Story of the Stone (Dream of the Red Chamber) by Cao Xueqin (see earlier entry) – a novel which takes the reader into a closely described 18th-century Chinese family, tells the stories of dozens of main characters and a few hundred minor ones, with many sad stories of the girls (both the maids and the members of the family, who all had to be married off), and the whole thing wrapped in a Buddhist framework that casts a different light on all the stories in retrospect. Dore J. Levy, in Ideal and Actual in ‘The Story of the Stone’, says that to appreciate the novel’s position in Chinese culture, we must imagine a work with the critical cachet of James Joyce’s Ulysses and the popular appeal of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, and twice as long as the two combined.
Also Thomas Bernhard, particularly the autobiography in five short volumes: Die Ursache, Der Keller, Der Atem, Die Kälte, Ein Kind. There is a collected volume, but these books could probably be picked up secondhand nowadays, for example from www.abebooks.de. Here’s a blurb from Publishers Weekly on the English edition:
Born out of wedlock, of a father whose name he was forbidden to mention and a mother who considered him “worthless,” Bernhard spent his early life in a state of torment made bearable only by his musical studies and the love of his grandfather, a failed writer and social outcast. From a Nazi boarding school, he went to a Catholic grammar school which was scarcely less oppressive. At 15 he made the liberating decision to work in a grocer’s shop catering to destitutes; but in his 19th year he contracted pneumonia, then tuberculosis, and his grandfather and mother died in quick succession.
I remember the scenes from the tuberculosis hospital, where Bernhard could see the new graves under his window.
Both books, despite the subjects, have plenty of humour.
I’m sure I could find many more. And that’s just novels. But the meme doesn’t say ‘novels’.