Marie Arana is a Washington, D.C.- and Lima, Peru-based journalist and author.
American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood; Cellophane; Lima Nights
2001 National Book Award finalist and PEN/Memoir Award finalist (American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood), 2006 John Sargent Prize finalist (Cellophane)
Which one or two American books or plays would you yourself recommend to the foreign leaders?
I would recommend Maxine Hong Kingston's Warrior Woman, which showed us a dazzling, new way to be an American; and I would urge them to read Bernard Malamud's The Assistant, for its deep insights into America's immigrant culture and our abiding obsession with "belonging."
Who in your childhood–for example, parent or teacher—encouraged you to read books, and which one or two books do you remember most fondly?
My mother, an American married to a Peruvian, who was trying to teach her children about the larger world, made an enormous impact on my reading habits. She introduced us to Joseph Conrad early on, figuring that he, too, was a cultural transplant who kept his eyes open and made keen, original observations about the nature of man. She also taught us to love Rudyard Kipling, whose fey humor and adventurous soul made a huge impression on us. Conrad's short stories and Kipling's poems were an integral part of our childhood in Peru.
Which books by writers of the other G8 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom) have been most important to you as a writer?
I don't think I would have become a writer if I had not read seminal works by the following writers: Gustave Flaubert (Madame Bovary), Leo Tolstoy (Anna Karenina), Vladimir Nabokov (Speak, Memory), Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale), Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice), Italo Calvino (If on a Winter's Night a Traveler) and Yasunari Kawabata (A Thousand Cranes). Reading these as a youngster, I was persuaded that good stories trump cultural differences. They hold the key to human understanding.