Come Valentine Day, and it is time to celebrate love, and the stories that revolve around them. Love Story by Eric Segal , the heartbreaking love story of the rich Oliver Barrett IV and Jenny Cavilleri is enduringly popular. This list does not have the sugar sweet, candy floss ‘romantic’ stories. Instead, these are multi-layered stories of illicit, forbidden or obsessive loves, of losses and betrayals, and of the redemptive power of love.
1) Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Americanah is usually not classified as a romantic novel, but it is Ifemelu and Obinze’s powerful love story. The beautiful and self-assured Nigerian Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Following a traumatic experience, she breaks off with Obinze, and when she returns home fifteen years later, Ifemelu must face Obinze again.
2) Asylum, Patrick McGrath
Stella Raphael is the wife of Max, a forensic psychiatrist who has taken a job in a high-security mental hospital, where she meets Edward Stark, a talented sculptor who is confined to the hospital for the murder of his wife. She falls in love with Stark, and her obsession changes the life of her family and her own. A powerful gothic novel.
3) Brokeback Mountain, Annie Prouix
This short story has won many awards. The story follows the lives of two young men, Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist who meet in the summer of 1963, to look after sheep at a seasonal grazing range on the fictional Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming. They form an intense emotional and sexual attachment, and over the next twenty years, as their separate lives play out, thet continue to reunite for brief liasons on camping trips in remote places.
4) Giovanni's Room, James Baldwin
A novella set in the 1950s Paris, it tells the story of an American David who leads a dull and conventional life till he meets a beautiful Italian man. He is engaged to a woman Hella, and is confounded and tortured as he oscillates between his love for the two!
5) Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject, Daniel Jones
As the editor of Modern Love for the New York Times, Daniel Jones reads thousands of stories about people's intimate relationships and in his book he distills his learnings (from reading more than 50,000 essays on love) into ten aspects of love, including pursuit, destiny, infidelity, loyalty, wisdom and vulnerability. A brilliant piece of non-fiction.
6) Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
For five decades, Florentino Ariza loves and patiently waits for Fermina Daza, who breaks off her engagement to him abruptly and returns all his letters. In those decades Fermina is married to the accomplished national hero, Dr. Juvenal Urbino and when he dies, Florentino returns to her doorstep for another chance.
7) Madame Bovary, Gustav Flaubert
In 1857, following the publication of this ‘serialized’ novel, Flaubert was tried for offences to morality and religion. He was acquitted, and the novel became an immediate bestseller. The story of Emma, bored with her provincial life and marriage, her love affairs and subsequent decline that lead to her suicide is unapologetic and stark!
8) The Book of Gold Leaves, Mirza Waheed
Faiz sees Roohi, a beautiful Shia woman, across the courtyard of a shrine, letting down her long black hair and waiting for a love story to sweep her away. A hauntingly beautiful love story set against the backdrop of the tumultuous Kashmir.
9) Therese and Isabelle, Violette Leduc, translated by Sophie Lewis
When this novel about the love of two girls in a boarding school was released in France in 1966, parts of it were censored because of the explicit overtones of lesbian love. Violette Leduc said this of her novel, “ I'm trying to express as exactly, as minutely as possible the sensations of physical love. There's something here that a woman can understand. I hope this won't appear more scandalous than the thoughts of Molly Bloom at the end of Joyce's Ulysses. Every sincere psychological analysis deserves to be heard, I think.”
10) Twice Born, Margaret Mazzantini
Italian Gemma decides to visit Sarajevo with her son Pietro; it is where she had met and loved Pietro’s father Diego. When they decide to escape the war ravaged Sarajevo, Diego chooses to stay behind with Aska, Pietro’s mother. A brilliant novel of loss and misunderstandings that can ruin a lifetime, and the redemptive power of love.