Every year I try to read as many books as possible that are set in other countries. I keep track of each new country read as part of the five-year Reading Around the World challenge. And I joined a book club that reads books by women authors from other countries.
In 2020 (so far) I read 25 books that had a primary setting other than the United States or Great Britain. While I don’t live in the UK, I read a lot of books set in Britain so I don’t consider that diverse reading. Arguably, I should consider Australia and Ireland in a similar way, though I read fewer books from those countries and culturally they feel more diverse to me.
Some of my favorite reads from around the world in 2020 were:
- Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Annaparra (India)
- The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue (Ireland)
- How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee (Singapore)
- When Time Stopped by Ariana Neumann (Czech Republic)
- Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko (Australia)
- Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon (France)
- The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See (China)
- A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi (Afghanistan)
- Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (Poland)
- Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck (Germany)
Most of these books are contemporary fiction, though a number of them are historical or have some historical elements. One of my absolute favorites is nonfiction, When Time Stopped, about an author from Venezuela who researches her father’s history in the Czech Republic during the Holocaust. Two excellent historical reads this year were The Pull of the Stars, about the influenza in Dublin, and How We Disappeared, about the “comfort women” during World War II. Three have elements of mystery/crime though I wouldn’t call them mysteries: Djinn Patrol, A House Without Windows, and Drive Your Plow.
I try to include only books from authors that have either lived in the country they are writing about, or have parents or family members from those countries. Most of the books on this list meet those criteria, with the exception of Ariel Lawhon’s Code Name Helene (which was such a fantastic story of the French Resistance during World War II, I couldn’t resist). I also try to include books where the country’s history and culture are an important part of the story.
Other good books I read this year from around the world: Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo (Dominican Republic), City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty (Egypt), A Burning by Megan Majumdar (India), Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Mexico), Faithful Place by Tana French (Ireland), The Lost Man by Jane Harper (Australia).
Reading 25 books from around the world doesn’t seem like very much compared to my other reads, though it’s similar to what I did last year. I also think the countries I read about could have been more diverse. But this was definitely a year for comfort reading. I’ll have to think about whether to try and read more from other countries (and which ones) in 2021.
Do you try to read books from countries that are not your own? What are some you recommend?
I would love to get up to 25 or more of such books a year. I’ve enjoyed my Around the World reading a lot this year. Some of my favorites were All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, by Maya Angelou, an interesting perspective of her years as an African-American living in Africa; Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, which was not by a native of Iceland but very convincing nonetheless; and the one I just finished, The Mountains Sing, which mesmerized me with its stories of the brutal twentieth century history of Vietnam and its compelling characters.
Thanks for the recommendations Lory! I also loved Burial Rites, even though the author isn’t from Iceland. I’d like to read more by Maya Angelou and will look up The Mountains Sing.
Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon was one of my favorites this year!