I’m not just a reader, I’m also a writer. I state this because in some developing countries (at the very least, in the Philippines), the expectations of the two do not necessarily intersect: some readers want thick, lengthy novels while the output of many writers leans toward the short form (or if we do write novels, they tend to be slim as opposed to the epic fantasies which pose binding problems for the publisher).
But if we look at fiction from around the world, some of the best ones come in the form of the short story. “The Garden of Forking Paths” by Jorge Luis Borges remains memorable and influential on my writing, while “On seeing the 100% perfect girl one beautiful April morning” is arguably Haruki Murakami’s most popular–or at least Googled–short story. (It is also worth mentioning that the effectiveness of these stories depends on the translation.)
Yet the appeal of the novel format cannot be denied. Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is effective because it cannot be compressed and requires that space. (This space is also relative and dependent on the translation–Chinese and Japanese novels tend to be relatively “short” in the original because of the language itself.)
So for this essay, I’ll recommend two mosaic novels, a balanced reconciliation between the two forms. Perhaps the most accessible book (to US readers) would be The Stories of Ibis by Hiroshi Yamamoto (translated by Takami Nieda), and deals with the Japanese paradigm of artificial intelligence. As far as technique is concerned, it’s a fairly standard conceit, with the narrator telling various seemingly-unrelated stories to the protagonist. But these stories provide insight into the culture of Japan, and there’s a significant difference in how they view the world as opposed to the West (or the Philippines for that matter). One recurring theme in several Japanese texts is the threat of underpopulation and that’s the case here. The Stories of Ibis also provides a contrast to the robot apocalypse trope used in Hollywood, and while some of the values of the book can cause discomfort, it only feels so because of the difference in our cultural values.
The other mosaic novel I’d recommend would be 12 Collections & The Teashop by Zoran Živković (translated by Alice Copple-Tošić). The first part of the book, 12 Collections, is much subtler compared to The Stories of Ibis in its approach and provides more space for internal discourse. Whereas the latter was direct, Živković’s approach conjures this sense of wonder, mystery, and eeriness. The individual stories stand well on their own (you can read one of them, “Fingernails”) yet reading it as part of a whole produces something greater than the sum of its parts. The writing sensibility is uniquely Živković (and I could attempt to quantify it but the attempt to do so, in my opinion, defeats the purpose of the experience) and I can’t imagine anyone but Copple-Tošić doing justice to translations of his work.