Required Reading Outside the "Western World"

We're all pretty familiar with long lists of  canonical books in the "Western Tradition"  (I use the quotations advisedly because by most calculations both Africa and South America would be considered in the "Western" hemisphere.)  But what aobut great works from non-Western traditions?  What about works from Asia, South America, and Africa.

Well, I'm certain those lists exist too.  But I'm too lazy to go and look for them right now, so I'll post my very idiosyncratic beginning and invite those more knowledgeable in the fields to add to the lists.

East Asia:


The Tale of Heike
Murasaki--The Tale of Genji
The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon
The Narrow Road to the Deep North
Haiku and poetry by: Senryu, Issa, Haiga, Buson
(Note the big chronological gap here)
Soseki--I Am a Cat
Tanazaki--Some Prefer Nettles
Tanazaki--The Makioki Sisters
Tanazaki--Seven Japanese Tales
Kawabata--The Sound of the Mountain
Kawabata--The Master of Go
Kawabata--Snow Country
Mishima--The Temple of the Golden Pavilion
Mishima--The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea
Oe--A Personal Matter
Oe--Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids
A collection of stories--The Crazy Iris
Hachiya--Hiroshima Diary
Endo--The Samurai
Endo--The Sea and Poison
Endo--The Life of Jesus


Xueqin Cao--The Story of the Stone/Dream of the Red Chamber
Poetry--Tu Fu, Li Po, Wang Anshi, Su T'ung Po, Ou Yang Hsui

South Asia
The Ramayana
The Mahabarata
Poetry of Rabidranath Tagore
It's hard to name the expatriate modern novelists and short story writers--Rohinton Mistry, Jhumpa Lahiri, Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni


And here I will admit to woeful ignorance knowing only a few and very few works--

Chinua Achebe--Things Fall Apart
Wole Soyinka--I know only as a name and cannot recommend of my own knowledge
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie--The Thing Around Your Neck
Amos Tuotela--The Palm-Wine Drinkard

I hesitate to add, but would feel remiss in leaving out

Alan Paton--Cry The Beloved Country, Too Late the Phalarope
Isak Dinesin--Out of Africa
V.S. Naipaul (?)--A Bend in the River
Naguib Mahfouz--Miramar, The Cairo Trilogy

And I won't even start on South America, Indonesia, and the Caribbean today because there's possibly more than anyone could endure.  So, let the list stand here for a start and I know I'm avidly looking forward to any additional suggestion to the list.  Of course I left off Haruki Murakami, and several other more recent Japanese artists, but I'd be interested in anyone's takes on "key works."


  1. What do you think of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie?

  2. Dear Emily,

    I loved it. Haven't been able to get into the follow-up yet, though it's gotten good reviews. Like _Balzac_ better than similar-themed novels like Ha Jin's _Waiting_--a book in which I felt I was waiting for the entire period of reading for something to happen.




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