10 Books with Inspirational Male Characters

I made a list of books with inspirational male characters. I tried to include books from various cultures which I hope can be of interest to all of you. The list includes books from Mauritania, French-speaking Canada, Turkey, USA, Cuba, Ukraine, Algeria, Pakistan and France. The characters I appreciate are often complex, nuanced and multilayered, as well as sensitive and empathetic rather than the proverbial ‘heroes’.

1 Autumn Rounds by Jacques Poulin

Inspirational Male Character: The Driver in Autumn Rounds

Autumn Rounds by the Canadian writer, Jacques Poulin is a gentle, tender, luminous and deeply meditative novel exploring the meaning of solitude, literature in our life, human connections, growing old and finding love at mature age. It is also an ode to the natural beauty of the Quebec landscapes and their power to heal physical and emotional wounds. Writing is subtle and delicate to reflect the inner life of the main protagonist, the Driver and people he encounters during his journey. Poulin’s prose conveys soothing melancholy in which characters in his book find the air of comfort. Autumn Rounds tells a story of a gentle middle-aged man referred to as the Driver who runs a mobile library travelling around Quebec along the north bank St Lawrence River visiting little towns and villages lending his books to the readers with their unique tastes for great literature. He is a sensitive character, with firm convictions and empathy for his fellow human beings as well as animals. During his rounds, the Driver meets a variety of readers, some of them are damaged people, or going through a heartbreak or depression, experiencing sleepless nights, with unique interests in the literary works of art. Ultimately this is a quiet and gentle read with a sensitive character, the Driver at its centre with many ruminations on ordinary life and daily tasks and activities making one’s existence a bit less painful. I love the idea of a sensitive and thoughtful male character. FULL REVIEW

2 Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali

Inspirational Male Character: Raif Efendi

In Madonna in a Fur Coat, we witness the development of ‘love’ from the perspective of a young, extremely sensitive Turkish man, Raif Efendi. Ali’s writing offers probably one of the best descriptions of a sensitive man, deeply emphatic soul. Madonna in a Fur Coat’ is a pure definition of ‘melancholy’ and yearning for missed opportunities in life. We follow the life of Raif during the 1920s and 1930s while he lives in Berlin, Istanbul and Ankara. While in Berlin, he meets a Jewish woman, Maria and they become the loves of each other’s lives. Their love, at times, appears to be more platonic, than romantic; marred by the complexity of their respective backgrounds, social norms, and by the struggles caused by the mundanes of life. The character of Raif Efendi is so skillfully outlined, his inner life is well depicted in this short book. 

3 The Halfway House by Guillermo Rosales

Inspirational Male Character: William Figueras

In The Halfway House we follow Guillermo Rosales’s alter ego, William Figueras, a victim of his unfortunate circumstances and times during which he lived. We find out that William’s book was suppressed by the regime in Cuba, and it had a degrading impact on his life. He arrives in Miami 20 years later dejected, beaten by the life and circumstances. William was a “toothless, skinny, frightened guy who had to be admitted to a psychic ward that very day”, so-called the halfway house. He had a history of mental illness and is placed in the home for people suffering from mental illness – the halfway house located somewhere in Miami. Our protagonist loves literature, especially English poetry. William is well-read and often references books from world literature including Proust, Joyce, Beckett, Sartre. However, when it comes to making the ends meet, that rich intellectual baggage did not prepare William for the cruelty of daily existence in the halfway house where people are violent towards each other, urinate in the hallways, abuse each other and subjugate each other to all forms of tyranny. It seems as if William traded one tyranny in Cuba, the one imposed by the communist regime, for another type of tyranny in the halfway house in Miami, the one that speaks to the darkest depths of human nature enabled by the indifference of the rest of community – it is an inferno. William is a complex, ambiguous, nuanced character. FULL REVIEW

4 Grey Bees by Andrey Kurkov

Inspirational Male Character: Sergey Sergeyich

Grey Bees by the great Ukrainian writer, Andrey Kurkov has become one of my all-time favourite books and its protagonist, one of the most beautiful solitary characters I have encountered in literature,Sergey Sergeyich is someone I would love to set off on a journey with across free, independent Ukraine one day. I cannot express how much I love this book. If you want to learn more about Ukraine, as well as to better understand the cultural and ethnic diversity of this land, including Crimean Tatars, I would highly recommend you get a copy of this novel. The novel centres on a 49-year-old Sergey Sergeyich, a beekeeper, a retired mine safety inspector and one of two inhabitants of Little Starhorodivka, the village in Grey Zone of Donbas. He is one of the greatest introvert characters, a beautiful, solitary, and sensitive soul, living in accordance with the surrounding natural world and its changing seasons. The novel explores the life of ‘an ordinary’ person caught amid the terror of war, the consequences of the military activities,and political repressions on the individual life, small communities, families, and ethnic minorities. The novel captures the life of a sensitive, warm-hearted every-man, Sergey Sergeyich, in a small corner of the world, drowned in a sea of confusion of our superficial reality, being so much in opposition to the order of the natural world he wants to live in accordance with. Sergeyich always seems to stay on the peripheries of the community and observes it from the distance. The reader looks at the life of those living in Grey Zones of the war-torn Donbas as well as occupied Crimea through Sergeyich’s emphatic eyes. In the village where he lives and then throughout his journey from Donbas to Crimea, he is frequently faced with many moral dilemmas in terms of the importance of his values that he must address.  FULL REVIEW

5 The Last Summer of Reason by Tahar Djaout

Inspirational Male Character: Boualem Yekker

If you enjoy Orwell’s 1984 or Huxley’s Brave New World, then I would urge you to get yourself a copy of The Last Summer of Reason. The story chronicles the slow progression of intolerance through the eyes of a bookseller and how it is for an ordinary citizen to live under the oppressive religious and political dictatorship run by the extremists. This short novel evolves around Boualem Yekker, a bookseller living in the unnamed city somewhere in Algeria. His country has been slowly overtaken by the religious fundamentalists, the country that once was a republic with freedom of speech, secular values, equality rights for women and men. Boualem witnesses those changes around him, his daughter and son become brainwashed and subsequently they also join the flock of hate, opposing their father liberal and secular worldview. The world around him becomes “aphasic, opaque, and sullen; it is wearing mourning clothes”. Boualem is alone facing the new religious dictatorship, but in contradictions to many of his fellow citizens, he peacefully resists the Islamic fundamentalism. Throughout the book we are in the mind of Boualem, we see what he thinks, what he dreams about, we are there when he remembers his beautiful childhood, but we also there when he experiences fear. He often feels small and vulnerable in face of the new reality. He was one of the people “suffering from a new malady: an overdeveloped memory”. As a bookseller, Boualem sells dreams in the form of essays, novels.  He is an idealist and free thinker who strongly believes that as long as “music can transport the spirit, painting can make the core bloom with a rapture of colours, and poetry can make the heart pound with rebellion and hope”, the religious fundamentalists will gain nothing. For Boualem, “books — the closeness of them, their contact, their smell, and their contents — constitute the safest refuge against this world of horror. They are the most pleasant and the most subtle means of traveling to a more compassionate planet”.Boualem has a particularly strong affection for persecuted writers, he prefers Keats to Lord Byron, Rousseau to Voltaire, and Dostoevsky to Tolstoy. I love the character of Boualem Yekker so much, he is one of the protagonists in literature who has the strongest moral compass.  FULL REVIEW

6 The Sundays of Jean Dezert by Jean de la Ville de Mirmont

Inspirational Male Character: Jean Dezert

In The Sundays of Jean Dezert, Mirmont outlines a map of his times and shows the nuances of one singular life of an alienated, lost soul in the urban crowd who comes to terms with the banality of own existence.The Sundays of Jean Dezert is a tale of urban solitude, alienation,and mundanes of prosaic life. Jean Dézert is a civil servant, an office worker employed by the Ministry of Welfare. We follow his life on the eve of the Great War (World War I) as he strolls through the city of Paris in quest for the meaning of life, something deeper and larger than his own existence. Even though The Sundays of Jean Dezert was written over 100 years ago, many contemporary readers will be able to recognize themselves in the life of Everyman, Jean Dezert. The feelings of no purpose, resignation, total alienation are well known to many of us.Jean Dezert has a so-called good job and leads a fairly comfortable life in the eyes of many, but this life does not provide him with the emotional equilibrium nor heals his feelings of emptiness. Although his job does not define him, he perceives himself as a servant of nothingness, of empty existence. His occupation pushes him further into depths of depression and resignation. Jean “has never once gone on a long journey in his dreams.” The Sundays of Jean Dezert offers a rather pessimistic outlook on modern life. Jean remains a passenger in the prose of his life. Jean Dezert is a complex, nuanced character still very relatable 100 years after Mirmont wrote this book. It is a short book that one can read in one day. FULL REVIEW

7 The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

Inspirational Male Character: Changez

This book offers beautiful writing and delights with a very sharp approach to the question of identity, “cultural power”, cultural clash between the West and the Eastin a context of the dominance of one powerful country such as the United States (US) prior and after the attacks on the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001. The themes in the ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ are diverse and portrayed in a very nuanced manner. In one of the interviews, Mohsin Hamid said that the objective of this book was to be like a mirror to the reader, to confuse the reader in order to show that the characters in this book are as complex, multidimensional, can be many things, with many identitiesas the people in our world. The story revolves around the conversation in one of the cafes in the bazaar of Lahore between a Changez, a young Pakistani man, and an American stranger where Changez recounts the story of his life mainly focusing on his time living in the USA. We can only hear our Pakistani protagonist; the narrative is told in one voice only as we never hear the American interlocutor, but we can deduce his reactions from Changez’s words. The American man speaks but we cannot hear his voice in the novel; there is only one narrator, one speaker and the story takes place in a real time – this isa remarkably unique narrative forcing the reader to use their conscious and unconscious assumptions related to the protagonists’ cultural, ethnic and religious background. This is a very multilayered read with a complex and nuanced character of Changez. FULL REVIEW

8 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Inspirational Male Character: Frank Doel

84 Charing Cross Roadby Helene Hanff provides one of these pleasant reading experiences. It is a true story written by real life events; this tale is both life-affirming and sad but still a real treat for all the bibliophiles. This gem consists of letters written between an American writer, Helene Hanff and a British bookseller, Frank Doel and other employees of Marks & Co Bookshop in London which was based in Charing Cross Road. Their correspondence over-spanned the period of twenty years, between 1949 and 1968.  Sadly, Frank died in 1968 without ever having an opportunity to meet Helene in person. This little book is about developing a long-distance friendship between two people by the means of letters. Over two decades, they had exchanged gifts, recipes, ideas on books and current world events. What started as an inquiry about one book that Helene was unable to find in New York City, it turned into a magical relationship between two unique souls connected by their love for words and stories. Frank Doel is such a lovely real-life character and memorable literary hero.

9 The Desert and The Drum by Mbarek Ould Beyrouk

Inspirational Male Character: Memed

The Desert and The Drum tells a story of a young Bedouin woman from the Oulad Mahmoud tribe, Rayhana who lives in the Sahara Desert with her tribe. Upon the arrival of the international mining company that sets up its camp nearby, she meets a young man called Yahya, an engineer from an allied tribe who takes advantage of Rayhana’s innocence. When Rayhana falls pregnant with this man, her mother wanting to hide a feeling of shame, under the excuse of illness, takes her daughter away so that she can give birth far away from the glances of her tribal community to ensure that no one will find out about the pregnancy. The so-called good name and the honor of the family is at stake. Rayhana’s mother decides to leave the baby in care of an older woman, Massouda. Once they are back in their camp, the mother rushes Rayhana into an arranged marriage. When her new husband, Memed learns about the baby, he sets out on a journey to find it and adopt it as his own. Nevertheless, he finds out that Rayhana’s mother had already moved the child further away from the older woman who was initially entrusted with care of the child, and no one knows where the child was taken to. Rayhana decides to steal the tribal sacred drum, a symbol of the religious beliefs, as a form of retribution for the disappearance of her child. She flees across the desert to the city where she looks for her “little soul”. During her journey she meets a variety of unconventional characters which creates a fascinating portrait of the contemporary Mauritanian society. Memed is“turned inwards, his eyes full of sadness, as if he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders”. He is one of the most educated members of the tribe. He reads books, speaks French, and is very thoughtful, polite, and sensitive. However, despite all his qualities, women in the tribe find him “boring” including Rayhana who rejects his love. He does not think highly of the inhabitants of the cities and of the strangers who set the camp next to them in the desert. Memed does not feel inferior or worse when it comes to dealing with the strangers. In the story, Memed does nothing wrong, but his suffering is immense. He is the inadvertent victim of a situation created by others. All he ever wanted was to love and marry his soulmate. Instead, he ends up feeling lost, and betrayed.  Memed is almost a flawless character in the novel, but his life is tragic in many ways. The character of Memed shows that despite living in a tribal community and following its strict norms, there is still a place for compassion, understanding and nuance. FULL REVIEW

10 Stoner by John Williams

Inspirational Male Character: William Stoner

Stoner is a story of a very ordinary man, William Stoner, not a hero, not a villain, the most human protagonist ever written. It is an honest portrayal of a man who gave his best attempt to live the life of integrity. His life might be considered by some as dull and unspectacular but still with the realm of possibility something decent to occur. Even if one’s life is disappointing, we still can expect small moments of beauty. The novel follows the life of William Stoner, his career as an academic teacher in literature, the relationship with his wife, Edith, the affair with his work colleague, Katherine, and his relationship with his daughter, Grace. Stoner is diligent, hard-working, totally dedicated to his job – something that should be appreciated by those around him, but in reality, no one cares. Stoner is a great teacher, but that’s all … he tries to live with dignity, then he dies, he does not exist in other people’s memory. It shows that life is short, banal, and often we will be forgotten shortly afterwards we cease to exist. Once our children, partners, siblings die, then any memory of us will disappear with them. FULL REVIEW

Related Posts

Leave a Reply