Chosen by Marlon James
Marlon James is the author of A Brief History of Seven Killings, a novel set in his native Jamaica that won 2015’s Man Booker Prize. Black Leopard, Red Wolf, his new fantasy novel, follows a tracker sent to find a lost child in Africa.
Summer Lightning and Other Stories by Olive Senior (1986). Because nobody else in the Caribbean has ever matched such devastation with such economy. The entire future of Caribbean prose was mapped out in this collection.
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (1967). Nude vampires, gun-toting talking black cat, and devil-as-ultimate-party-starter aside, the miracle of this novel is that every time you read it, it’s a different book.
Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn (1990). Dogeaters was the most perfect distillation of Jamaican society, sexuality, and politics I have ever read—remarkable, considering it’s about the Philippines. I was stunned to see this country’s drama playing exactly as my country’s, right down to our people always gravitating between a political election and a beauty contest.
Palomar by Gilbert Hernandez (2003). The finest American work of fiction of the past 20 years is, yes, a comic book series. Palomar is a made-up Central American town located somewhere between Garcia Marquez’s Macondo and Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County. The story opens when the formidable Luba enters and closes 20 years later when she leaves. What happens in between is the full tapestry of the American experience.
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (1977). Three-quarters in, I decided that this was merely one of the three best books I’ve ever read. But the last 60 pages may be the most astonishing feat of writing I’ve ever encountered. I remember reading it standing up, feeling out of breath, almost in a fever, and so thoroughly believing the ending that I almost flew off my own balcony.
Dubliners by James Joyce (1914). The first time I read Dubliners, I didn’t even finish it. The second time, I enjoyed the idea more than the execution. The third time, I felt like I was on a mountaintop and God had just handed me the Revelation. How had I not seen all this before? That in “The Sisters,” the preacher’s fragile chalice held his will to live? Or that the boys in “An Encounter” had encountered a monster, despite his giving one of the most horrifying soliloquies in modern literature? Or that the most perfect sentence ever written crested at the bottom of “The Dead?” ■