Selected by faculty and staff who teach freshman seminars

The English Patient 
Michael Ondaatje
Knopf, 1992
"The English Patient is a haunting and powerful novel about four people who have taken refuge in an Italian villa in the last days of World War II-a nurse; her dying patient, a survivor of a plane crash, whose identity is unknown; a thief; and an Indian soldier in the British army, whose job is to disarm bombs. The novel offers a profound meditation on war, memory, and cultural difference, particularly interesting as we think about the 50th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe."
Carol Christ, The Vice Chancellor and Provost

God's Bits of Wood
Ousmane Sembene
Translated by Francis Price
Anchor Books, 1970
"Ousmane Sembene is a Senegalese writer and film maker born in 1923. God's Bits of Wood portrays a strike in Senegal during the French colonial period, exploring gender, religion, colonialism and resistance in the process. If I were stuck on a desert island with only five books, with would be one of them. It is the most wonderful novel I have ever read. If your French is fluent, read it in the original." 
Louise Fortmann, Environmental Science, Policy and Management

A Thousand Acres
Jane Smiley
Knopf, 1991
"In this Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Jane Smiley revises the King Lear story from the point of view of one of Lear's daughters. The kingdom in this version is a thousand-acre farm in Iowa. Smiley's prose in this book is as plain and simple as the midwestern landscape, but each word is infused with meaning in the same way as the groundwater swells each grain of corn in the field."
Alix Schwatz, Women's Studies

The Third Policeman
Flann O'Brien
MacGibbon & Kee, 1967
"Imagine a book that begins: "Not everybody knows how I killed old Phillip Mather, smashing his jaw in with my spade," and goes on to encounter people changing into bicycles, policemen in an antiquated station-house apparently capable of various impossible feats of dexterity and clairvoyance, and a quest by the protagonist to remember his own name, all narrated in a genially loony if ominously dry Irish tone, and heavily footnoted with references to the work of a savant named de Selby, whom you will be sure you know from somewhere but you can't quite put your finger on him. If you like this kind of stuff, check in with me when you get to Cal. There's more."
Kevin Padian, Integrative Biology

Declarations of Independence: Cross-examining American Ideology
Howard Zinn
Harper Collins, 1990
"This book, clearly written, encourages students to closely examine what has passed for political discourse in the nation's history. Some consequences of myopic and shallow reasoning about important questions are with us today."
Bil Banks, African American Studies

Going Out: The Rise and Fall of Public Amusements
David Nasaw
Basic Books, 1993
"This is the story of the faintly disreputable way that Americans, especially young people, have entertained themselves in the 20th century. Nasaw is the historian of the first movies to catch the attention of ordinary people, the first dances to scandalize the older generation, and the first cultural wars over whether cheap thrills were taking the country to hell."
Tom Leonard, Graduate School of Journalism

Imagining Argentina
Lawrence Thornton
Bantam Books, 1988
"This might be considered almost a magical realist novel in the style of Borges or Marquez, but it is much more. Set in the 1970's when a military junta ruled Argentina, it is the story of a playwright who discovers he has the power to see what has happened to the "disappeareds," those people who have been kidnapped by the government for their opposition to it. It's one of those rare novels that makes you think: about how and why we name things, about the role of imagination in our lives, about the strength of the human spirit, and about evil. It was Thorton's first novel; he didn't have to ever write another one to know that he did something wonderful.
Steve Tollefson, College Writing Programs

Quiet Odyssey: A Pioneer Korean Woman in American
Mary Paik Lee
edited by Sucheng Chan
University of Washington Press, 1990
"This is the autobiography of a Korean immigrant who had a remarkable life as part of the first wave of immigrants from Korea to the US shortly after the turn of the century. Through her life, you can understand some of the adjustment issues faced by immigrant women at that time--survival, work, raising a family--and the strategies they used to make a home for themselves. Through her life you can also understand the changes that have taken place over time in the Korean community, such as dealing with institutionalized racism, and at the same time building solid, stable communities in the context of American society. It's an insightful and textured book that gives you an intimate understanding of one women's life. It also has wonderful supplemental material by Professor Chan to explain, verify, and clarify the historical context of Mary Paik Lee's life."
Jere Takahashi, Asian American Studies

Palace Walk
Najib Mahfuz
Translated by William M. Hutchins and Olive E. Kenny
Doubleday, 1989
"Written by the first Arabic-language Nobel laureate, this is a novel that will resonate long after you have finished it. The Cairo Trilogy, of which this is the first volume, traces three generations of a Cairo family through the first five decades of the 20th century. The conflicts of the characters in the novel mirror Egypt's struggles in gaining political independence. The book is a wonderful portrayal of daily life in a middle class Egyptian family, rarely glimpsed by Western readers. Equally, it is a novel of place: Mahfuz's Cairo, it has been suggested, is as vivid as Dicken's London, Dostoevesky's St. Petersburg, or Zola's Paris."
Ellen Meltzer, Teaching Library

Maus: A Survivor's Tale
Maus II: A Survivor's Tale: and Here My Troubles Began
Art Spiegelman
Pantheon Books 1986, 1991
"This is the Holocaust, done as a comic strip, with Spiegelman, his girl friend and dad as active parts of the story of Hilter's genocide. Possibly the worst idea for a book in modern times. Put all your preconceptions aside. This is a deeply informed, moving document that breaks the rules of "good taste" to drive home a complicated truth that may be untellable in other ways. Maus deserved the special Pulitzer Prize created to honor it."
Tom Leonard, Graduate School of Journalism

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