Let me introduce my shelf: Gui Freitas

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Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman:

"Blinking their scorched eyelashes [the soldiers] forced their way back to the bunkers through the thickets of red dog-rose’’. Thus reads one sentence of this beautiful book and it does not finish here. ‘Arrested’ by the KGB, this novel is special in detailing the struggles of the individual and the power of the human conscience against overwhelming pressure. Written in the Socialist Realist style, some of the most profound emotions and sensations are mixed with a blunt realism. Undeservedly not very well-known, this book, for me, really touches the many folds of the human condition. Not a small book but hopefully it will leave you captivated enough from the beginning to glide you through.

A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor:

This collection of short-stories written by the American Catholic Flannery O’Connor offers a vivid presentation of the darker side of the Deep South. Ranging from the story of a Polish refugee who faces harsh prejudice despite his hard work ethic, through to a superstitious river preacher, and various criminals, O’Connor does not shy away from the darker elements of human existence and its ability to destroy the innocent and the vulnerable. Nevertheless, O’Connor is too good to allow only doom-and-gloom and mixes her darker elements with occasional humour and a fundamental sense of hope that goodness cannot, ultimately, be eradicated.

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James:

When he’s not extolling the virtues of afternoon tea, James presents us with a brilliant attempt to follow the psychological motivations of one woman as she navigates her way through the precarious journey of young adulthood (something I imagine we can all empathise with, even if not, for the majority of us, aided (or burdened?) by a vast inheritance). Interspersed with this are some stunning descriptions of gardens, homes, dress, artworks, Rome and much more, as well as a diverse range of characters. And the ending (without giving anything away) is simply breathtaking.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy:

I must confess that this is one I can’t find the time or effort to read in Cambridge. Having read my own copy to tatters (with pages now falling out) this is probably my favourite work of literature of all time. Set mostly in peacetime, it deals both with the simplest forms of human interaction, such as family relationships and rites of passage, as well as with complex historical and political themes and is well-known for one of the most realistic portrayals of the chaos and confusion of war. There’s also a very recent BBC series for those who want to start off with something a little more realistic during term-time.

First Overhead: London-Singapore by Land Rover by Tim Slessor:

These Cambridge students (with a couple of students from the Other Place) decided that the usual stresses of their tripos were not enough and so decided to arrange the first ever overland voyage by car to Singapore. From its inclusion of small details from 1950s Cambridge life, the prominence of late-night gas-ring coffee included (though methods may have changed, it seems late-night coffee is still very much a part of Cambridge life), through to its various cultural observations, this is a fascinating read. From time to time, one also gets glimmers of a lost world, as in its description of a prosperous Baghdad, a city which has now suffered greatly from war and political upheaval.

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