What great novelists say about everything

A collection of great quotes from great novelists and writers

This is a collection what great novelists have said about everything except writing (I have a separate page on writing coming up soon). As the page is pretty new, and as I am still experimenting the functionalities of Hugo, this page is currently under testing and may be full of bugs and typos.

I will add more content and improve functionalities when I have time.

Table of Contents

Svetlana Alexievich

Belarusian journalist, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2015. Although not a novelist, her writing is beautiful and moving that I’ve included them here.

Second-Hand Time

When it comes down to it, people end their lives for love, from fear of old age, or just out of curiosity, from a desire to come face to face with the mystery of death.

p. 24 (Translation: Bela Shayevich)

People are constantly forced to choose between having freedom and having success and stability; freedom with suffering or happiness without freedom. The majority choose the latter.

p. 24 (Translation: Bela Shayevich)

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Karl Ove Knausgaard

Norwegian Writer best known for his autobiographic novel Min Kamp, or My Struggle, a novel of a Proustian scale and Proustian quality.

My Struggle: A Death in the Family

No less conspicuous than our hiding the corpses is the fact that we always lower them to ground level as fast as possible. A hospital that transports its bodies upward, that sites its cold chambers on the upper floors is practically inconceivable. The dead are stored as close to the ground as possible

p. 6 (Translation: Don Bartlett. Vintage Books, London)

This quote is from the beginning of the My Struggle cycle, a quote that sticks to my head for its observation that the deads are always stored as close to ground. I’ve never thought about it before I read it, and I can’t answer why.

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Milan Kundera

Czech novelist, best known for novels such as The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

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Marcel Proust

French Novelist best known for his 7-volume novel In Search of Lost Time.

In Search of Lost Time (Volume I): The Way by Swann’s

What I fault the newspapers for is that day after day they draw our attention to insignificant things whereas only three or four times in our lives do we read a book in which there is something really essential

p. 29 (Translation: Lydia Davis. Penguin Modern Classics)

An astute observation of the fault of news media, which still holds incredible relevance a century later. In fact, it has become even more relevant today, as discussed here.

In Search of Lost Time (Volume III): The Guermantes Way

… the Princess [Parma]’s state of culture lagged enormously behind the times. Mme de Guermantes was herself a great deal less advanced than the Princess supposed. But it only needed her to be the tiniest bit more advanced than Mme de Parme to astound the latter…

p. 467 (Translation: Mark Treharne. Penguin Modern Classics)

In love, it often happens that gratitude, the desires to give pleasure, causes us to be generous beyond the limits of what hope and self-interest had envisaged.

p. 478 (Translation: Mark Treharne. Penguin Modern Classics)

In Search of Lost Time (Volume IV): Sodom and Gomorrah

[L]ike all the people who are not in love, he imagined that we choose the person we love after endless deliberation and after taking account of various qualitiies and kinds of suitability

p. 99 (Translation: John Sturrock. Penguin Modern Classics)

In Search of Lost Time (Volume V): The Prisoner and The Fugitive

Preparations for war, which the most false of all proverbs recommends as a way of ensuing peace, in fact create the belief in each of the adversaries that the other wants to break off relations, a belief which brings about that very breakdown, and then, once it has taken place, the further belief on each side that it was the other side who wanted it. Even if the threat was not sincere, its success encourages its repetition. But the exact limits of successful bluffing are difficult to determine; if one party goes too far, the other, which up to that point had been retreating, begins to advance; the first, unable to change its methods, accustomed now to the idea that the best way to avoid a breakdown is to seem not to fear it (as I had done this evening with Albertine), and, in its pride, preferring defeat to surrender, continues its threats up to the point where neither party can any longer retreat…

p. 335 (Translation: Carol Clark. Penguin Modern Classics)

After the intricate dance the narrator performend with Albertine, where his threat to break from her was used as a mean to keep her closer to him, the narrator related his maneuvring to how a country used preparations for aggressive as a flawed mean to get the enemy to bend to its will.

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W. G. Sebald

German writer and academic.


[…] it is often our mightiest projects that most obviously betray the degree of our insecurity.

p. 16 (Translation: Anthea Bell)

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Leo Tolstoy

Russian novelist, best known for his novels War and Peace, Anna Karenina and various essays.

Anna Karenina

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way

This is the opening line of the novel; one of the most iconic opening lines in all of Literature.

… he no longer knew where she ended and he began.

Levin’s marriage with Kitty has produced a blissful happiness inside him that he could no longer know what seperated him and Kitty. This is a beautiful quote about love.

Patriotism and Government

I have already several times expressed the thought that in our day the feeling of patriotism is an unnatural, irrational, and harmful feeling, and a cause of a great part of the ills from which mankind is suffering, and that, consequently, this feeling—should not be cultivated, as is now being done, but should, on the contrary, be suppressed and eradicated by all means available to rational men. Yet, strange to say—though it is undeniable that the universal armaments and destructive wars which are ruining the peoples result from that one feeling—all my arguments showing the backwardness, anachronism, and harmfulness of patriotism have been met, and are still met, either by silence, by intentional misinterpretation, or by a strange unvarying reply to the effect that only bad patriotism (Jingoism or Chauvinism) is evil, but that real good patriotism is a very elevated moral feeling, to condemn which is not only irrational but wicked.

In this essay, Tolstoy reasoned against patriotism, which hasn’t gone away more than a hundred years after he wrote the essay, and which continues to do harm to the world in ways Tolstoy observed from his own days.

Indeed, the rise of right-wing conservativism around the world now suggests that we shouldn’t ignore Tolstoy’s warning at all.

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Peter Y. Chuang


Peter Y. Chuang is a novelist, short story writer, and a music critic. When he’s not writing or reading, he’s probably listening to classical music or tinkering with his computers. He uses Linux (current distro of choice: Arch Linux). Read more about his Linux stuff.