The 32 best beginnings in the history of literature

Given the medium length of a novel , its first sentence does not seem to be too decisive. After all, tens of thousands remain behind them. However, there are many classic and modern books whose first words have defined, at least iconically, their subsequent legacy. Ways to introduce a story, as charismatic as memorable, that hide behind not only a brilliant mastery of language and wit, but also the very essence of the novel to which they completely precede.

On Book Day we wanted to collect 37 of our favorite beginnings. The order is irrelevant.

1. The name of the rose, from Eco
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was in God, and the Word was God. This was in the beginning, in God, and the faithful monk should repeat every day with humiliating salmodiade that immutable event whose truth is the only one that can be affirmed with incontrovertible certainty.
Deceased some years ago, Umberto Eco displayed in The Name of the Rose all his narrative talent. And here, in his first words, we find part of the keys of his story: semiotic games, meaning-meaning, religious context, dogma and, in the end, a deliciously medieval mystery novel that would be taken to the movies in an excellent film of the same name . Whose start, of course, is not as powerful.

2. History of two cities, by Dickens
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, the age of wisdom, and also of madness; the age of beliefs and disbelief; the age of light and darkness; the spring of hope and the winter of despair. We had everything, but we had nothing; we walked straight to heaven and went astray on the opposite road. In a word, that era was so similar to the present, that our most notable authorities insist that, as far as good and evil are concerned, only superlative comparison is acceptable.
One of the most emblematic paragraphs of the beginning of the history of universal literature, and also one of the most cited in all the compilations. It loses some strength in the translation, but also reflects the constant dichotomy between the conservative London of the late eighteenth century and the convulsed, revolutionary Paris, at the gates of the nineteenth century, the History of two cities that Charles Dickens immortalized in a rich novel prose, halfway between the historical, the social and the eternal.

3. The foreigner, of Camus
Mom died today. Or maybe yesterday. I do not know. I received a telegram from the asylum: "His mother died, I am burying tomorrow, I am sorry, condolences." But it does not mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday.
The absurd elevated to its maximum power. The beginning of El extranjero , possibly Camus's masterpiece, is wonderful and an ode to creative talent for its introductory skills. Reading his terse words, we can glimpse the complete universe of doubt, calm uneasiness and total lack of empathic or affective relationship of Meursault, the character in the novel, unable to relate to the worn-out world around him.

4. White Fang, London
On one side and on the other side of the frozen channel, a dark forest of fir-trees with a frown appeared. The wind had recently stripped the trees of the layer of ice that covered them and, in the midst of the dim light, which was weakening at times, seemed to lean towards each other, black and sinister. There was a profound silence throughout the vast expanse of that land. It was desolation itself, without life, without movement, so lonely and cold that it would not even suffice to say, to describe it, that its essence was sadness.
At one stroke, Jack London introduced the narrative universe of all his novels centered on the northernmost lands of North America: both White Fang and The Call of the Wild overlap the sadness inherent in the extraordinary beauty of the Yukon, Alaska, so abandoned as lonely and intimidating. Also for its protagonists, animals or men, tiny before nature.

5. Fear and disgust in Las Vegas, by Thompson
We were somewhere in Barstow, very close to the desert, when the drugs began to take effect. I remember saying something like:
-I'm something blown up, better you drive ...
And suddenly there was a terrible roar around us and the sky was filled with what looked like huge vampires, all making passes and screaming and diving around of the car, which was about one hundred and sixty per hour, the top down, heading to Las Vegas.
Discarnate psychedelia, crude realistic context and the desert and Las Vegas as alibi: Fear and disgust in Las Vegas , the most recognized work of Hunter S. Thompson, was also condensed in that beginning located in the middle of nowhere, giving continuity to a story of which, just because of its presentation, we already know too much.

6. The wild detectives, Bolaño
I have been cordially invited to be part of the visceral realism. Of course, I accepted. There was no initiation ceremony. Better like that.
That November 2 began the narrated adventures of Juan García Madero, central protagonist of the first and third part of the wild detectives of Roberto Bolaño. Visceral realism, or infrarrealism, would be part of the thematic axis in which Bolaño would insert poetry and his radical South American writers of the twentieth century into the novel. Who could refuse such an adventure? Not wood, not the reader.

7. Anna Karenina, by Tolstoy
All happy families are alike, but the unhappy are each in their own way.
And which are not unhappy, wondered Tolstoi throughout Anna Karenina , not her top novel, yes one of the most exciting. It would be that of Karenina, undoubtedly, a woman prey to undue love among the Russian high nobility, long before the fall of the monarchy and the collapse of the ancient world. The universe that Tolstoy so accurately portrayed and that here disguises itself as an account of customs, customs and romances.

8. The road, of Delibes
Things could have happened in any other way, and yet they happened like that.
The fantastic thing about the beginning of Miguel Delibes' third novel, El camino , is that it could appear on the front line of any narrative work in the world. However, only he wrote: condensation of the novel, a set of events that result in a series of consequences, Delibes warns about the torn world of postwar that is about to relate. It was like that, but nothing prevented it from being otherwise.

9. Asphyxia, from Palahniuk
If you are going to read this, do not worry. After a couple of pages you will not want to be here anymore. So forget it. Get away. Get out while you're still whole. Save yourself Surely there is something better on television. Or, since you have so much free time, maybe you can do a night course. Become a doctor You can do something useful with your life. Take yourself to dinner. Tíñete the hair. You will not become younger. At first what is told here is going to piss you off. Then it will get worse and worse.
It is not usual for a book to invite you to stop reading it on the first line. Palahniuk did it in Asphyxia , in a later story about the extravagant, eccentric and satirized life of Víctor Mancini, and for that he deserves to appear here.

The hot February morning in which Beatriz Viterbo died, after an imperious agony that did not diminish for a moment neither sentimentality nor fear, I noticed that the placards of the Plaza Constitución had renewed I do not know what notice of blond cigarettes; the fact hurt me, because I understood that the incessant and vast universe was already moving away from her and that this change was the first of an infinite series.
Among the many and very memorable beginnings that Borges wrote throughout his life, is it perhaps that of El Aleph , the story, the most fantastic, in every sense of the expression, legacy? It is difficult to say, but it is certainly one of the most emblematic. Here, Borges would totally immerse himself in the fantasy, through a series of short and fascinating stories where the real collided with the imagined.

11. The cement garden, of McEwan
I did not kill my father, but sometimes I felt like I had contributed to it.
Sometimes, and regardless of its formal context within the theme and the literary current of the work, a start is in itself a small work of art. Ian McEwan's, immortalized on the first page of The Cement Garden , hits his chin at first sight, introduces a story that is yet to happen and has already happened, and explains the emotionally turbulent character of his characters. It's fantastic, perfect.

12. The Time Machine, by HG Wells
The Traveler through Time (well it would be better to call him that when talking about him) exposed us a mysterious question. His gray eyes shone with sparks, and his face, usually pale, was bright and animated. The fire burned bright and the soft glow of the incandescent lamps, in the shape of silver lilies, caught on the bubbles that flashed and rose inside our glasses.
And from here, from such a fascinating description of a common scene, that of a handful of friends gathered with the express dedication to chat, it is impossible to leave the story told by HG Wells in The Time Machine . The mystery and the power of the occult, so consubstantial to the thrust of the novel, is manifested in its beginning facing the reader with only the name of the disturbing protagonist: The Traveler through Time .
Time Machine
The time machine, from Wells.

13. One hundred years of solitude, by García Márquez
Many years later, in front of the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía had to remember that remote afternoon when his father took him to see the ice.
The fantastic as the everyday: García Márquez coined in one hundred years of soldering one of the most famous beginnings of the history of literature gathering past and present of the Buendía family, mixing the harsh reality of war and the execution of one of his characters main with the insane adventures of his father, seated long ago in a remote village in the mountains, obsessed with escaping mentally through the inventions and wonderful objects that, like ice, brought the gypsies to his village.

And precisely, it is worth emphasizing the latter, which is not only a kitsch detail , but a way of spinning the beginning and end of the chapter, in a first insane and insanity passage. Almost at the end of it, and after an odyssey of adventures, when the ice is only a remote memory in our mind, we return to it, we return to the childhood of Aureliano Buendía and at the beginning of the book, not with the same words but yes in the same way:

Those amazing sessions were so impressed in the memory of the children that many years later, a second before the officer of the regular armies gave the firing order to the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía returned to live the a warm afternoon in March when his father interrupted the physics lesson, and he was fascinated by the hand in the air and the still eyes, hearing in the distance the fifes and drums and rattles of the gypsies that once again arrived at the village , proclaiming the last and amazing discovery of the wise men of Memphis.
The ice, nothing less.

14. The world of Sofia, by Gaarder
... after all, something had to emerge at some point from where there was nothing at all ...
It is not a beginning to use, but rather a phrase between ellipses, hanging from the first paragraph of The World of Sofia , that guide to Western philosophy summarized in an apparent story for children. And the phrase, hanging by a thread after the title of the first chapter, is broken down throughout the rest of the book: out of nowhere something emerges, and from the answer to such an impossible question, philosophy is born, concentrated here in a rich and simple.

15. The tunnel, by Sábato
Suffice it to say that I am Juan Pablo Castel, the painter who killed María Iribarne; I suppose that the process is in everyone's memory and that no further explanations about me are needed.
But they will be needed, in fact, and the rest of El Túnel , the most recognized novel by Ernesto Sábato, will revolve around them. However, as a start it is highly exciting, and invites you to devour the consequent pages of a pessimistic, psychological and existentialist narrative through the drawers of the mind of both Juan Pablo Castel and María Iribarne, executioner and victim.
Huckleberry Finn, from Twain.

16. The family of Pascual Duarte, from Cela
I, sir, am not bad, although I would not lack reasons to be so.
Set in post-war rural Extremadura, the family of Pascual Duarte narrates the misfortunes and hardships of this, inflamed in the first person by Pascual Duarte, a man incapacitated for the social ability that tends to solve his problems by violent means. He, Cela wrote, was not bad. And although it might seem, it was not, but reasons, in that broken Spain, did not lack.

17. Romancero gypsy, from Lorca
The Guadalquivir River
goes between orange and olive trees.
The two rivers of Granada
descend from snow to wheat.
Should it be all novel? Absolutely. In his Gypsy Ballads , Lorca bequeathed some wonderful poems punctuated by the beginnings of a subtle beauty and musicality, like the one above transcribed, from Baladilla de los tres ríos .

18. In cold blood, from Capote
The town of Holcomb is on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonely area that other Kansas people call "there."
Is it particularly memorable the beginning of In Cold Blood , the nonfiction novel that catapulted the celebrity Truman Capote? It depends on the answer to the following question: is it particularly memorable in cold blood from a literary point of view? Yes, of course, although not from the fictionalized novel, but from an exercise in journalism in lengthy prose where Capote, placing the action in the remotest Holcomb, portrayed in two lines as the isolated town that was, narrates with many details, extensive descriptions and deep profiles the story of a crime that shook an entire country.
Scaramouche, by Sabatini.

19. Me, Claudio, of Graves
I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Germanic Nero This-and-what-else-and-what-else-there (because I'm not going to bother you yet with all my titles), that once, not long ago, I was known by my relatives, friends and collaborators such as "Claudio el Idiota", or "Ese Claudio", or "Claudio el Tartamudo" or "Clau-Clau-Claudio", or, at best, as "Poor uncle Claudio", I am now going to write this strange story of my life.
With a proper comic distance, Robert Graves put himself in the skin of Claudius , the Roman emperor, to tell his life from his own prism, and not from the others. Relevant, not in vain, since Claudio was a controversial and controversial ruler. On the other hand, Graves uses his story in the first person, and the one outlined by others about him, to narrate the how of the Roman power.

20. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Twain
You will not know who I am if you have not read a book called The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but it does not matter. That book was written by Mr. Mark Twain and told the truth, almost always. Some things he exaggerated, but he almost always told the truth. That's nothing.
It was not, as all the exciting works of Mark Twain reveal, where honesty trades downwards despite being presented as the noblest of human values, along with friendship. Huckleberry Finn represents that unbreakable kindness, truncated, sometimes, in a hostile and wild environment like the southern states of that primitive United States. To Twain, all this also serves to connect with a novel perhaps even more famous than the one that concerns us: The Adventures of Tom Swayer .

21. Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury
It was a special pleasure to see things consumed, to see the objects blackened and changed. With the bronze point of the torch in his fists, with that gigantic serpent spitting its poisonous oil on the world, the blood throbbed in his head and his hands were those of a fantastic director playing all the symphonies of fire and flames for destroy the wreckage and ruins of History.
At what temperature does the paper of a book like Fahrenheit 451 light up ? According to the title of Ray Bradbury's novel, at 451 degrees Fahrenheit, of course. The ideal temperature for your dystopian world, one in which the burning of books is obligatory, and in which the power of destruction is stronger than that of creation.
In cold blood, from Capote.

22. Scaramouche, by Sabatini
He was born with the gift of laughter and with the intuition that the world was crazy. And that was all his patrimony.
There are beginnings that have passed the test of time even when their novels have not. The first sentence of Scaramouche , no doubt, appears in more compilations of "the best of" than Sabatini's own novel, a correct work of adventures around the comedy of art and pre-revolutionary France.

23. Pride and Prejudice, by Austen
It is a globally recognized truth that a single man, possessor of a great fortune, needs a wife.
Jane Austen could hardly have experienced marriage in the first person when she wrote Pride and Prejudice , but she knew, or had bravely contemplated, the system of prejudiced and proud relations of late eighteenth-century British society. And about love and that same society, changing in a time of historical change, would be his most famous novel, that of a sweeping beginning that stipulated a cliché, or a social commandment, before the work.

24. If a winter's night a traveler, Calvin's
You are about to start reading the new novel by Italo Calvino, If a winter night a traveler. Just relax. Pick up Leave any other idea behind you. Let the world around you vanish into the indistinct. The door is better to close it; On the other side, the television is always on. Say it right away to the others: "No, I do not want to watch TV!" Raise your voice, if they do not hear you: "I'm reading! I do not want to be disturbed! Maybe they have not heard you, with all that noise; say it louder, shout: "I'm starting to read Italo Calvino's new novel!" Or do not say it if you do not want to; let's hope they leave you alone.
As we have seen, the meta-references in the beginning of the book are not too extravagant. Mark Twain did it, and so did Chuck Palahniuk. Italo Calvino decided on a winter night a traveler for a different approach to Palahniuk, inviting joyfully to reading rather than scare the reader, seeking to create in advance a confidentiality link between the person who goes to the first paragraph, the book and the rest of the outside world. If a winter night a traveler is also coherent at the beginning: hypertext, full of stories jumps in stories and continuous reference to the reader and herself.
The foreigner, from Camus.

25. Lolita, by Nabokov
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my entrails. My sin, my soul. Lo-li-ta: the tip of the tongue undertakes a trip of three steps from the edge of the palate to lean on, in the third, on the edge of the teeth. The. Li Ta. It was Lo, simply Lo, in the morning, one meter forty-eight in height with bare feet. It was Lola with pants. It was Dolly at school. It was Dolores when he signed. But in my arms was always Lolita.
What to add to what has already been written about Lolita , the most famous work of Nabokov, and its beginning? Little: it is faithful to the perverse spirit of the novel, it is rhythmic and it is tremendously evocative, it is as descriptive as it is stylistic and it is of an almost visual descriptive talent. Undoubtedly, one of the best beginnings in history.

26. Moby Dick, from Melville
Call me Ishmael.
The philosophical and reflective solemnity of Moby Dick , a gigantic metaphoric elegy about the condition of the human being in front of nature, the rest of human beings and his own character, is told in the first person. It is Ismael, to whom we very kindly have the invitation to call by his name in the first line, who mounts us in the Pequod and on which we observe the history of the ship, of Ahab and of the enormous white whale. Pure icon of universal literature, it is a perfect introduction.

27. The Hobbit, by Tolkien
In a hole in the ground, lived a hobbit. Not a wet hole, dirty, disgusting, with the remains of worms and the smell of mud, nor a dry hole, naked and sandy, with nothing to sit on or eat: it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort.
Tolkien's work is fantastic not only for its thematic arc, for the richness of its fantasy universe and for the stories in which its characters, such as Bilbo Bolson, are involved, but also for the sober and precise descriptions, replete with images visuals, through which we reach their worlds. The Hobbit starts with a perfect and defining picture of the life of a hobbit, and that's fine.

28. Fever in the stands, by Hornby
I fell in love with football as I would later fall in love with women: suddenly, without explanation, without exercising my critical faculties, without thinking about the pain and the shocks that the experience would bring.
As in High fidelity , Nick Hornby's personal experiences are interspersed with a defining element of British pop culture, football, resulting in a story full of empathy with his reader, fun and vivid in their own experiences and others. Like falling in love, defined in its first line in a masterly way .

29. The century of lights, by Carpentier
Tonight I have seen the Machine rise again. It was, in the prow, like an open door over the vast sky that already brought us scents of earth over a so calm Ocean, so master of its rhythm, that the ship, slightly carried, seemed to be numb in its course, suspended between a yesterday and a morning to move with us.
Set in the times of the French Revolution, the century of lights unfolds with elegance and profound descriptions, all as rhythmic and poetic as the one that opens its first page, in Caribbean history at the end of the 18th century. Alejo Carpentier achieved in just a handful of lines grab the reader by the neck, in a gentle and beautiful way, not to let go until the end of his novel.

30. Stevenson's Treasure Island
Squire Trelawney, Dr. Livesey and some other gentlemen have instructed me to put in writing everything related to the Treasure Island, without omitting any detail, although without mentioning the position of the island, as there are still buried riches in it; and for that reason I take my pen in this year of grace of 17 ... and my memory goes back to the time when my father owned the inn "Almirante Benbow", and the old tanned navigator, with his face crossed by a saber , he sought shelter under our roof.
As an adventure story, Treasure Island reaches the peak of its genre. Robert Louis Stevenson's novel is full of mystery, fascinating characters and fascinating stories that point, through intrigue and fantastic worlds, to the heart of the passionate adolescent we all have inside. And its beginning is pigmented of all those elements, placing the reader in a predisposition to enjoy such an essential book.

31. Memoirs of the subsoil, by Dostoyevsky
I am a sick man ... A bad man. I'm not nice I think I suffer from the liver. Anyway, I do not understand my illness and I do not know with certainty what hurts me. I do not take care of myself and I have never taken care of myself, although I feel respect for medicine and doctors. Also, I am extremely superstitious, at least enough to respect medicine (I have enough culture to not be superstitious, but I am). Yes, I do not want to be cured by rage. This, surely, you can not understand. But I do understand it.
Key text to understand the later evolution of Dostoevsky, Memoirs of the subsoil addresses the psychological defects and existential contradictions of a troubled and sick man, in the emotional sense of the term, who was going through a very low phase in his life, after the loss of his loved ones and their serious financial problems. From this arises its own subsoil and its own memories, self-destructive and existentialist before such a term existed, dark and depressing, but brilliant.

32. The intermittences of death, by Saramago
The next day, nobody died.
And the fact, although a priori joyful, permanently altered the history of the country in which is located the story of Las intermitencias de la muerte , published by José Saramago in 2005. It is a shock, emotional and physical, and a reflection on death, protagonist here as an allegorical character and as an anthropomorphic character. That beating, all in one, is posed in a simple sentence: "The next day nobody died". And then what?
The 32 best beginnings in the history of literature The 32 best beginnings in the history of literature Reviewed by Admin on August 15, 2019 Rating: 5

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