Working class literature: reading guide

POUM members reading during the Spanish Civil War.'s reading guide on literature with a focus on work and accurate representations of working class life, culture and resistance to power.


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.
  • The Mexican - short story about a Mexican revolutionary who uses his skills as a boxer to buy guns for the growing rebellion. It ends with a prize fight in the United States, with the hero up against the boxing establishment and the racism of white Americans.

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.

Ralph Ellison

  • The Black Ball - short story about attempts to organise workers across colour lines in the segregated Southern United States.
  • The Invisible Man - Novel about a black working class man who leaves the segregation south to make it in Harlem. Deals with racism and class conflict in a series of odd jobs and unemployment. Also deals heavily with how the Communist party and Black Nationalists interact with and exploit racial tensions and class conflict.


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.


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.


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.

Karel Čapek

  • Rossum's Universal Robots - a stage play about a factory that has invented a new, more efficient worker called a Robot (first usage of the term). The robots replace the global labour force but things quickly go wrong and the Robots rise up against their masters.


    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.


    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.
  • Theodor Plivier

  • The Kaiser Goes, the Generals Remain fictionalised account of the Sailors revolt in 1918 and the abdication of the Kaiser. Based on the authors own experience as a sailor in the Imperial High Sea's Fleet.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


Apr 27 2013 18:36

Excellent stuff, reddebrek! Look forward to it.. thanks as well to flaneur whose been adding loads of these to the library as well!

Apr 28 2013 10:37
Ed wrote:
Excellent stuff, reddebrek! Look forward to it.. thanks as well to flaneur whose been adding loads of these to the library as well!

Sure thing, I will say this though, most of these I'm adding I either haven't read or did years ago so if anyone who has read them and wants to write a better intro can feel free.

I also found a torrent containing epub's of every book by John Steinbeck And I think there's a few more that could be added

Edit, I found a pdf of Conquered City, unfortunately its one of those new ones that won't let you read it without connecting to Amazon. However has transcribed the book so I'm in the process of creating a pdf for it.

Apr 29 2013 08:45

* The Life Story and Real Adventures of the Poor Man of Toggenburg (first published 1788/89) by Ulrich Bräker, the life story of a 18th century man from poor peasant background from Northern Switzerland, who worked as a farm worker and a gun powder worker, than became a mercenary in the Prussian army, deserted and became a intermediary in the cloth trade, an unique document from a member of the rural underclass of that period

fingers malone
Apr 29 2013 11:35

Just seen this thread. The list is great and has a lot of my favourite books on it but I'm a bit bothered that it's very very male.

Some suggestions:
America: Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time. A woman imprisoned in a mental hospital after fighting back against violence in her family travels to an anarchist society in the future. The novel cuts between the anarchist future and her life in the present and explores how the anarchist society works.

fingers malone
Apr 29 2013 11:39

Also from America, Rosa Guy, "Edith Jackson"

Apr 29 2013 12:11

I’d forgotten about Marge Percy’s Vida, 1980.

Marge Percy – Vida
Set in the 1980s a woman member of a 1960s Weatherman type organisation is still living undercover - still pursued by the authorities – her story is told in flashbacks – tense and enjoyable.

Apr 30 2013 21:02

Sorry it seems I got a little ahead of myself has only transcribed the first four chapters of Conquered City. I'll keep an eye out to see if they finish, until then if anyone wants those chapters as a sample its here

Chilli Sauce
May 1 2013 16:11

On Kafka, it might be worth including The Metamorphosis as it could be read as an allegory on alienated labor.

What about Death of A Salesman? I've never actually read it, but it is about the alienation of the American dream IIRC.

May 1 2013 18:53
Chilli Sauce wrote:
On Kafka, it might be worth including The Metamorphosis as it could be read as an allegory on alienated labor.


In what way? It seemed pretty clear it was about disability/illness…

May 1 2013 19:30

I never really understood what ‘Metamorphosis’ was about. It’s open to several interpretations in the introduction I read.

In Kafka’s, ‘The Castle’, however the meaning is clear I think - when you are young and confident you may get within reach of your goal – however if thwarted, you then become devious attempting to achieve your objective by oblique means and by doing so you then play into the hands of your opponents – by ‘playing their game’ the objective you desire recedes. And as time passes and you find diversion in other activities.

Aug 24 2013 21:52

I've added a few more, I've also found a site that has some interesting fiction including some by African writers. Though English is a second language for the site runners and their layout isn't very good. Plus something about their "manifesto" and site comments seems a bit weird.

Sep 11 2013 14:28

Nice one for flagging that up Reddebrek, the site looks really good.. and thanks for all the additions, so far, they're much appreciated!

the button
Sep 11 2013 16:15

The best novelist I've discovered in recent years is Magnus Mills, especially his first one, "The restraint of beasts." This is a fantastic novel about the drudgery and petty jealousies of working class life, as two Scottish fencers and their English foreman travel the country putting up fences. And accidentally killing a load of people on the way, in a series of increasingly-bizarre industrial accidents.

His later books are less realist, and have a fairy-tale/dreamlike quality. There's "The scheme for full employment," which is about an imaginary ultra-workfare scheme, where people are put to work driving vans from one depot to another. The vans contain spare parts for the vans. There's a strike in there, when the workers who want to take their non-jobs seriously get pissed off with the ones who skive off or run their own businesses on the side.

And there's also "Explorers of the new century," which is about two competing expeditions, looking to transport some mules to the remotest part of the world and leave them there. (Can't really say any more about that one without massive spoilers).

Anyway, I think he's great -- a real discovery.

Serge Forward
Sep 14 2013 10:20

Gordon DeMarco's Riley Kovachs private-eye series: October Heat, Frisco Blues and The Canvas Prison. He also wrote Elvis in Aspic (the one book I haven't read) and the Edinburgh based Murder at the Fringe.

Here's his obituary from 1995.

Serge Forward
Sep 14 2013 21:36

Days of Hope by Jim Allen. Cracking book version (novel) of the excellent 1970s TV serial. Set during WW1 and the General Strike,

Yao Ming 2
Jan 13 2014 13:31

I'm going to show the film of Johnny the Partisan in a couple of months, but I can't find the English subtitles. If anyone has the English release or a torrent with an .srt file I'd be grateful if they could get in touch with me.


Apr 6 2014 21:34

Trust read GB84, its pretty good, it does an excellent job cataloguing most of the intrigues and repressive tactics by the government, but it also shows the problems with Trade Unions, (the excuses given for no support, and explains quite briefly there role as mediators).

In addition to balance the plotting and back room deals of the powerful including the NUM the first page of each chapter is a stream of conciousness by one of two Miners showing their conditions and what they were going through on the picket lines and slag heaps.

Oct 2 2014 13:10

Toni Morrison - outstanding novelist telling stories of working class experience:
The Bluest Eye
and of course Beloved

All from a Blackwoman's perspective, writing as a Blackwoman.

Louise Erdrich, outstanding woman writer of Ojibwa and German cultural heritage, novelist and poet. Her novels describe contemporary and historical experiences of indigenous Americans and the non-indigenous people living on or near the fictional reservation where all her novels are set.
The Bingo Palace - on a backdrop of the place where federal and reservation law on gambling intersect
Love Medicine
The Beet Queen
The last report on the Miracles at Little No Horse
Tracks - which opens with the unforgettable line "We started falling with the snow, and like the snow we continued to fall", and yet here she is, two hundred years later, their descendant, alive and telling the tale. Inspiring and awesome.
The Round House, 2012 (I think, Pulitzer Prize winner or nominee) tells the story of a community activist raped on reservation land, her story and the collision of reservation and federal law.

May 11 2015 19:29

One thing I was wondering, do people think that Moby Dick should be in here? Reading it it struck me that it should be, as it is a superbly written book from the perspective of whaling workers, detailing their working life and conditions

May 12 2015 09:17

First time I've seen this - just followed a link from Steven from another post. It's a great list. It's also nice to see that after all these years The Button is still right on the money: Magnus Mills is brilliant and The Restraint of Beasts (at least) should definitely make the list. Marge Piercy is another necessary suggestion.

I'm surprised by the love in for Zola - his portrayal of Souvarine fits with that long tradition of anarchist bogey men: ‘He threw away his last cigarette and walked off into darkness without so much as a glance behind. His shadowy form dwindled and merged into the night. He was bound for the unknown, over yonder, calmly going to deal violent destruction wherever dynamite could be found to blow up cities and men.’ (for more on this: )

There are a few more I could add - a book I particularly rate is Aleksander Hemon's The Lazarus Project. It's by and about a Bosnian-American author who left Sarajevo cause of the war, who is researching a real historical figure, Lazarus Averbuch. Averbuch was a young Jew who escaped the 1903 Kishinev pogrom only to be shot as an anarchist by the chief of police in Chicago in 1908. The portrayal of post-Haymarket Chicago, and the paranoia surrounding Emma Goldman and anarchism, is thoughtful, as are the book's musings on displacement, war, and poverty.

As for Moby Dick, it probably deserves to go on any list of books. That said, it's difficult to define what counts as 'working class fiction'. I had a go here but the description above is clearer and more succinct: 'literature with a focus on work and accurate representations of working class life, culture and resistance to power.' MD certainly satisfies the first part but how much does it show resistance to power? IIRC there is the story of a mutiny on another ship but though people try to dissuade Ahab, I guess the version in which the crew ties him up until he stops being such a nutter wouldn't have made such a great book!

Finally, there was a book I read a while ago... The Deconstruction of Professor Thrub. I forget the author but it was genius. Like, absolute genius. wink

Agent of the In...
May 12 2015 13:12
DD wrote:
Finally, there was a book I read a while ago... The Deconstruction of Professor Thrub. I forget the author but it was genius. Like, absolute genius. ;)

Yeah! And Peace, Love & Petrol Bombs.

May 12 2015 15:55

I've added a couple more, and I think another interesting book to check out is `How I killed Margaret Thatcher` its about a working class family in Dudley with the main focus being the eight year old son Sean. Its about the effects of the 80's and how a child understands them and tries to resist.

jef costello
May 12 2015 16:30

Great thread, it was marked as read but it's new to me!
More links please smile

Native Son - Richard Price, a fairly deterministic look at how blacks are shepherded into roles and have little choice between servitude and criminality and the help of white revolutionaries isn't particularly helpful and even when it might be the central character is unable to really understand or accept it.

The other Richard Price writes novels with some really good portrayals of working class life and culture, not a particularly great novelist but readable. Blood brothers, The Wanderers, Lush LIfe, Ladies Man.

The Caine Mutiny - interesting look at the clash of cultures and the nature of authority although ultimately not having any real radical content.

May 12 2015 17:02
Steven. wrote:
One thing I was wondering, do people think that Moby Dick should be in here? Reading it it struck me that it should be, as it is a superbly written book from the perspective of whaling workers, detailing their working life and conditions

Need you ask?

It was such a monumental work of fiction that it inspired CLR James' equally monumental work of scholarship: Mariners, Renegades and Castaways: The Story of Herman Melville and the World We Live In.

Also, Melville's novella Benito Cereno about a revolt on a slave ship.

May 12 2015 16:56

Been meaning to add John Sommerfield to the list.. he was a CP member until 1956 and served with the International Brigades in Spain (though his book about that, Volunteer in Spain, was slammed by Orwell as basically being a CP fiction).

The books of his that I've read are May Day (about a fictional general strike in 1930s London and even though he was a CP member, its basically him thumbing his nose at the Soviet Writers' Congress about what 'proper' prole lit should be) and North West Five (about a young working-class couple trying to find housing during the post-WW2 housing crisis).. there's also another by him called Trouble in Porter Street, which I've been meaning to read.. the CP asked him to write a pamphlet about organising a rent strike but he wrote a novel about one instead..

May 12 2015 19:49

Two books which opened my eyes to sexuality and race were James Baldwin’s books, Giovanni’s Room (1956) and Another Country (1960). He fictionalizes ‘personal’ questions of alienation and inequality based on race, sexuality and social class. Giovanni’s Room is generally regarded as the superior text though I enjoyed Another Country more. One of the characters reminded me of Miles Davis.

May 12 2015 20:09

Richard Wright wrote Native Son

jef costello wrote:

Native Son - Richard Price, a fairly deterministic look at how blacks are shepherded into roles and have little choice between servitude and criminality and the help of white revolutionaries isn't particularly helpful and even when it might be the central character is unable to really understand or accept it.

Alias Recluse
May 12 2015 21:40

For the Slovenian section: Ivan Cankar, Yerney's Justice (1907), tr. Louis Adamic, Vanguard Press, New York, 1926. "Cankar is undoubtedly the greatest writer Yugoslavia has yet produced."--from the Forward to the Vanguard Press edition. The story of a "pathetic, naive pilgrim in quest of justice" with an apocalyptic conclusion.

Russian: Maxim Gorki, The Life of a Useless Man (1907), tr. Moura Budberg, Doubleday & Co., Garden City, 1972. A novel about a feckless loser who ends up becoming an informer working for the Czar's secret police in the lead-up to the 1905 revolution.

German: Hans Fallada, Little Man, What Now? (1933?), Academy Chicago Publishers, Chicago, 1983. A salesman at a department store struggles to survive with his wife and baby in Germany during the depression on the eve of Hitler's rise to power.

Some American "ethnic" novels:

Michael Gold (Itzok Isaac Granich), Jews without Money (1930), Avon Books, New York, 1965. Gold was a lifelong member of the US Communist Party, but this book is very good. No overt propaganda, just lots of evocative narrative and remarkable descriptive passages. About Jewish immigrants in the lower east side of New York around 1900, written from the perspective of a precocious child: "... a prototype for the American proletarian novel", according to the Wikipedia entry for Michael Gold.

Some books by John Fante ("... a lifetime influence on my writing"--Charles Bukowski) about Italian immigrants and their children, and their lousy jobs and disappointments and dreams, in the United States during the Depression era:

John Fante, The Road to Los Angeles (1936), Ecco, New York, 1985.

John Fante, Wait Until Spring, Bandini (1938),Ecco, New York, 2002.

John Fante, Ask the Dust (1939), Harper Perennial, New York, 2006. Introduction by Charles Bukowski.

John Fante, 1933 Was a Bad Year (1985), Ecco, New York, 2002.

May 12 2015 21:59

Thanks for the additional suggestions everyone. I found these couple from Japan as well:
Hayama Yoshiki - The Prostitute
The Crab Cannery Ship: and Other Novels of Struggle - Kobayashi Takiji

May 12 2015 22:33

The Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols

Finished it a few months ago, I really tried to stretch it out cause I didn't want it to end.

The fictional town of Milagro is suffering from a long, slow decline when a unexpected act of defiance, in the form of a renegade beanfield, galvanizes to community to fight back against their disenfranchisement.

Someone, please read it!