I recommended this list, which is a pretty good starting point, albeit for use as a reference tool and not as definitive list. Here are my five:
- The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner may be the South's greatest contribution to the English language other than the second person plural (y'all).
- I, Claudius by Robert Graves is one of my favorite novels of all time. It's wicked and wickedly funny and renders another time in a perfectly modern way. I couldn't put it down.
- John Dos Passos' U.S.A. trilogy deserves to be up there with Faulkner and Hemingway, although hardly anyone reads it (maybe because its like a 1,000 pages of trilogy). Generally speaking, I'd pick Hemingway over Dos Passos, but I like the cache of having read a classic novel that most haven't even heard of. A masterful work of historical fiction.
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera is wonderful non-linear novel. Maybe not his best work, but certainly his most complete and accessible.
- ...and, of course, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov is my favorite novel. He effortlessly interweaves the story of the devil coming to Moscow with the story of Jesus and Pontius Pilate. There's tons of inside jokes in Russian, which you don't have to get to enjoy the novel, so you need to be mindful of the translation.