World Book Club

World Book Club

United Kingdom

World Book Club invites the globe's great authors to discuss their best known novel. Presented by Harriett Gilbert, includes questions from World Service listeners.

Episodes

Robert Harris - Imperium  

Robert Harris discusses the first of his bestselling Roman trilogy, Imperium. (Picture credit: BBC.)

Joël Dicker - The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair  

Joël Dicker talks about his novel The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair.

Laura Restrepo - Delirium  

Colombian writer Laura Restrepo discusses her novel Delirium.

Karl Ove Knausgaard - A Death in the Family  

We talk to the acclaimed Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard about A Death in the Family, volume one of his remarkable series of memoirs My Struggle. Knausgaard writes with painful honesty about his childhood and teenage years, his infatuation with rock music, his relationship with his loving yet almost invisible mother and his distant and dangerously unpredictable father, and then his bewilderment and grief on his father's death. Becoming a father himself, he must balance the demands of caring for a young family with his determination to write great literature. A Death in the Family is an exploration of the author’s past from which emerges a universal story of the struggles, great and small, that we all face in our lives. (Photo: Karl Ove Knausgaard. Credit: Sam Barker)

Margaret Drabble - The Millstone  

This month World Book Club is talking to the acclaimed British writer Margaret Drabble about her remarkable novel The Millstone. At a time when illegitimacy is taboo, Rosamund Stacey is pregnant after a one-night stand. Despite her independence and academic brilliance, she is naïve and unworldly and the choices before her are daunting. She must adapt to life as a single mother, but in the perfection and helplessness of her baby she finds a depth of feeling she has never known before. The Millstone conjures a London of the sixties that is not quite yet swinging and where sexual liberation has not quite yet arrived. (Picture: Margaret Drabble. Photo credit: Ruth Corney.)

Crime and Punishment  

Russian writer Dostoyevsky’s haunting classic thriller, Crime and Punishment, is celebrating its 150th birthday this year. Consumed by the idea of his own special destiny, Rashkolnikov is drawn to commit a terrible crime. In the aftermath, he is dogged by madness, guilt and a calculating detective, and a feverish cat-and-mouse game unfolds. Speaking on behalf of the novel are acclaimed Russian writer Boris Akunin and Russian scholar Dr Sarah Young who will be discussing this timeless Russian classic with the audience in the room at Pushkin House and around the world. The three extracts of the book were taken from Oliver Ready’s translation by Penguin Books. A special edition of World Book Club this month at London’s elegant Pushkin House, the UK capital’s Russian cultural hub. This month, as part of the BBC’s Love to Read Campaign, presenter Harriett Gilbert is picking her favourite novel to discuss. (Photo credit: Alexander Aksakov, Getty Images)

Anne Enright - The Gathering  

This month World Book Club talks to the acclaimed Irish writer Anne Enright about her poignant Booker Prize-winning novel The Gathering. In it Veronica, one of the nine surviving Hegarty siblings, is bringing her brother Liam home to Dublin to bury. He walked to his death in the sea in Brighton, his brain muddled by drink, his pockets filled with stones. As the Hegarty clan gathers to mourn at Liam’s funeral Veronica retraces the troubled history and the murky family secrets that have festered over the years and brought tragedy in their wake. A novel about love, death and the darkness of thwarted desire The Gathering has won admirers the world over.

DBC Pierre - Vernon God Little  

Harriett Gilbert talks to the hugely acclaimed writer DBC Pierre about his best-selling first novel Vernon God Little. An absurdly humorous look at the misadventures of a Texas teen named Vernon Little whose best friend has just killed 16 of their classmates and himself. In the wake of the tragedy, the townspeople seek both answers and vengeance; because Vernon was the killer's closest friend, he becomes the focus of their fury. Hailed by the critics and lauded by readers for its riotous and scathing portrayal of America in an age of trial by media, materialism, and violence, Vernon God Little was an international sensation when it was first published in 2003 and awarded the prestigious Man Booker Prize. (Photo: DBC Pierre outside BBC Old Broadcasting House)

Juan Gabriel Vasquez - The Sound of Things Falling  

We talking to acclaimed Colombian writer Juan Gabriel Vasquez about his dark and compelling novel The Sound of Things Falling. Vasquez explores the recent tortured history of his home country through a complex interweaving of personal stories and confronts the disastrous consequences of the war between the drugs cartels and government forces which played out so violently in Colombia’s streets and in the skies above. After witnessing a friend’s murder, Antonio discovers the many ways in which his own and other lives have been deformed by his country’s recent brutal past. His journey leads him back to the 1960s and a world on the brink of change; a time before drug-trafficking trapped a whole generation in a living nightmare. (Photo: Juan Gabriel Vasquez. Credit: Hermance Triay)

Tan Twan Eng - The Garden of Evening Mists  

This month we’re in The Book Lounge Bookshop in Cape Town, South Africa and talking to the Malaysian novelist Tan Twan Eng about his Man Asian Literary Prize-winning novel, The Garden of Evening Mists. This haunting tale, set in the jungles of Malaya during and after World War II, centres on Yun Ling, the sole survivor of a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in which her sister perished. Driven by the desire to honour her sister’s memory through the creation of a lush and sensuous garden Yun Ling falls into a relationship with the enigmatic Japanese gardener Aritomo and begins a journey into her past, inextricably linked with the secrets of her troubled country’s history. (Picture: Tan Twan Eng. Credit: Lloyd Smith.)

Charlotte Brontë - Jane Eyre  

To celebrate the bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth, World Book Club travels back to Victorian England to discuss her captivating and enduring tale, Jane Eyre with writer Tracy Chevalier and biographer Claire Harman in a packed BBC Radio Theatre. The novel traces the fortunes of a young orphaned girl searching for a sense of belonging and identity in a hostile world, plagued by both gender and social inequality. Weaving together the sweeping romance between Jane and Mr Rochester, a social commentary on nineteenth century England and set against the eerie Gothic backdrop of imposing mansions and wild moorland, Brontë has produced one of the world’s most loved and timeless tales. (Photo: Charlotte Bronte. Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Nuruddin Farah - Maps  

This month, as part of the World Service’s Identity Season, World Book Club is in Cape Town, home of acclaimed Somali writer Nuruddin Farah, where we’ll be talking to him about his novel, Maps. This moving and dramatic book is the first of three novels which make up Nuruddin Farah’s Blood in the Sun trilogy. Maps traces the journey of a young orphaned boy, Askar, who is taken under the wing of a loving surrogate mother, Misra. Set in both Somalia and Ethiopia with an ever looming backdrop of conflict and political turmoil, Askar struggles to find and forge his identity in a land ravaged by war. Farah’s lucid exploration of struggle – both internal and external; personal and political – is as profound as it is compelling and draws on his own complex relationship with his native Somalia. (Picture credit: Jeffrey Wilson.)

Judith Kerr - When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit  

This month we talk to the much-loved German-born, British author and illustrator Judith Kerr about her classic children’s novel, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. Set during World War Two, this semi-autobiographical novel traces the story of a young Jewish girl and her family who flee Berlin just as the Nazis come to power. The journey of a family splintered by conflict, driven by fear and eventually rewarded with reunion is seen through the eyes of the nine-year-old Anna. Judith Kerr’s novel, by turns heart-lifting and heart-rending has stood the test of time. Celebrating its 45th anniversary this year it continues to be enjoyed by readers of all ages to this day. (Picture: Judith Kerr. Credit: Eliz Huseyin)

Cees Nooteboom - The Following Story  

This quixotic ‘novel of ideas’ blends philosophical reflection with the haunting tale of Herman Mussert, a retired, outmoded ancient language teacher preoccupied with Classical antiquity. After falling asleep one evening in Amsterdam, he mysteriously wakes the next morning in a hotel room in Lisbon where he slept with another man’s wife twenty years earlier. From here Mussert embarks on an enigmatic journey of the mind, contemplating passion, death, wisdom and disillusionment. Presented by Harriet Gilbert.

Elizabeth Gilbert: Eat, Pray, Love  

American writer Elizabeth Gilbert talks about her phenomenally successful novel Eat, Pray, Love. On a self-confessed ‘search for everything', Eat, Pray, Love charts the year in which Elizabeth Gilbert, aged 34, left behind her unfulfilling marriage, a volatile fling and life as she knew it, to embark on a spiritual voyage of discovery. The memoir brings together humour, eccentricity and honesty as the author documents the trials and triumphs of her travels through Italy, India and Indonesia in search of pleasure, peace and personal growth. With meditations on the culinary delights of Rome, spiritual development in an Indian ashram and passionate lovers in Bali, the enduring appeal of this bestselling memoir has drawn readers from all around the world as the author struggles to break free from the pressures of modern life and to find a deeper meaning and happiness. (Photo: Elizabeth Gilbert)

Leila Aboulela - Minaret  

This month World Book Club talks to Sudanese writer Leila Aboulela about her award-winning novel Minaret. This poignant and lyrical tale traces the journey of a young woman, Najwa, who is forced to flee her native Khartoum in Sudan, amidst conflict and political turmoil and exchange it for the anonymity of London. Drawing on her own experience, Leila Aboulela creates a rich and moving narrative, exploring the fault lines between traditional Islamic culture and the modern, cosmopolitan life of Western Europe. This beautiful, challenging novel traces Najwa’s struggle with bigotry and faith; isolation and love as she attempts to make sense of her new life and surroundings whilst not losing sight of her roots and heritage.

Jonathan Franzen - Freedom  

US literary superstar Jonathan Franzen talks about his hugely acclaimed novel Freedom. An epic of contemporary love and marriage, Freedom charts the exploits of the Berglund family, capturing the temptations and burdens of liberty, the thrills of teenage lust, the frustrations of trying to change the world, and the sobering compromises of middle age. In fixing his unflinching gaze on the memorable trio of characters, Patty, Walter, and reprobate rockstar Richard Katz and on how they struggle to live in an ever more confusing world, Franzen has produced an indelible and deeply moving portrait of 21st Century America. (Photo: Jonathan Franzen. Credit: Getty Images)

Deborah Moggach - Tulip Fever  

This month World Book Club talks about the acclaimed international bestseller Tulip Fever with its British author Deborah Moggach. It's 1630s Amsterdam, and tulip fever has seized its inhabitants. Everywhere men are seduced by the exotic flower. But for wealthy merchant Cornelis Sandvoort it is his young and beautiful wife Sophie that he desires above all, hoping that she will bring him the joy that not even his considerable fortune can buy. An heir. He commissions a talented and dashing young portraitist to immortalise them on canvas, but as the portrait unfolds, so does a passion that breeds a grand deception – and as the lies multiply, events move toward a thrilling and tragic climax. (Photo: Deborah Moggach) (Credit: BBC)

Andrey Kurkov - Death and the Penguin  

Andrey Kurkov discusses his darkly comic novel Death and the Penguin with Harriett Gilbert, and responds to listeners' questions from around the world. The book is set in the grey and deeply surreal world of the former Soviet republic, in which aspiring writer Viktor, who lives with his pet penguin Misha, is asked to write obituaries for Ukrainian VIPs. But the VIPs are still alive - for now. His pride turns to terror as he realises that both he and Misha have been drawn into a trap, from which there seems to be no escape. The programme is recorded live in his native Ukraine, at the historic Mikhail Bulgakov Museum in Kiev.* *(Bulgagov was a Kiev-born Russian writer and playwright from the first half of the 20th Century) (Photo: Andrey Kurkov sitting next to his literary hero, Mikhail Bulgakov, in Kiev. Credit: Daniel Simons)

Jeanette Winterson - Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit  

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is Jeanette Winterson's searing yet ultimately uplifting coming-out, coming-of-age tale, in which a young girl learns to rebel against her fanatical, cult-like upbringing, and set out on her own path in life. To mark thirty years since its publication, here's another chance to hear the memorable World Book Club in which Jeanette Winterson discusses where fact meets fiction - there are distinct parallels to her own life. Hear how important this ground-breaking novel has been for readers around the globe. British writer Jeanette Winterson is in conversation with Harriett Gilbert. (First broadcast in 2012.) (Picture: Jeanette Winterson. Photo: Sam Churchill)

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