Born OTD in 1883, novelist and short-story writer, widely regarded as one of the major figures of 20th-century literature, Franz Kafka. His work, which fuses elements of realism and the fantastic, typically features isolated protagonists facing bizarre or surrealistic predicaments and incomprehensible socio-bureaucratic powers, and has been interpreted as exploring themes of alienation, existential anxiety, guilt, and absurdity

Like George Orwell, Franz Kafka has given his name to a world of nightmare, but in Kafka’s world, it is … More

Born OTD in 1905, Jean-Paul Sartre. French philosopher, playwright, novelist, political activist & biographer. He was one of the key figures in the philosophy of existentialism & phenomenology, & one of the leading figures in 20th-century French philosophy & Marxism. His work has also influenced sociology, critical theory, post-colonial theory, & literary studies, & continues to influence these disciplines. “June 1940 was the summer of defeat for the French soldiers, deserted by their officers, utterly demoralized, awaiting the Armistice. Day by day, hour by hour, Iron in the Soul unfolds what men thought & felt & did as France fell. Men who shrugged, men who ran, men who fought and tragic men like Mathieu, who had dedicated his life to finding personal freedom, now overwhelmed by remorse and bitterness, who must learn to kill.”

Iron in the Soul, the third volume of Sartre’s Roads to Freedom Trilogy, is a harrowing depiction of war and … More

Born OTD in 1946, English writer and novelist, Jim Crace. Harvest tells the story of a remote English village as economic progress disrupts pastoral idyll following the Enclosure Act. The protagonist, Walter Thirsk, tells the story from his perspective, but in fact is rarely present when the events of the novel take place due to his injury that he sustains at the beginning of the novel. The story begins with the arrival of some strangers to the bounds of the village. Following the burning of the stables, a scapegoat is required as no-one wants to admit that one of their own was responsible. Hence a mob sets out in order to find evidence to blame these new arrivals. After a brief altercation with the three strangers, they are arrested by Master Kent and chained to the pillory for the week.

Throughout the novel the certainty of the land, the “busy, kindly, scented universe of crops and the unerring traces of … More

Born OTD in 1931, American novelist, essayist, editor, teacher and professor emeritus at Princeton University, Toni Morrison. Many people consider Morrison’s novels difficult to read. Most of her readers have at least one book on their shelves that they couldn’t finish or, when they did finish one, just scratched their heads in confusion. And when we think we are sure we know what she’s writing about, it turns out we are half wrong or only getting the tip of the iceberg instead of the whole, beautiful, brooding thing.

“Toni Morrison For Beginners” is about the woman, her books, her mission, her word music, and all that subtext in … More

Born OTD in 1923, Irish poet, short story writer, novelist & playwright who wrote in both English & Irish. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest Irish writers of all time, Brendan Behan. This diverse little collection of 21 short prose pieces by Behan, some fictional, some autobiographical, together with a selection from his 1950’s Irish Times column, caused something of a stir when it first appeared in 1981. The title story, After the Wake, was the talking point at the time, since it appeared to be about what was then something of a forbidden subject, homosexual love.

When the present collection appeared the same people dismissed the story as part of the pornographic hack work which, according … More

Born OTD in 1933, English experimental novelist, poet and literary critic, B. S. Johnson. He also produced television programmes and made films. With an introduction by novelist Jon McGregor. The novel describes, in the first-person, a three-week voyage aboard a deep-sea fishing trawler in the Barents Sea, not unlike the one Johnson undertook in preparation to write the book. Isolating himself from the world he knows, as well as from the ship’s crew, the narrator reflects on past events and relationships, hoping for some kind of redemption. This convincingly authentic and harrowing attempt to get to the heart of the human condition is one of Johnson’s finest novels.

In his heyday, during the 1960s and early 1970s, B S Johnson was one of the best-known novelists in Britain. … More

Born OTD in 1916, English novelist, poet, essayist and biographer, Penelope Fitzgerald. The novel, set mainly in 1959, centres around Florence Green, a middle-aged widow, who decides to open a bookshop in the small coastal town of Hardborough, Suffolk. The location she chooses is the Old House, an abandoned, damp property said to be haunted by a poltergeist. After many sacrifices, Florence manages to start her business, which grows for about a year after which sales slump…

Florence has tried to change the way things have always been done, and as a result, she has to take … More

Born OTD in 1932, American poet, novelist, and short-story writer, Sylvia Plath. The Bell Jar is Sylvia Plath’s only novel. Renowned for its intensity and outstandingly vivid prose, it broke existing boundaries between fiction and reality and helped to make Plath an enduring feminist icon. It was published under a pseudonym a few weeks before the author’s suicide.

It is a fine novel, as bitter and remorseless as her last poems …The world in which the events of … More

Born OTD in 1977, Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. “At the gates, Biafran soldiers were waving cars through. They looked distinguished in their khaki uniforms, boots shining, half of a yellow sun sewn on their sleeves.” This story tracks a family as they transition from a position of influence and privilege with large, comfortable homes in Nigeria, to become citizens of the newly formed republic of Biafra.

In 1960s Nigeria, Ugwu, a boy from a poor village, goes to work for Odenigbo, a radical university professor. Soon … More