Working class literature - reading guide

POUM members reading during the Spanish Civil War.

Libcom.org's reading guide on literature with a focus on work and accurate representations of working class life, culture and resistance to power.

American

Alfred Bester

  • The Stars My Destination - In a world where transportation is possible with a thought, prisoners break free, economies crash and the slums emptied. Gully Foyle is marooned in space with a material that could destroy the universe. He has to give it away, but to who?

Charles Bukowski

  • Post Office - The job as a postal worker is a thankless one as Bukowski tries to keep his sanity delivering mail around Los Angeles.
  • Factotum - Bukowski recounts the conditions in 1944 having faced rejection from the draft, yo-yoing in and out of employment.
  • Ham on Rye - Semi-autobiographical 'coming-of-age' novel, telling the story of a young man growing up in Los Angeles during the Great Depression.
    [Disclaimer: it should be remembered that while Bukowski was a very good writer, he was also a rampant misogynist and these views come through in his books.]

Harlan Ellison

  • "Repent, Harlequin!" said the Ticktockman - Famous short story where time is regulated and being late is a crime. Despite the Ticktockman, the timekeeper who collects time as a punishment, and being sent to Coventry, the Harlequin revolts to create tardiness.

William Gibson and Bruce Sterling

  • The Difference Engine - Seminal novel set in an ahistorical Victorian England, where Lord Byron leads the technocratic government funded by trade unions, the Luddites and their Swing Riots threaten London and the first commune is declared in New York.

Ben Hamper

  • Rivethead - Down and out memoirs of an assembly line worker for GM Motors over the 1980s. In amongst co-workers going postal in the local bar, drinking on the job and witnessing mental breakdowns, Hamper wrote the book during his shifts on the shop floor.

Joseph Heller

  • Catch 22 - Former World War II bomber Joseph Heller's 1961 satirical masterpiece is a savage indictment of military madness and stupidity, and the desire of the ordinary man to survive it. It is a tale of the dangerously sane Captain Yossarian, who spends his time in Italy plotting to survive. It does, however, contain casual sexism throughout.

Ernest Hemingwey

  • A Farewell to Arms - Anti-militarist novel set against the backdrop of the Italian campaign during World War One, based largely on Hemingwey's experiences in the war.
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls - Novel about a young American dynamiter in the International Brigades attached to a republican guerrilla unit during the Spanish Civil War. A great novel, though Hemingwey regurgitates many of the Stalinist myths about the Civil War.

Ursula Le Guin

  • The dispossessed - Sci-fi classic telling the story of life on a planet run along anarchist principles.
  • The Four Ways to Forgiveness - Novel about two planets called Yeowe and Werel and the struggle for freedom between the "owners" and "assets".

Jack London

  • The Iron Heel - Dystopian sci-fi novel. The character agitates and struggles for a socialist revolution against an oligarchy. Envisages fascism, despite being written many years prior to its advent.

Lorrie Moore

  • Anagrams - Benna leads different lives, English teacher, nightclub singer, aerobics instructor. She's a mother and she's never had children. The stories and settings shift around but all are a darkly comic look at being a 30 something woman in America.

Eugene Nelson

  • Break their Haughty Power - The true story of 13-year-old Joe Murphy, chased out of his hometown by anti-Catholic bigots, who became a union organiser for the IWW. The novel takes us through lynch-mob assaults on Wobblies in Washington in 1919, the nationwide railroad strike of 1922 and the Colorado coal miners' strike of 1927.

Hubert Selby Jr.

  • Last Exit to Brooklyn - Series of stories set in 1950s Brooklyn; a local union official struggles with his sexuality during a strike, a sex worker trawls the bars for sailors and steals their money, and a crossdresser is thrown out of her home. Trigger warning, features a rape passage.

Clancy Sigal

  • Going Away - Autobiographical novel about a worker who, after being fired from his job, drives from LA to New York, drinking booze, having romantic encounters, visiting important sites of US working class history and listening to car radio news accounts of the unravelling events of the Hungarian Revolution.

Upton Sinclair

  • Oil! - Loose source for the film There Will Be Blood, Oil! pits oil tycoon father against socialist sympathetic son in the midst of the Teapot Dome Scandal and unionising trouble on the fields.
  • The Jungle - Sinclair's undercover journalism-cum-novel about the conditions of America's meat packing industry and the effect it had on those that worked it.

John Steinbeck

  • The Grapes of Wrath - Steinbeck's realist masterpiece looking at the plight of a family of tenant farmers forced to leave Oklahoma during the Great Depression.
  • In Dubious Battle - Story about two Communists who set out to organise a strike of seasonal fruit pickers in California.
  • Of Mice and Men - Classic story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two migrant farm workers travelling around the US searching for work during the Great Depression.

Harvey Swados

Dalton Trumbo

  • Johnny Got his Gun - Excellent working class anti-war novel by once the once-blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, following the internal monologue of a WWI soldier who wakes up mute and brutally injured.

Kurt Vonnegut

  • Slaughterhouse-Five - Vonnegut's darkly humourous novel recounting the story of an ill-prepared soldier and the grim reality of the Second World War.
  • Jailbird - Story of a man recently released from prison after serving time for his role in the Watergate scandal, while discussing the history of the American labour movement, political system and the 'Red Scare' of the late 1950s.
  • Player Piano - Vonnegut's novel about a permanantly unemployed working class, dispossessed by mangerial engineers and automation.

Australian

David Ireland

  • The Unknown Industrial Prisoner - Grimly humourous portrayal of life on an oil refinery, by an ex-refinery worker, from the high towers from which a worker falls to his death to the secret hiding places the workers keep for themselves.

Nadia Wheatley

  • The House that was Eureka - Novel about the Unemployed Workers' Movement & anti-eviction riots Sydney during the great depression, which flashes back and forth to Sydney in the 1980s, making contemporary links between the eras.

British

Sid Chaplin

  • The Watcher and the Watched - Working class novel set in 1960s Newcastle, in which we watch a working class community get ripped apart from the point of view of Tim 'Tiger' Mason, who eventually confronts a slum landlord and joins a young Asian immigrant to confront racism.

Jack Common

  • Kiddar's Luck - Vivid autobiography about his life growing up next to the train-sheds his father worked in on the outskirts of Newcastle, the book is a natural depiction of a working class boy growing up, seen through the eyes of the socialist adult he became.

Alexander Cordell

  • Rape of the Fair Country - Early union organising and chartist inspired revolts in the Welsh mining heartlands, amidst the backdrop of the industrial revolution. First in the Mortymer trilogy.

Charles Dickens

  • Hard Times - Dickens' work highlighting the difficult economic and social conditions of the working class, described as a "passionate revolt against the whole industrial order of the modern world" (though also containing anti-trade union sentiments).
  • A Tale of Two Cities - Novel about the plight of the French peasantry in the years leading up to the French revolution, and the parallels with life in London.

Thomas Hardy

  • Jude the Obscure - The story of Jude Fawley, a young working-class man whose dreams of becoming a scholar are destroyed by class society.

DD Johnston

    Peace, love and petrol bombs - This semi-autobiographical novel traces the political and personal growth of a young Scottish burger-flipper who with his coworkers begins to fight back against his employer: a multinational fast food chain.

James Kelman

  • How Late is Was, How Late - Novel following Sammy, a shoplifter and ex-convict from Glasgow who, after a two-day drinking binge, gets into a fight with some plainclothes policemen in which he is severely beaten and left blind. The story explores how he comes to terms with his new disability.
  • The Busconductor Hines - Story of a busconducter living in a bedsit, bored of his job and fully aware his plans to emigrate to Australia won't come to anything. However, he takes solace in his wife and child, and his eccentric, anarchic imagination.
  • You've Got to be Careful in the Land of the Free - Jeremiah Brown is flying back home to Scotland tomorrow. But life is dangerous in the US for a anarchist immigrant foreigner and with just one beer turning into a night out, it's a wonder if he'll make it back alive.
  • A Chancer - Tammas is a loner, a drifter, a chancer. Stuck in dull jobs and finding nothing he wants to do, he dreams of moving to Manchester or New Zealand or the Highlands, anywhere but Glasgow.
  • Mo Said She Was Quirky - Helen's on her way back from work when she sees a homeless man that reminds her of her long lost brother and sends her into a reverie. 24 hours following the thoughts of a mother, a girlfriend and a croupier.

Patrick Hamilton

  • Hangover Square - Late 30s novel following George Harvey Bone and his similarly unemployed feckless acquaintances in and out of Earl's Court pubs, with war and changing attitudes looming.

Alexander McArthur and H. Kingsley Long

  • No Mean City - A book hated by the Glasgow City fathers and the regular bookshops refused to sell it, yet has sold millions of copies: one brother commits to the class struggle, the other becomes the razor king of the Gorbals – it’s life in the raw (and not too far from the truth).

William McIlvanney

  • Docherty - The author uses his memory of growing up in an Ayrshire mining community to tell the story of Tom Docherty and of lives filled with human worth.

George Orwell

  • Homage to Catalonia - Orwell's famous 1938 account of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War, from his point of view as a volunteer in the POUM militia, with vivid descriptions of classless anarchist Barcelona following the revolution and terrorised Stalinist Barcelona after the counter-revolution.
  • Animal Farm, a fairy story - Erroneously considered a damning of collectivism, Orwell's allegorical fantasy is a critique of the Bolshevist and Stalinist regimes set on a farm as animals attempt to create a society.
  • 1984 - A world with constant surveillance, perpetual war and a militarised police state, George Orwell's most famous novel was a warning against totalitarian governments, all the more relevant now then when it was written.
  • Down and Out in Paris and London - Tramping memoirs from Orwell, where he worked in Paris as a dishwasher and then travelled around London, going from one bedsit to another.
  • The Road to Wigan Pier - Orwell's examinations of the conditions for the working class in the north of England prior to World War Two and how he became a socialist.
  • Keep the aspidistra flying - Not wanting to be concerned with money or a safe life typified by a house with an aspidistra plant, a copywriter quits his job to become an artist.

David Peace

  • GB84 - Fictional portrayal of the 1984-85 UK miners' strike, describing the insidious workings of the British government and MI5, the coalfield battles and the dwindling powers of the miners' union.

Alan Sillitoe

  • The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner - Short story about a teenager from a blue-collar area of Nottingham with bleak prospects who turns to long-distance running to escape both emotionally and physically from his situation.

Jeff Torrington

  • Swing Hammer Swing - Novel set during 1960s Glasgow, in which Thomas Clay faces his mounting problems: his wife in the maternity hospital prematurely while they await news of their transfer to high-rise housing, or for his tenement to be demolished beneath his feet. With no job and his novel still unpublished, he staggers from crisis to crisis.
  • The Devil's Carousel - Story of a Scottish car factory and the strange characters in it, including a smelly militant shop steward and 'the Martians': experts and managers who convene high above the shop floor and decide how to build cars without letting the work force in on the secret.

Robert Tressel

  • The ragged trousered philanthropists - A Marxist critique of society dressed up as a novel, Ragged Trousered Philanthrophists follows construction worker Frank Owen trying to convince others about socialism, a figure based on Tressell himself.

Alan Warner

  • Movern Callar - Movern Callar arrives home to find her boyfriend dead on the floor. She grieves by getting mortal on nights out, shifts at the supermarket, Krautrock mixtapes and sunbathing in Spain.

Jeanette Winterson

  • Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit - A young English woman’s escape from her religious family told with great sensitivity – a tale self liberation.

Czech

Jaroslav Hašek

  • The Good Soldier Švejk - Satirical anti-war novel in which the absurdity and hypocrisy of the military, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the church are repeatedly revealed through the main character's enthusiasm for obeying authority.

Frank Kafka

  • The Trial - Franz Kafka's seminal novel, telling the tale of a respectable functionary in a bank, who is suddenly arrested and must defend his innocence against a charge about which he can get no information.

French

Émile Zola

  • Germinal - Zola's masterpiece exposing the inhuman conditions of miners in France in 1860s. This powerful novel follows a young worker who enters a mining community and leads a strike against pay cuts.

German

Alfred Döblin

B. Traven

  • The treasure of the Sierra Madre - B. Traven's best known novel about three men prospecting for gold in the mountains of Mexico, and the things it drives them to do.
  • The cotton pickers - B Traven's novel about migrant labourers, poverty, crappy jobs, and the occasional successful strike in 1920s Mexico.
  • The death ship - Story of a sailor who loses his papers and, unable to prove his very existence, ends up working on a "death ship" destined to be sunk for the insurance money.
  • Assembly Line - Short story about a New York businessman who meets a Mexican peasant basket maker, whose talent is perfect for exploitation.

Jan Valtin

  • Out of the Night - The story of a German revolutionary who, after the failed German revolution, becomes an agent for the Communist International, fights fascism in Europe, gets captured by the Gestapo and eventually loses his faith in Stalin.

Irish

Edna O’Brien

  • The Country Girls - A superbly written and almost true story of how a young Irish woman escapes conservative Ireland to live life as she pleases – the book was banned and publicly burned in the Irish Republic.

James Plunkett

  • Strumpet City - Novel following the lives of a dozen different characters as they are swept up in the tumultuous events of Dublin between 1907 and 1914, including the 1913 Dublin Lockout.

Italian

Nanni Balestrini

  • The Unseen - Novel looking at the Italian Autonomia movement of the 1960s-70s through the eyes of a single working-class protagonist, from high-school rebellion, squatting, setting up a free radio station to arrest and the brutalities of imprisonment.
  • Two Short Stories - The first story, Let a thousand hands reach out to pick up the gun, is a montage of newspaper reports of the death of Mara Cagol, one of the founders of the Red Brigades. The second, FIAT, is a first-hand account of work (or its refusal) at the infamous FIAT plant in Turin, Italy.

Luther Blisset/Wu Ming

  • Q - Set during the 16th Century Reformation, a radical Christian heretic takes part in rebellions - such as the German Peasants' War - against the powers of both Protestant and Catholic churches.
  • Altai - Sequel to Q, in which characters from the first book come back to settle old scores, as the Republic of Venice and the whole 16th Century world order seem ready to crumble.
  • Manituana - Fantastically researched historical fiction about the Iroquois, a group of native American tribes who side with the British during the American war in independence.
  • 54 - Hollywood actors, cold warriors, mobsters, drug dealers and homing pigeons. What will Yugoslavian president Tito do, now that Joe Stalin is dead? What is the hidden link between Lucky Luciano in his Italian exile, Cary Grant in schizophrenic combat with himself and a stolen TV set which turns out to be self-conscious and sensitive to boot?

Italo Calvino

  • The Path to the Spiders' Nests - The story of a cobbler's apprentice in a town on the Ligurian coast, who steals a pistol from a Nazi sailor, and becomes involved in the Italian Resistance.

Dario Fo

Alberto Moravia

  • The Conformist - Story set in Rome and Paris between 1938 and 1943, Marcello, a fascist spy, accepts an assignment from Mussolini to kill his former mentor. The novel is a case study in the psychology of fascism that express itself in the need to conform and be "normal".

Ignazio Silone

  • Fontamara - Novel describing life in a rural central Italian village, Fontamara, in the 1930s. The people (the Fontamaresi) are poor and unaware of goings on outside their village, exploited by the rich and women are raped by fascists. Eventually one of them, Berardo, tries to lead a rebellion.

Elio Vittorini

  • Men and not men - Story set in Milan in 1944 during the Italian Resistance, it tells the story of a partisan code-named "En 2" who organises an ambush against the fascists.

Indian

Aravind Adiga

  • The White Tiger - A darkly humourous story of a boy from an Indian slum who moves to Delhi and works as the chauffeur for a rich landlord, before killing him and running off with his money.

Rohinton Mistry

  • A Fine Balance - Story set in Mumbai between 1975 and 1984 during a period of increased government power and crackdowns on civil liberties called 'The Emergency', looking at the changes in Indian society since independence.

Japanese

Yoshiki Hayama

  • Men Who Live on the Sea - Story about the terrible factory conditions faced by workers processing fish on Japanese factory ships.
  • The Prostitute - Short story demonstrating gender tensions within the workers' movement, in which a prostitute asserts her own subjective experience as a working class woman.

Takiji Kobayashi

  • The Crab Cannery Ship - Novel about the harsh lives of workers on crab fishing ships and their struggles against their employers' exploitation.

Denji Kuroshima

  • Militarized Streets - Novel about the 'Jinan Incident', an early armed clash between Japan and China, and severe military aggression of the Japanese in the incident.

Sukeo Miyajima

  • Miner - Story of a miner's resistance to the authority of his tyrannical employers.

Russian

Mikhail Bulgakov

  • Heart of a Dog - A scientist implants the testicles and pituitary gland of a recently deceased man into a stray dog, creating a monster. A damning critique of the New Soviet man and the Leninist program, written in 1925 it remained unpublished until 1987.
  • The Master and Margarita - The devil comes to destroy the USSR, and only a writer and his lover can stop him.

Maxim Gorky

  • Mother - Novel following the radicalisation of an uneducated young Russian woman, which went on to define the genre of Socialist Realism.

Victor Pelevin

  • Omon Ra - Omon Krivomazov has always wanted to be an astronaut but not everything is as it seems in the USSR's space program; cosmonauting dead dogs, bikes on the moon and no way out but up.

Victor Serge

  • Birth of Our Power - Pan-European novel, taking us from the workers' stronghold of Barcelona at the end of the First World War where hopes for revolution are fueled by the news of revolution in Russia.
  • Men in Prison - Based on his personal experiences as a political prisoner, Serge describes the brutality of prison life at the beginning of the 20th century.
  • Conquered City - Masterpiece describing the defence of Petrograd from the White Armies during the Russian revolution, capturing the atmosphere without the use of a central character.
  • The Case of Comrade Tulayev - Masterful fictionalisation of the purges and how they affected the various character types in the political upheaval of Stalinist Russia.

Yevgeny Zamyatin

  • We - In a country constructed of glass, under complete surveillance and devoid of individuality, D-503 discovers he has a soul and is now in danger.

Comments

Steven.
Apr 16 2013 08:23

Good idea!

Hemingway needs a big disclaimer though about Bell Tolls, because although the novel is good in Spain he was basically a Stalinist useful idiot.

Few thoughts to add before I go out:
germinal
B Traven
peace, love and petrol bombs
Bukowski
45

any female/BME authors in this vein people can think of?

Steven.
Apr 16 2013 08:58

Ragged trousered philanthropists

Ed
Apr 20 2013 13:47

Also, cheers to everyone who contributed to this thread, we tried to include as much of it as possible!

Chilli Sauce
Apr 20 2013 14:55

Johnny Got His Gun is an amazing piece of working class anti-war literature (although the rights video adaption were later bought by Metallica for a music video, so swings and roundabouts...)

Auld-bod
Apr 20 2013 20:18

This is an interesting book list reflecting the taste of the selectors. I thought it curious that the only Scots writer (that I can identify), James Kelman gets two inclusions.

If Glasgow is the focus of the Scottish contribution then the 1935 novel, ‘No Mean City’, written by an unemployed worker Alexander McArthur and H. Kingsley Long (a journalist) surely merits inclusion if only for the book’s historical importance.

flaneur
Apr 20 2013 21:10

Jeff Torrington was Scots as well, and a chum of Kelman's. Speaking of the devil, Busconducter Hines is probably his best book, but You've Got to be Careful in the Land of the Free is as good. Dunnae need Kropoptkin when you've got

Quote:
Of course the job depressed me. But sooner or later all jobs depress ye. I was a no-good neer-do-well. Nay wonder but I mean who the fuck wants to work for cunts. No me. Nor anybody of sound mind. Work work work, the world was gripped by a psychotic masochism. It didnay matter where or what. The last job I had was driving a delivery truck and there too it was all sorts of hours but bodies looked at ye if ye complained; one has to take one’s licks; be a man buddy, you wanna earn some moneeee go suck a dick. I was in favour of a universal strike, an eternal strike. All those in favour! Aye! Aye. The ayes have it Mister President.

Outside of Glasgow, Alan Warner from Oban is worth putting up, his Movern Callar especially. As for women, Scotland has produced quite a few; Liz Lochhead, Agnes Owens, A.L Kennedy, Janice Galloway. I've liked Jean Rhys' Good Morning, Midnight which is on here and Lorrie Moore's Anagrams.

Auld-bod
Apr 21 2013 06:16

I’ll take up your recommendations, flaneur, as it’s been a bit since I’ve looked at any Scots stuff – the last was William McIlvanney’s ‘Docherty’ (1973), which was a very good read.

I’ll confess to not reading too many women writers, though I reckoned Jeanette Winterson’s ‘Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit’ (1985) and Edna O’Brien’s ‘Country Girl’ (1960) were definitely worth reading.

Kronstadt_Kid
Apr 21 2013 09:44

Thanks guys.

Ed
Apr 21 2013 14:52

Alright guys, so basically, all your suggestions are great, especially for me who hasn't read any of the stuff you guys have mentioned.. you guys reckon you'd be up for writing short one-line intros for stuff you reckon should go up in this list? Then we can stick it in after..

Chilli Sauce
Apr 21 2013 16:17

Johnny Got His Gun - Anti-war novel by once the once-blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, Johnny Got His Gun follows internal monologue of a WWI soldier who wakes up mute and brutally injured.

Steven.
Apr 21 2013 16:55

Catch-22! I'll write an intro when I get a chance

Auld-bod
Apr 21 2013 19:15

No Mean City by Alexander McArthur and H. Kingsley Long
A book hated by the Glasgow City fathers, the regular bookshops refused to sell it and it was not allowed on library shelves – yet it has never been out of print since 1935 and has sold about three quarters of a million copies - one brother commits to the class struggle - the other (the main character) becomes the razor king of the Gorbals – it’s life in the raw (and not too far from the truth).

Werner Harding
Apr 21 2013 18:22

Just an observation- Hemingway got a big disclaimer (and rightfully so) but I feel that mention should also be made of Bukowski's hateful approach to women. I know it's a pretty obvious comment, but it should be noted.

JoeMaguire
Apr 21 2013 19:26

I will come back in due course about chinese novels, though I suspect Ba Jin and Lu Xun might be of some help.

British
Un Lun Dun China Mieville
Young adult sci-fi. Environmentally themed book, where the protagonist enters a world of junk that has seeped out of our world. Ridicules the reactionary cliches which dominate the sci-fi and fantasy genre.

An Inspector Calls JB Priestley
A popular play set in preWWI when an inspector visits a well-to-do family and asks them to account for their behaviour towards someone recently deceased. A scathing attack of bourgeois values commences.

Rape of the Fair Country Alexander Cordell
Early union organising and chartist inspired revolts in the Welsh mining heartlands, amidst the backdrop of the industrial revolution. First in the Mortymer trilogy.

German
Alone in Berlin Hans Fallada
Having broke with the regime Otto and Anna Quangel take on a personal propaganda campaign against Nazi Germany. Based loosely on a true story.

Canadian?
The Iron Heel Jack London
Technically a dystopian sci-fi novel. The character agitates and struggles for a socialist revolution against an oligarchy. Envisages fascism, despite being written many years prior to its advent.

American
Spartacus Howard Fast
A fictionalised account of the famous slave revolt. This inspired the Kurt Douglas film and the book was a best seller. Not bad considering the book had to be self published because the author was blacklisted.

Steven.
Apr 21 2013 19:27
Werner Harding wrote:
Just an observation- Hemingway got a big disclaimer (and rightfully so) but I feel that mention should also be made of Bukowski's hateful approach to women. I know it's a pretty obvious comment, but it should be noted.

hi, yes good point. We have put disclaimers about Bukowski's misogyny on the pages for the books themselves but we should put one here as well

Auld-bod
Apr 21 2013 19:56

British
Jeanette Winterson - Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
A young English woman’s escape from her religious family told with great sensitivity – a tale self liberation.

William McIlvanney – Docherty
The author uses his memory of growing up in an Ayrshire mining community to tell the story of Tom Docherty and of lives filled with human worth.

Irish
Edna O’Brien - Country Girl
A superbly written and almost true story of how a young Irish woman escapes conservative Ireland to live life as she pleases – the book was banned and I believe publicly burned in the Irish Republic.

flaneur
Apr 21 2013 21:53

James Kelman - You've Got to be Careful in the Land of the Free
Jeremiah Brown is flying back home to Scotland tomorrow. But life is dangerous in the US for a anarchist immigrant foreigner and out drinking alone, it's a wonder if he'll get back.

A Chancer
Tammas is a loner, a drifter, a chancer. Stuck in dull jobs and finding nothing he wants to do, he dreams of moving to Manchester or New Zealand or the Highlands, anywhere but Glasgow.

Alan Warner - Movern Callar
Movern Callar arrives home to find her boyfriend dead on the floor. She grieves by getting mortal on nights out, shifts at the supermarket, Krautrock mixtapes and sunbathing in Spain.

American
Lorrie Moore - Anagrams
Benna leads different lives, English teacher, nightclub singer, aerobics instructor. She's a mother and she's never had children. The stories and settings shift around but all are a darkly comic look at being a 30 something woman in America.

Auld-bod
Apr 28 2013 07:28

Russia
Maxim Gorky – My Childhood
A pal of Lenin writes a corker of a book – after losing his parents he experienced a poverty-stricken childhood - at five he was taken to live with his grandfather who regularly beat him - his grandmother is the heroine of the book which is filled with characters described by a curious and often fearful boy - it's simply a wonderful read unfortunately the rest of the trilogy is poor by comparison.

Entdinglichung
Apr 22 2013 20:15

plenty of stuff in German here: http://nemesis.marxists.org/

there is Adam Scharrer's interesting semi-autobiographical novel Vaterlandslose Gesellen (Fellows without Fatherland) about rank & file activists during the First World War, don't know if it is translated ... Scharrer was a leading member of the KAPD but later became a fellow traveler of the KPD and was commemorated with a stamp in Eastern Germany ...

another German proletarian novelist who was in the AAU and later a Stalinist was Hans Marchwitza, he also got a stamp

Standfield
Apr 22 2013 10:40

Pretty much any play by Caryl Churchill (British) is interesting, and worth looking out for. In particular, with a very basic theme for each:

Owners (1972) - Obsessions with power.
Cloud Nine (1979) - A farce about sexual politics in an Imperialist mindset.
Serious Money (1987) - Comedy about excesses in the financial world.
Softcops (1984) - Surreal play set in 19th-century France about government attempts to depoliticize illegal acts.
Far Away (2000) -The fear imposed by a government upon its citizens, in a surreal world where everything in nature is at war with each other. A kind of surreal 1984.

While I'm on plays, I'd like to include one of my favourites, Arthur Miller's (American) The Crucible (1953) - "A dramatization of the Salem witch trials [...] an allegory of McCarthyism, when the U.S. government blacklisted accused communists".

Standfield
Apr 22 2013 10:52

Another play I've remembered... Bertolt Brecht's (German) - Mother Courage and Her Children (Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder) (1939) - One of nine plays that Brecht wrote in an attempt to counter the rise of Fascism and Nazism. An anti-war play, that also deals with the profiteering current that runs through all wars. A great example of Brecht's "Epic" theatre style too. Good stuff.

Boydell
Apr 22 2013 12:08

I wouldn't have put "Jude the Obscure" in there myself - i remember studying it at school and coming away with the feeling that the book was all about 'don't try and rise above your station, or the Fates will conspire against you'.
I know that it supposedly shows the cruelty of the system, but there's a fair bit of cruelty imposed by the writer as well.

As a young working class man I found it very dispiriting and depressing to read.

Reddebrek
Apr 22 2013 13:20

Given the title working class I wasn't sure if this would qualify, but Beijing Coma by Ma Jian is interesting. Its a fictionalised version of the Tienanmen square incident but also about the PRC in the 1980's from the point of view of a student from an average urban Chinese family and how they deal with the government and the new market reforms.

De
Apr 22 2013 18:47

As for the Italian section I'd add:

Elio Vittorini
Men and not men
Story set in Milan in 1944 during the Italian Resistance, it tells the story of a partisan code-named "En 2" who organises an ambush against the fascists.

Ignazio Silone
Fontamara
This novel describes the life in a rural village, Fontamara, in central Italy in the thirties. The people (the Fontamaresi) are poor and unaware of what is going on outside their village, they are exploited by the richest, women are raped by fascists. Eventually one of them, Berardo, tries to lead a rebellion.

Alberto Moravia
The Conformist
Story set in Rome and Paris between 1938 and 1943, Marcello, the main character, accepts an assignment from Mussolini to kill his former mentor. The novel is a case study in the psychology of fascism that in Marcello express itself in the need to conform and be "normal".

I'm not sure this last book falls into the category of working class literature (it doesn't actually deals with the working class itself but I think it could still be a very interesting reading...)

I feel a lot more could be added to the Italian section, mostly because there are so many books on the Italian Resistance. For instance, The House on the Hill by Cesare Pavese or Johnny the Partisan by Beppe Fenoglio. But since I haven't read these two novels myself I didn't feel like including them. I'll make up for this soon anyway and might come back to this thread...

Chilli Sauce
Apr 24 2013 17:36

What about All Quiet on the Western Front. It's been probably close to 15 years since I read it and I can't actually remember if there any substantial working class content in it?

Entdinglichung
Apr 24 2013 20:03
Chilli Sauce wrote:
What about All Quiet on the Western Front. It's been probably close to 15 years since I read it and I can't actually remember if there any substantial working class content in it?

Vaterlandslose Gesellen by Adam Scharrer was intended by the author as a "proletarian answer" to the pacifist Remarque

Chilli Sauce
Apr 27 2013 10:18

Any good? Agree with the author's assessment?

Entdinglichung
Apr 27 2013 12:37

too long ago, that I read the two novels, ... but there are from the same period proletarian novels which like Remarque's one do feature non-proletarian protagonists as heroes, e.g. Karl Grünberg's "Brennende Ruhr", Scharrer can both politically and artistically labelled "workerist"

flaneur
Apr 27 2013 13:11
Reddebrek
Apr 27 2013 18:16

I checked my hard drive and it turns out I have a few of these in epub or pdf formats. I'll add them to the library.