The best foreign language book you have ever read?

What is the finest book that you guys have read in a target language?

In my case, I think this would have to be “Verbrechen” by Ferdinand von Schirach. In fact, I’m very much inclined to think that this book is the best collection of short stories that I have ever read in ANY language at all - including the works of Moravia and Conan-Doyle!!

So if anyone is learning German at level B2+ or C1, and is looking for some highly entertaining and excellently written short stories, then he/she should know about this. (I believe it has been translated into some other languages too?)

What foreign language books can you guys recommend?

In English, I have particularly enjoyed “1984”, from G. ORWELL.
I read it 2 times in English already, for pleasure.
Now, I’m reading it again to acquire all the vocabulary it contains !
A long process, but I love this story, so it is not a problem…

In Thai, I am currently reading my first real book : ปีกของมดน้อย “ฉีฉี” (the wings of the small ant Chichi).
A 95-page long story for children (10-12 years old), and I have fun following the adventures of this small ant ! :slight_smile:

For me, in French, Agaguk. However I do not read books, per se, very much in any language. I read a lot, but mostly journalism or academic articles.

It is interesting to me what people like to read in foreign languages. I have theory that “bad” books are easier to read in foreign languages. By bad, I mean pot-boiler fiction (Harlequin Romances for example). Agaguk is certainly no masterpiece. 1984 is a great piece of social commentary, but not a great work of art.

@dooo: “…I have theory that “bad” books are easier to read in foreign languages. By bad, I mean pot-boiler fiction (Harlequin Romances for example).”

I think there is much to be said for this theory. Actually, some of the very first FL “books” that I read were trashy graphic novels aimed at teenagers and young adults. They were great fun, mostly conversational in terms of vocabulary, and there were pictures there to help me out - win, win, win! :slight_smile:

@dooo: “…1984 is a great piece of social commentary, but not a great work of art.”

Umm… I guess some folks might beg to differ about that. But hey… (Personally I’ve only read it once as a 16 year old - and that was only because I had to do so for school literature classes! :-0)

The great thing about Von Schirach’s writing (not just in “Verbrechen”, but also in “Der Fall Collini”) is that he has a very concise and straightforward style; his books are extremely well written (in my opinion at least) but they are also in every sense great fun to read: he doesn’t lapse every now and again into long-winded puffery (the bane of authors like John Le Carre, for example) and the actual stories are extremely entertaining - yet with flashes of real humour and wisdom. Anyone who has lived in Germany will clearly recognise the “vibe” of their modern society in his writing, I think.

(Boy, I’m beginning to sound like his agent! :-0)

I agree that ‘bad’ books are better in a foreign language.
In fact, I’d even go as far to say that they’re a lot more enjoyable than what would be classed as high end literature. There’s a smaller vocabulary, and the situations are easier to understand. The extra challenge of it being in a different language makes turning the page that much more interesting.

The discussion over what defines ‘bad’ in literature is a long one, and the world would be a much better place if people would phrase their ‘opinions’ as opinions instead of statements. I personally love “1984”, and have read it a few times. I’m a huge Science Fiction fan, so obviously I get annoyed by literary snobbery, since genre literature is frequently shunned as “not art”.

I have read extensively in English and Portuguese, so it’s hard to pin down a favorite, so I’ll just mention a couple titles that I love, and think others should read. For Portuguese, I’d say “Dom Casmurro”, “Grande sertão: veredas”, “O exército de um homem só” and “O evangelho segundo Jesus Cristo”. For English I’d go with “Hamlet”, “The Sound and the Fury”, “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” and “Mrs. Dalloway”.

I have just begun to read in French, but I loved “L’Étranger” and “Du Coté de Chez Swann”.

For German, all I could read so far was Hermann Hesse, whose works I thoroughly enjoy. My Russian has to improve a lot before I can start reading anything.

I so agree with roan!

Although I do read high-end books in all my languages, I get great pleasure from reading below my normal literature. It is a bit like in a dentist’s surgery, I wouldn’t be seen dead with one of those magazines at home, but there…

I even find Dan Brown bearable in French or Spanish, wouldn’t touch him in English or German.

In Italian: Plato - The Republic - excellent as it is all written in dialogues…
David Henry Thoreau - Walden - Fantastic for vocabulary as he deals with every area of life in each chapter.

I agree with SanneT and roan. Although I’m not really an avid reader, I’ve noticed that I’m more likely to read certain books in my target languages than I am in English. The same applies to TV shows. Lately I’ve been enjoying French and Spanish dubbed versions of certain American shows that I probably would have never watched otherwise.

Vonk, if you like “Dom Casmurro”, try “Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas” and “Quincas Borba”. For a more modern author in Portuguese, I always suggest Moacyr Scliar.

I like the books by Connelly and Grisham, all those I’ve read, they’re easy to read and entertaining. As long as you like crime novels of course. I also loved reading a book by Elizabeth George, but I don’t remember the title.

I’m reading Dom Casmurro too, it’s my first book in Portuguese. I like how the story is told.
By the way, would someone happen to know where I can find “modern” books in Portuguese (especially crime novels)? Not necessarily by Brazilian/Portuguese authors. I found nothing on By modern I mean written in the 20th/21st century.

I’ve read so many books in French that I wouldn’t be able to choose a favourite. If I had to take a few ones with me I’d pick “La Peste” by Camus, “La Chartreuse de Parme” by Stendhal and maybe “Candide” by Voltaire. Candide is special… people love it or hate it. It’s not a real novel though, rather a philosophic one. I know there are others that I appreciated but I’m a bit tired now…

It’s a hard question, but just to mention some of them, let’s say: In English: “The caste war of Yucatan” by Nelson Reed. In French: The translation of “Pedro Páramo” by Juan Rulfo. In Portuguese: “A primeira volta ao redor do mundo” by Antonio Pigafetta. In Spanish “Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España” by El Capitán Bernal Díaz del Castillo. In Italian I haven’t read that much but now I’m reading “Se la foresta brasiliana parlasse” by Hélcio Felippe, son of italian immigrants in brazil, and I find it very interesting.


Enjoy! :slight_smile:

@Imyirtseshem: “…Nothing worse than snobs, especially 'art” snobs…"

Perhaps so. However we should also not fall into the lumpen mentality of assuming that all people who prefer (or strive for) high quality are “snobs”.

IMO a person can only rightly be considered a “snob” if he/she actively looks down on the tastes of other people - which is something rather different.

In Italian I read the fantasy trilogy of “Cronache del Mondo Emerso” by Licia Troisi. Its a story about a girl who grows up to be a warrior. Oddly enough, even though being a best seller in Italy, these books were never translated into English. I enjoyed them, but not being a regular reader of fantasy novels I don’t know how they stack up to other series.

In Spanish I mainly read “self help” and “how to” books, which are mostly translations from books originally in English. I just finished “Padre Rico, Padre Pobre” and am now in the first few chapters of “Como Ganar Amigos e Influir Sobre Las Personas”

Jorgis said: “By the way, would someone happen to know where I can find “modern” books in Portuguese (especially crime novels)? Not necessarily by Brazilian/Portuguese authors. I found nothing on By modern I mean written in the 20th/21st century.”

If you like second hand books, you can order a variety of titles from or new ones from or from

edit.: for audio books, you can go to or

Well, what is my best book? Maybe, my first book …
When I was a student in Paris many years ago, I ever read "sa vie et le saxophone " by Eugène Rousseau. It was my first book in French that inspired, encouraged me a lot. One sentence which is unforgettable, " Ne cherchez pas de choses difficiles. " I will read it again.
Then I read a lot of music theory books while preparing examinations which was called “l’examen de Solfege”. At that time, I sometimes read Télélama or France Soir, etc, but not something like literatures. Some years later, in Japan, I read some books just for my pleasure, for example, novels by Agota Kristof, Saint-Exupéry, etc.

dillemme, what about Japanese literature? I know nothing about it (except for Mishima and Murakami), and would love to learn more about the wealth of Asian texts that is to a large extent hidden from us in the West (meaning most literary canons don’t include much if any literature originally written in Japanese or Chinese etc). What are some authors and books you’d recommend?

Well, I am not really a Japanese literature fan, but in childhood I’ve ever read many novels by Soseki Natsume, Kenji Miyazawa, the others whose names I forgot. And I read a lot of comics, too.
In the near future, I will try to read Chinese novels, too. For example, books written by Lv xun, Kongzi, etc.

Yep :wink:
I’ll see if I can find “Chiquinho”.

Thanks! That’s exactly what I was looking for.

I also found this website: <<<eBooksBrasil - eBiblioteca Pública *nada governamental* - Os livros são grátis só para seu uso pessoal - Uso comercial, PROIBIDO (consulte) - Todo material tem copyright>>> Boa Leitura!
I haven’t downloaded any book yet but there are even “works” by Gaddafi (write it however you want), Castro or Mussolini. They sure know what crime is. :slight_smile:

French: Souvenirs d’enfance (La gloire de mon père, et seq.), by Marcel Pagnol, or Malevil, by Robert Merle. Other favorites: crime novels by Georges Simenon; L’autoroute sauvage, by “Gilles Thomas” (Julia Verlanger), which is post-apocalyptic SF from a pulp publisher; Un sac de billes, by Joseph Joffo, a WWII autobiographical novel.

In Russian: (don’t laugh) Плутония [Plutonia], by V. A. Obruchev, which is a pulp, “hollow-earth” SF novel from the 1920s. I would only recommend it to someone who enjoys reading pulp fiction about dinosaurs, but I’ve read it several times and surely will read it several times more.

Reading “genre fiction” is a great way to gain experience w/ a language. I agree 100%. But that’s what I read almost exclusively, anyway–SF, thrillers, and detective fiction–so that of course seems like a good idea to me.

Two fine books books in English that one might not think of are The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski (recent) and The Big Sky, by A. B. Guthrie, Jr. (from 50+ years ago). Both are long and engrossing novels about American life.

[corrected spelling error]