"For two days and nights, Odysseus was alone in the wild water. The sea was so rough that he couldn't see beyond the nearest wave. Over and over again, he thought he was going to die." Neil Packer/Candlewick Press hide caption

itoggle caption Neil Packer/Candlewick Press

British novelist Zadie Smith is also the author of White Teeth, The Autograph Man and On Beauty. In her latest book, NW, she lays out a problem for readers: Do people get what they deserve? Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images

Vaddey Ratner's novel is derived from her own experiences — she spent four years of her youth working in forced labor under the Khmer Rouge. Kristina Sherk/Simon & Schuster hide caption

itoggle caption Kristina Sherk/Simon & Schuster

Edith Wharton moved to Paris in the early 1900s. Not long after, in 1913, after her affair with Morton Fullerton had ended, she divorced her husband of more than 20 years. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University hide caption

itoggle caption Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University