Foreign fiction, 1940–2000

The gimmick of this website is that I compile my lists from other lists and various list-like materials (such as recommendation threads on message boards), which lends the whole undertaking a veneer of objectivity and neutrality. Of course, this is all a ruse. While I refrain from massaging the numbers or manually adding arbitrary items just because I feel like it, I do use discretion when selecting my sources. Thus, each list reflects my very specific biases, and my work on it should not be mistaken for legitimate statistical research.

The following list is quite possibly the most biased one I have posted here so far. It does deliver on the promise expressed in its title: it includes books originally written in languages other than English that were published between 1940 and 2000. However, my criterion for choosing the sources from which it was built was whether they included the names and titles I would personally like to see on such a list. The result is still not a list of my own recommendations, but at least large parts of it heavily skew toward my own tastes and preferences.

In my opinion, it’s all for the best (but of course I would say that). While my central aim was to remedy the surprising and frankly depressing dearth of consolidated information about international literature on the English-speaking web, I also wanted to avoid producing another bland, generic “great books” ranking. I wanted to make a list of books that I find interesting; generally speaking, this means books that are thematically or formally challenging, inventive and original, and preferably incorporating elements of the weird and the fantastic.

Still, I ultimately deferred to the choices made by the people responsible for the sources that I consulted. One proof of my strict policy of not tinkering with the rankings is the astonishingly high position of books by Haruki Murakami, which I find slightly inappropriate considering the standing of the authors immediately succeeding him on the list. This can be easily explained, however: the rankings are to a large extent a measure of popularity on the current web, and Murakami is one of the most prominent and accessible “major” foreign writers included in this set. In my personal version of this list, I would also omit several titles that, in my estimation, many people feel compelled to put on their best-of lists purely because of the moral or political significance commonly ascribed to them rather than any actual aesthetic or intellectual pleasure they deliver. This is not to say I’m not satisfied with the list in its current shape; all in all, I consider it biased in just the right way.

The list