Cairo Guide: Eight Essential Reads for the Jaded
So, you’ve finished the classics, spent months deciding on whether Camus or Tolstoy is the one with the deeper understanding of human nature, swallowed enough baroque descriptions and outdated colloquialisms from James Joyce and George Eliot to put you off the Isles altogether, and generally just want a book that provides that same powerful dialogue and engrossing storyline without the frill and banality of most modern publications? We’ve got eight.
Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski
A semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age novel about Henry Chinaski as he deals with the effects of growing up during the Great Depression with a physically abusive father, a victimised mother, misplaced rage, disfiguring acne and ambition greater than position. Written with vulgar slang and an acidic tongue, Bukowski’s novel delivers a bracing alternative take on the typical, emotionally-driven protagonist and presents an honest and raw account of childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
Junky by William S. Burroughs
Junky is the by-product of Allen Ginsberg’s persistence and Jack Kerouac’s success. If not for those two elements, Burroughs would have never compiled this semi-autobiographical novel depicting the life of his alter-ego’s (William Lee) involvement in the New York drug scene and his relationships with likeminded deviants. This book epitomises Burroughs’ signature style of laconic dialogue and abrupt jumps into different timelines and settings, making it a perfect introductory platform to delve into his other, more chaotic works.
After Dark by Haruki Murakami
This metaphysical novella ignores the limitations of spatial boundaries to bring into focus one particular night in the life of two Japanese sisters, as each walks through a different plane of existence while struggling to discover the common link between them before one is lost forever. An unrivalled master of the abstract, Murakami’s ability to validate dreams as logic and merge it seamlessly into a technological reality makes this book a colourfully phantasmal experience.
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
An epic autobiographical novel about the life and experiences of a wanted Australian convict who escapes to India in a desperate attempt to start anew as a free man – think the orphaned lovechild of Dostoevsky and Rudyard Kipling. Roberts is unmatched in his ability to dissect the natures of the places, streets and people he meets using only minute, outward descriptions that most authors fail to notice.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie
A hilariously sardonic diary-styled novel about a boy growing up in an Indian Reservation and his desire to distance himself from a future of alcoholism and lassitude that plagues most Native American communities. Alexie finds humour in tragedy and highlights this beautifully by utilising the services of cartoonist, Ellen Forney, who drew crude caricatures to accompany the quirky, self-depreciative and, ultimately, relatable depiction of an awkward kid who didn’t fit in.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
A journalistic masterpiece detailing the events of the murder of Herbert Clutter, his wife, and two of their four children by Richard Hickock and Perry Smith. An unbelievably well-researched and written documentation that left no stone unturned and no heart untouched. It is very rare that a book based on an historical event is told in such a way that it captures the humanity and essence of every character encountered within its pages. This element is what makes In Cold Blood the standalone of its genre as well as a novel worthy of the acclaim it received.
Anthills of the Savannah by Chinua Achebe
This politically-driven, satirical novel by Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe, is set in a fictitious African nation afflicted with the genuine traits usually associated with the third world: an informed military autocracy, pandering state officials, endangered journalists and a population that uses humour to cope. Achebe manages time and time again to incorporate the vibrancy and joviality within African societies and makes it known that Africa’s strength lies within its people’s ability to look at desperation and anguish in the face and smile.
The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks
Dr Oliver Sacks in a renowned neurologist and medical author who presents his most unusual cases in a style that appeals to both the specialist and the layman. As a compilation of such cases, The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat is a set of short stories about Sacks’ personal and professional relationships with these truly unique patients. While this may seem like an odd choice to recommend, this book is an homage to the medical marvel that is the human brain and how even the smallest changes in its intricacies can cause such bizarre consequences.