MELISSA BLOCK, host:
We have more recommendations now from our "Three Books" series. Today, Gish Jen offers her prescription for those of us feeling exhausted by the noise and clutter of high-tech life.
GISH JEN: Are you sick of the world of endless information? Are facts and factoids adding up to less and less truth every day? Perhaps it is time for something fabulous, by which I mean not something great to wear to your next party but something fable-like in its imaginative insight into the human condition.
For example, how about "Michael Kohlhaas," by Heinrich von Kleist? This gripping, 19th century novella about a German man whose horses have been unjustly maltreated feels thrillingly modern as an ordinary, stubborn man demands justice from a system stacked against him.
Greatly beloved of Kafka, who viewed this story, he said, with true reverence, "Michael Kohlhaas" speaks not only of the implacability of power, but also of the mania of heroism and, as the aggrieved man raises an army against his oppressors, the morality of insurrection.
Is the protagonist a holy man or a terrorist? To read this book is to think hard about figures from John Brown to Julian Assange.
Equally rewarding is "Waiting for the Barbarians," by J.M. Coetzee. This haunting love story involves the plump magistrate of a town at the edge of an empire braced for invasion.
Standing helplessly by as empire officials torture the so-called barbarians, the magistrate takes in a blinded and crippled barbarian girl - not for sexual gratification, as you might guess, but for something yet deeper as ritualistically and confusedly, he tends to her wounds, washing her and rubbing her with oil.
You could certainly read this as a parable about guilt and complicity in the apartheid South Africa in which Coetzee was writing, and it is. But "Waiting for the Barbarians" is more than that.
Rich with portraits of cruelty, fear, tenderness and turmoil, the novel asks some profoundly troubling questions. What will become of us without barbarians, for example? An excellent question in an anti-immigrant age. And who are the barbarians, exactly?
And finally, for a change of pace, I recommend Mark Twain's effervescent "Diary of Adam and Eve." If ever you have wondered about the human capacity to make things anew, wonder no more. In recasting the story of the Garden of Eden with unfailing wit and delicious bravado, Twain does more than entertain. He testifies to the great human ability to reinvent, reconceive and reanimate even the most graven of narratives.
This new creature with long hair is a good deal in the way, begins this book. Adam and Eve, in this telling, do not exactly seem a match made in heaven. And yet years later, by her graveside, Adam comes movingly to write: Wheresoever she was, there was Eden.
Love and laughter spring eternal, it seems. And if you think that the economy will never pick up and that we are looking at the end of Western civilization as we know it - well, not to forget: We have been through a fall before and what's more, have lived to tell the tale.
BLOCK: Gish Jen's latest novel is called "World And Town." You can read more "Three Books" recommendations at npr.org/books.
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