1. Asterix and Cleopatra

The small Armorican Village with an indomitable spirit has enthralled generations of French readers and comic book lovers across the world. Asterix, Obelix and his friends are recognizable characters everywhere and are also a great source of pride in France. Digging deep into the history of France, which was once called Gaul during the Roman times, Asterix is full of joyful word puns, cultural references, visual gags, unforgettable stories and of course lovely illustrations. Goscinny was the genius behind the stories while Uderzo, was in charge of the illustrations.

Asterix and Cleopatra has all the classic elements of a great Asterix story and in English, the pen of Anthea Bell captures every pun and gag with so much flair. The perfect introduction to the world of Asterix.

2. The Little Prince

One of the most widely read and translated books from French literature, this tiny story of a stranded pilot who meets a prince from another planet in a desert, is a masterpiece from Antoine de St Exupery- an aviator during the first world war. With illustrations by the writer himself, some of whom, like the hat/python have become iconic in world culture, Little Prince is many things- a fable, a story for children, a story for adults on what it is to be a child, philosophical musing and so much more.

3. The Stranger

French philosophy of the 40s and 50s provided the world with Existentialism- where French intellectuals like Sartre and Camus tried to place the role of humanity in the modern world and its many absurdities. The most famous of these works is The Stranger by Albert Camus. Right from its devastating opening line, The Stranger is devised to unsettle and make us question many of our assumptions of the world and the society we live in. A quintessential introduction to a way of thought that has defined the way the French think, The Stranger is a must have in every bookshelf.

4. The Scapegoat

The French title of Daniel Pennac’s The Scapegoat is inspired by a famous novel by Emile Zola in the 19th century. The Scapegoat is the first of series of books that Pennac wrote on the life of Malaussene and his strange family of siblings. Set in the suburbs of Paris, the Malaussene novels are hilarious and extremely cleverly constructed books that also play on the famous French genre of Police Novels. The novel’s setting also provides it with a multicultural touch- a great way to discover a different look at modern Paris and its suburbs.

5. The Hunchback of Notre Dame

If there is one writer who is universally adored in France and who definitely changed French literature in ways no one else has, it has to be Victor Hugo. A real literary superstar of the 19th century, Victor Hugo brought in a unique approach to French historical fiction- concentrating on not the glorious winners of history, but the marginal players and the losers. His masterpieces- Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame- are still essential reading in every school in France as are his poems. Hugo’s narrative power, mastery of the language and his deep affection for people makes the Hunchback of Notre Dame a perfect introduction to the writer. With no exaggeration, the book is one of the fundamental pieces of French Culture.

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