10 Great Contemporary Works that Offer a Minority Perspective

By Elizabeth DiEmanuele

One of the greatest abilities we exercise when reading is empathy. When we read great literature, we experience the thoughts and insights of someone other than ourselves. In our growing world where people are becoming more globally aware and connected, empathy is becoming all the more important. Whether it be our gender, culture, race, religion, or even just our upbringing, learning to understand others can take work. For this reason, I have compiled together a short list of novels from varying cultures and societies to inspire and prompt a personal understanding of others.

  1. Dictee, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1982)

Challenging every reader’s perception of the self and culture, Dictee is an autobiography that tells the story of many women. Some of these women include the Korean revolutionary Yu Guan Soon, Persephone, the author’s mother and the author herself. Through using many modes of creation, including different languages, bi-directional text, and images, Cha creates a complex work that that escapes the confines of self-identity. In exchange, the novel becomes a powerful collage of culture and memory.

  1. Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987)

“124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom.”

This chilling novel is dedicated to the 60 million Africans and their descendants who died in the slave trade. Inspired by the true story of Margaret Garner, Morrison’s protagonist, kills her daughter, Beloved, and attempts to kill her other children when a group of men try to send her and her family back to the Kentucky plantation. Now, in her new home she shares with her daughter, Denver, the spirit of Beloved haunts them. It is a story that deals with memory, choices, and the uncontainable past for those affected by slavery.

  1. 1949, David French (1989)

David French takes on a unique perspective through his Mercer family saga. Focusing on a group of individuals from Newfoundland, this series explores many of the cultural difficulties that Newfoundlanders experienced during the years approaching Confederation. French’s play, 1949, takes place on the day of Confederation and focuses on multiple Newfoundlander generations in conflict. With many comedic moments, this inspiring and thoughtful play offers an important Canadian perspective that is often forgotten.

  1. Fronteras Americanas, Guillermo Verdecchia (1993)

In Fronteras Americanas, Verdecchia plays two different personalities. The first is himself. In this role he tells stories of his life and the struggles of being an Argentine-Canadian, that is, someone who is caught between two identities and homelands. The other is a Latin-American stereotype named Wideload, who is more comedic and perhaps even cartoonish. As the play continues, the audience becomes exposed to societal constructs surrounding Latin-Americans, as well as the difficulty of being an individual who identifies with two completely separate cultures.

  1. Green Grass, Running Water, Thomas King (1993)

There are no truths. Only stories.”

This novel is set in the First Nations Blackfoot community in Alberta, Canada. All of the characters are looking for a way to make sense of Native American tradition and the modern world. Using a blend of oral and written tradition, Green Grass, Running Water juxtaposes Western societal norms with First Nations beliefs and ways of living. It is a satire that blends together these two cultures.

  1. Scarlet Feather, Maeve Binchy (2000)

Maeve Binchy creates another story that is rich with the culture of contemporary Ireland. Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather begin their catering business together and through their connections, their lives become complicated. From taking care of two children to planning a wedding for Cathy’s sister, Tom and Cathy’s lives are full of chaos and connections. Scarlet Feather offers a bittersweet picture of Ireland now, much different from the classically dim political circumstances of Joyce’s Dubliners.

  1. Three Day Road, Joseph Boyden (2001)

Canadian historical fiction rarely offers a narrative that considers the crucial role played by the First Nations people. Recognizing this discrepancy, Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road is a First World War account that is told through two Cree narratives: Xavier’s experiences in battle and Niska’s experiences at Moose Factory. As these two characters journey home, their memories of the war and the home front become stories of pain and healing that offer a unique perspective regarding Canada’s complicated history. In turn, their narratives also become ways of giving voice to Indigenous war heroes who were left unrecognized, unaccounted for, and forgotten.

  1. Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides (2002)

As a Bildungsroman and family saga, Middlesex follows the impact of a mutated gene back three generations. At the same time, Middlesex tells the story of a hermaphrodite who changes her identity as Calliope to a “he”—Cal. These two chronicled tales become connected through history and genetics. Addressing themes such as rebirth, gender identity, and the American Dream, this novel works through many of the obstacles and struggles for those who are part of intersex communities.

  1. The Book of Negroes, Lawrence Hill (2007)

Many times during that long journey, I was terrified beyond description, yet somehow my mind remained intact. Men and women the age of my parents lost their minds on that journey.”

Lawrence Hill’s novel tells the story of Aminata Diallo. As a free woman, she tells the story of how she and her people were captured and sold into slavery. Juxtaposing her personal life is the document, The Book of Negroes. This document was kept by the British navy and contained a list African people who were given the right to flee to Canada. In bringing together the moving personal story of Aminata with the rigid history that is The Book of Negroes, Hill makes known Canada’s shocking role in the slave trade.

  1. The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga (2008)

Adiga’s darkly humorous novel, The White Tiger, is narrated by Balram Halwai, a village boy. Halwai writes a letter explaining how he went from a poor boy to a successful entrepreneur. Following his journey as a chauffeur in Delhi to Bangalore, where he kills his master, Adiga’s work examines Indian culture, such as religion, caste, corruption, and poverty through his protagonist’s first-hand accounts of his experiences.

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Please let us know what other novels offer this special perspective on the world. We appreciate your feedback :).

20 Great Russian Novels You Should Read Right Now

Russia’s output of great literature over two centuries is nothing short of miraculous. Having endured tyranny under their czarist regime, as well as great suffering during two world wars and under Josef Stalin, it seems unlikely that they would have time for sure monumental, soul-searching novels. But don’t be fooled; the Russian literary tradition rivals most if not all countries, and its consistent ambition to define (and even redefine) social conditions has kept even it’s oldest works relevant in the public sphere. Here are twenty of the greatest novels in Mother Russia’s storied history.
Previously to Lermontov’s groundbreaking novel, Russian literature had been populated by short prose works and dominated by the poetry of Evgeni Pushkin. But once Lermontov introduced his character Pechorin, he would go on to set a benchmark for the complexity of characters in Russian fiction. A flawed, non-Romantic figure who must live up to ideals he can’t uphold, Lermontov proclaimed the end of the Romantic era and ushered the great era of realist fiction.
Gogol’s novel about a man who tries to trick landowners into buying their dead serfs (“dead souls”), who are technically still alive until the next Russian census, is a satirical picaresque similar in style to Cervantes but which stands alone for its odd and grotesque caricatures of Russian provincial life. Although Gogol was a self-professed conservative, the younger generations used it to argue against the ills of 19th century Russian society.
Goncharov tied together the social and personal issues of the day with this novel about a member of the gentry grown who is caught between the “idyllic” life of pre-emancipation serfdom and the “new”, more liberated Russia. Combining the romance of Pushkin and the rising school of realism, Oblomov is one of the best records of Russia’s great societal transition.
Fathers and Sons did what many other Russian novels did: pit the younger generation against the old. When Bazarov, a strict nihilist, challenges the well-established mores of Provincial life, he lures the naive towards his radical ideas. But when his beliefs get challenged by the unexpected appearance of passionate love and spirituality, he suffers a crisis that will force him to rethink his entire worldview.
Written while the author was in prison for subversive activities, What is to be Done? became a favorite among the rising left for the next half-century. The novel tells the story of Vera Pavlovna, a woman who looks to be free and emancipate herself from the conservative oppression of the czarist regime. Lenin professed that it was his favorite novel, and he saw its positive-minded protagonists as models for the revolutionaries that would eventually take over the country several decades down the road.
The first of Dostoevsky’s major novels, this presumably simple tale about a murder and its aftermath has remained one of the great preservers of 19th century urban life in Russia, describing everything from poverty, religion, family and of course, evil. When Raskolnikov, a former student enamored by Napoleonic ideals of superiority, decides to commit a murder against a old pawnbroker, it provokes one of the greatest personal transformations ever portrayed in literature.
The Great White Whale of Russian literature, War and Peace is a 1,300 page work that includes hundreds of subplots and characters all intertwining during the failed Napoleonic invasions of 1812. It has been criticized for its narrative looseness, but the transition from innocence to experience of its 5 main characters beautifully details the personal and historical happenings of early 19th century Russia.
Before Oprah Winfrey praised Tolstoy’s great work about adultery and family life in Russia’s aristocratic circles, Karenina was already one of the most important novels in the European canon. Written on a much smaller and personal scope than War and PeaceKarenina has been touted as Russia’s great realist novel, and along with Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and George Eliot’s Middlemarch, it has become an exemplary text of the genre.
It is difficult to exclude many of Dostoevsky’s works, but Karamazov has not only retained its status as one of the seminal works in Russian Literature, but it has also gone on to become one of the most celebrated novels of all time. Part murder-mystery, part exploration of faith, the novel describes the murder of a father at the hand of one of four brothers, and like many other works by this great, troubled visionary, questions in great detail the existence and purpose of God.
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One of the first major works of socialist literature, Gorky’s Mother exposed the absurdities of the czarist regime in Russian Provincial life in the late 19th century. Based on the life of his grandmother, this deeply intimate portrayal of a typical Russian life gradually undergoing an ideological metamorphosis would, in a little over a decade, help influence the Bolshevik revolution and change Russia forever.