys found this hard to believe, but soon discovered that this woman's story was just the tip of an enormous iceberg. As many as 150,000 children had been deported from Britain and shipped off to a new life in Australia, Rhodesia, New Zealand and Canada. Margaret Humphreys reveals how she gradually unravelled this shocking secret.

You can read the opening pages of the book Empty Cradles (Oranges and Sunshine) - Excerpt and watch a trailer from the film here Oranges and Sunshine - Trailer.  

Hill, Lawrence: The Book of Negroes (Canada)/Someone Knows My Name (the USA, Australia, New Zealand) (2010)

The novel is inspired by a historical record of slaves, known as The Book of Negroes. Through his protagonist, Aminata Diallo, Hill recapitulates the abduction of people by British slavers from West Africa to labor on the plantations of the colonies in the Carribbean and America. In the mid-1700s eleven-year-old Aminata is kidnapped from her local village and brought to South Carolina as a slave. We follow Aminata on her way to freedom.This leads us from South Carolina to Nova Scotia, Canada and Sierra Leone and eventually ends up in London. Aminata's story has many parallells to the historical Olaudah Equianao, a freed slave that became one of the first black spokesmen for the abolition of slavery. Hill describes a memorable encounter between his fictional Aminata and the histroical Olaudah in London. Read Olaudah's own account and general information about the slave trade here  British Slave Trade  

On the author's home site you may gain general information about the novel, browse into the book and listen to an excerpt Lawrence Hill home site  Harper Collins has a very useful novel guide The Book of Negroes - Study Guide                        

Collins Suzanne: The Hunger Games (2008),  film adaptation (2012)

The film is based on a science fiction novel for young adults by Suzanne Collins. It is evident that Collins draws upon her experience from writing for television and familiarity with how media works. The Hunger Games take place in the fictional nation of Panem and is a televised event where young people have to participate. The game is a matter of life and death and it is not over before only one contestant is left. Apart from reflecting the harsh conditions of reality television shows, there are strong allusions to Greek mythology, the Iraq War and governments whose primary goal is to oppress their people. Good guides to the novel can be found on The Hunger Games on Cliffsnotes and The Hunger Games on Shmoop. The novel is often compared with Shirley Jackson's short story The Lottery  You may read the short story and compare with the film/novel.

Dierie Waris: Desert Flower (autobiography),  film adaptation (2009)

Desert Flower (2009) is a film based on the Somali top model and human rights activist Waris Dierie's autobiography. The film debates culture clashes and female circumcision as it portrays her life as a nomadic child in the desert of Somalia, her life as an illegal teenage immigrant on the streets of London and her way to the prestigous catwalks in Paris and New York. She has dedicated the last twelve years to fighting against female genital mutilation as a UN Ambassador and as a founder of the the Desert Flower Foundation. The organization's website offers substantial information about female circumcision. Watch a trailer here, The Desert Flower - Trailer .

Kidd, Sue Monk: The Secret Life of Bees (2002), film adaptation (2008)

The setting is South Carolina in the American South, and the year is 1964, when civil rights for African Americans were being put into effect. We are introduced to the 14-year-old, motherless Lily and the black maid Rosaleen, who acts as her surrogate mother. As part of the application of the Civil Rights Act, African Americans were called to register in order to vote, and Lily accompanies Rosaleen to town. There she gets first-hand experience of the injustice of racism. The story also entails Lily's need to find out about her mother's destiny and from there - define herself as an individual and a young woman. Study guides to the novel are found on such sites as sparknotes.com, enotes.com and cliffsnotes, and us.penguingroup.com has a good teacher's guide with some references to the film. A good way to work with the novel/film is exemplified here The Secret Life of Bees - Wikispaces where Grade 10 students in Melbourne have created a wiki about their work with the novel.

Swarup, Vikas: Q & A (2005),  Slumdog Millionaire, film adaptation (2008)

This is the debut novel of Vikas Swarup, an Indian diplomat and author. The main character is Ram Mohammad Thomas, who is being held in a jail cell in Mumbai, India, after correctly answering all twelve questions on India's biggest quiz show, Who Will Win a Billion? How could a poor orphan who has never read a newspaper or gone to school win such a contest? Ram explains to his lawyer through a series of amazing tales how different episodes in his life gave him the answer to each question.  

The publisher states: "Swarup's Q & A (Slumdog Millionaire) is a beguiling blend of high comedy, drama, and romance that reveals how we know what we know — not just about trivia, but about life itself. Cutting across humanity in all its squalor and glory, Vikas Swarup presents a kaleidoscopic vision of the struggle between good and evil — and what happens when one boy has no other choice in life but to survive." Vikas Swarup 

Watch the entire film here 

Hosseini, Khaled: The Kite Runner (2003), film adaptation (2007)

This is  the Afghan American author's debut novel about the troubled friendship between two Afghan boys, Amir and Hassan. There are major dividing lines between the two boys; as a Pashtun, Amir is the master and belongs to the ruling class while Hassan, with his Hazara ancestry, is the servant. The story is set against one of the world's most dramatic historical events ranging from the fall of the Afghan kingdom, through the Soviet invasion leading to a mass flight of refugees, to the rise of the Taliban. The Kite Runner   

Hosseini, Khaled: A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007)

The setting of Hosseini's second novel is once again Afghanistan, the Soviet invasion, the Taliban rule and the post-Taliban period. It depicts human destinies outlined by the country's tragic history in the past decades. Contrary to The Kite Runner, this novel's protagonists are two women, and it renders a memorable portrayal of the unlikely friendship that gradually develops between Mariam and Laila. This site provides a study guide A Thousand Splendid Suns - Study Guide

Shafak, Elif: The Bastard of Istanbul (2006)

One of the issues that official Turkish authorities traditionally have put a ban on is to discuss the Armenian Genocide (1915 - 1919). When the Turkish author Elif Shakfak chose to focus on the genocide in her novel, she was put on trial for offending "Turkishness". The fictional Armenian-American character, Armanoush (19), had a grandfather that was murdered in the genocide. To find out more about her Armenian family, she decides to go to Turkey, much to the dismay of her Armenian-American family and friends who consider it both risky and provocative to visit Turkey. Here she meets and befriends the Turkish girl Asya (19), who has no idea who her father is. The novel emphasises how it is possible to bridge cultural differences, historical events and deep personal wounds. Read an excerpt and work with assignments here The Bastard of Istanbul . 

Satrapi, Marjane: Persepolis (comic book from 2000), film adaptation (2007)

Persepolis (2007) is an animated  film based on Iranian born Marjane Satrapi's comic book from 2000. It depicts her memoirs from her birth in Tehran in 1969 through the early 1980s, when she experienced the first years of the fierce war between Iran and Iraq. To escape the war and the regime imposed by Khomeini, her parents sent her away in her early teens to what they hoped would be a brighter future in Austria.  After futile efforts to adapt as a refugee in her new location, she chose to return to Iran. Even if she was able to reunite with her beloved family, she had to endure a regime that allowed her few rights as an individual. Persepolis   

Krakauer, John: Into the Wild (biography from 1996), film adaptation (2007)

Into the Wild (2007) is a film drama based on John Krakauer's biographical book about the adventurer Christopher McCandless who abandoned everything and everyone and set off on a solitary trip to the Alaskan wilderness. By making this journey he highlighted essential existential questions: How does living in a civilized world restrict us? Is it possible to live without these restrictions? Why is the wilderness considered attractive? Do we need other people to give our lives meaning? And do we really need modern technology? Watch Into the Wild - Trailer. You will find educational material on this blog: Into the Wild - Educational Resources.

Douglas, Adams: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1978), film adaptation (2005)

Douglas Adams' comic science fiction novel consists of three parts. There have been numerous adaptations for film, radio and TV. In all the versions we follow the adventures of the unlucky Arthur Dent, but we also get familiar with other major characters: Ford Prefect, Ford's relative the Galactic President, the robot Marvin, an alien from another small planet, and a researcher for the guidebook and Trillian, a woman who together with Arthur, is the only human who survived the destruction of the Earth. The last part is The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. In Chapter 16, p. 82 you will find a scene where the dish of the day presents itself. Read an excerpt here 

Gilbert, Elizabeth: Eat, Pray and Love (2006), film adaptation (2010)

In Elizabeth Gilbert's novel Eat, Pray and Love, the protagonist sets off on a journey of self-realization. The journey brings her to Italy, India and Bali. The first part is dedicated to exploring the famous Italian cuisine. The novel was adapted to film in 2010 featuring Julia Roberts as the protagonist. Read an excerpt from chapter 26 where the protagonist discovers that food and eating out is an inextricable part of Italian culture here

Golden, Arthur: Memoirs of a Geisha (1997), film adaptation (2005)

The film is Steven Speilberg's adaptation of Arthur Golden's novel about a nine-year-old Japanese girl who, after her mother's death, is sold as a geisha in the early 1930s. The novel, as well as the film, follows Chiyo Sakamoto, who even if she is a fictional character, gives voice to an old tradition in Japanese culture and by this raises many issues about female destinies. Read an excerpt from the novel, Memoirs of a Geisha - Excerpt and find out how this is adapted in the movie.

Martel, Yann: Life of Pi (2001), film adaptation 2012

"Jesus, Mary, Muhammad and Vishnu, how good to see you, Richard Parker! Don't give up, please. Come to the lifeboat. Do you hear this whistle? TREEEEEE! TREEEEEE! TREEEEEE! You heard right. Swim, swim! You're a strong swimmer. .." How does the protagonist Pi end up with a Bengal tiger by the name of Richard Parker as his ship mate? The fantasy adventure novel, Life of Pi, highlights religious thinking and different beliefs and invites its readers to ponder existensial issues about life and identity. From his childhood years in India Pi started to reflect on religious issues and he soon ended up in an argument with his father about practising all the main religions at once. Read an excerpt here. You may also find resources about the film adaptation on Life of Pi Film Education

Updike, John: Terrorist (2006)

What makes an 18-year-old become a terrorist? In the novel Terrorist, the American author, John Updike, gives a portrait of a young boy on his way to become a suicide bomber and jihadist. Read an excerpt from the novel and work with related tasks here.

Olsson, Linda: Let Me Sing You Gentle Songs (2005)

Let Me Sing You Gentle Songs is Linda Olsson's debut novel. It is a story of an unusual and unexpected friendship between two women. Veronika is a writer in her early thirties. She travels from New Zealand to Sweden to finish the book she is writing. She rents a house in the countryside and gradually befriends Astrid, a reclusive older woman who has lived in the village all her life. We soon understand that Astrid and Veronika both have suffered great losses in their lives. Read an excerpt and work with tasks here.

Frazier, Charles: Cold Mountain (1997), film adaptation (2003)

Cold Mountain, a mountain located in North Carolina that rises 6,030 feet above sea level, has given its name to Charles Frazier's novel and the film adaption. Through the eyes of the Confederate soldier, J.P. Inman (Jude Law), we see how the horrors of the American Civil War affect three different characters. In the film's opening scenes we are thrown right into a battle in Petersburg, Virginia, in 1864, when Inman is seriously injured. Abhorrence of the cruelty of the war and a longing for his sweetheart, Ada (Nicole Kidman), makes him decide to desert and start a long and perilous journey back to Cold Mountain. Watch Cold Mountain - Trailer.  If you watch the entire movie, it is a good idea to compare how this novel excerpt is incorporated: Cold Mountain - Excerpt.

King, Stephen: The Green Mile (1996), film adaptation (1999)

In this thriller novel we meet, in retrospect, the former warden Paul Edgecomb who gives us his gripping account of an incident that happened among the inmates on Death Row in a Louisiana prison during the Great Depression. Even if his tale includes a demonstration of supernatural powers, it raises fundamental questions regarding innocently convicted prisoners and capital punishment, and it dissects the deep-rooted prejudice against the African Americans in the 1930s. Watch The Green Mile - Trailer.

Atwood, Margaret: The Handmaid's Tale (1985), film adaptation (1990)

This novel may best be classified as a science fiction novel. We meet a totalitarian society, the Republic of Gilead (formerly the United States of America), which was founded in response to social threats like increasing pollution and rising infertility rates. In Gilead, state and religion are one, and women are severely oppressed; having lost most of their rights, they are not allowed to work, vote, or even read or write. Even their fertility is regulated by the state. Read an excerpt from the novel here The Handmaid's Tale . The film version differs a lot from the novel. Students may ponder how and why the screen writer/director chose to make these alterations.

Lee, Harper: To Kill A Mocking Bird (1960), film adaptation (1962)

This novel is one of the most read novels in the USA.This Gothic story from 1960 is based on the author's childhood experiences in the Deep South and a particular criminal act that occurred in a neighbouring city in 1936. This incident ignited the latent racism and hatred in the local community. To work with the film/novel, you may use this link To Kill a Mocking Bird - Resources.

Walker, Alice: The Color Purple (1982), film adapatation (1985)

In The Color Purple, Celie, a poor, uneducated black woman from rural Georgia in the 1930s, tells her story through the letters she writes to God. We learn about Celie and the other women in her life, and the lives, postion in society and treatment of black women. The novel aroused strong feelings and much controversy when it was published and has had a resounding influence on discourse around racial and cultural issues in the USA. You can read an excerpt from the novel at The Color Purple - Excerpt, and find more information about it at The Color Purple - Spark Notes.

Tan, Amy: Two Kinds (1989), film adaption (1993) 

A common theme in Amy Tan's writing is cross-cultural conflict. Two Kinds is actually one of the stories in the book The Joy Luck Club which is a collection of interrelated stories dealing with the complex relationships between mothers and daughters, especially amongst Chinese Americans. The narrator is Jingmei the American-born daughter of a Chinese immigrant mother who sees her daughter's accomplishments as proof of her own successful adaptation to her new country, believing that anything is possible in the USA. As it turns out, however, the daughter has a will of her own and wants to go her own ways. Two Kinds 

Lingard, Joan: Across the Barricades (1972) and Into Exile (1973)

Across the Barricades is the second book in the series about two teenagers, Sadie and Kevin, and is set in Belfast in Northern Ireland during the period called the Troubles. It focuses on the problems experienced by the two teenagers, one a Catholic and the other a Protestant, in an area divided along religious lines. Into Exile is the third book about the young couple. Read and listen to a radio play based on the novel and work with tasks here 

Smith, Rukshana: Sumitra's Story (1982)

This novel involves the cultural clashes experienced by a East Indian family and especially the eldest daughter, Sumitra, when they are ordered out of Uganda by the regime of the dictator Idi Amin and have to resettle in London. Sumitra finds herself caught between the western values she experiences at school and work and her family's traditional values.

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