The Most Iconic Books Set in 150 Countries Around the World [Infographic]
The best books are set in locations that are so vivid they feel like another character in the story. Many books are written by a local author who knows the back streets and unspoken history of a place. Occasionally an author will fall deeply in love with a new place, however, and base a fantastically evocative setting on an adopted home instead.
Whether you are looking to revisit a favorite country or learn about someplace new, our list of the most iconic books set in 150 countries has something for everyone. With this list, you can tour the entire world—without ever leaving home.
We include epic poetry like Pan Tadeusz from Poland, international best sellers like The Three Musketeers set in France, and books recently translated into English for the very first time like the Iraqi classic The Long Way Back. You will find books from favorite authors like Margaret Atwood and Anthony Burgess and discover vibrant new voices like Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz.
Get ready to travel someplace new without even putting on your shoes. Sit back, get comfortable, and read your way through our list of books set in 150 countries around the world.
Afghanistan: The Kite Runner
Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 novel tells the story of two young boys in Kabul against the backdrop of Afghanistan’s tumultuous political changes in the 1970s. Hosseini drew from his own childhood in Afghanistan when writing the book. After the book sold more than seven million copies in the U.S. alone, a film adaptation of The Kite Runner premiered in 2007.
Albania: Broken April
Broken April is a modern masterpiece written by one of the premier novelists in Albania today. Ismail Kadare Each of Kadare’s novels provides a glimpse into modern Albania, but Broken April may be the most compelling. The tale of a young man caught in a generations-old blood feud is written in a simple but evocative style.
Algeria: The Plague
The French author and journalist Albert Camus was born in French Algeria at the turn of the 20th century. During his life, he documented the political turmoil in Algeria throughout the Second World War and the Algerian War. The Plague depicts the Algerian city of Oran in the 1940s and is considered a classic of existentialist literature.
Angola: Good Morning, Comrades
Twelve-year-old Ndalu and his friends are quickly approaching adulthood in a complicated time in Angola’s history. Ondjaki’s novel walks a fine balance between the joyful antics of childhood and the serious issues facing Angola in the early 90s. The refreshing voice of the narrator running throughout the story paints a multi-faceted picture of modern life in Angola.
Antigua: A Small Place
Jamaica Kincaid’s short book of creative nonfiction examines the geography, history, and culture of Antigua in a way that is easy to understand without ever traveling to the island. The essay explores post-colonialism, the effect of tourism, and lingering racism in the West Indes. Although the topics are relevant and weighty, Kincaid manages to weave her experiences together in a way that is both lyrical and easy to read.
Jorge Luis Borges may have been the most influential Spanish-language writer in the past century. Ficciones is a collection of many of his best-known short stories including “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” and “The Garden of Forking Paths.” His mysterious and inventive stories are a delight on the first or forty-first time through.
Armenia: Passage to Ararat
In his National Book Award winner Passage to Ararat, Michael J. Arlen tells the story of Armenia by telling the story of his father’s life. Required reading for anyone wanting to know more about Armenia, Passage to Ararat takes a closer look at the country’s history through the stories of its people.
Tim Winton’s modern classic is a multigenerational saga full of desperation, hope, sorrow, and joy in Australia in the years following World Ward II. Cloudstreet has been regularly voted as one of Australia’s favorite books since it was published in 1991.
Austria: Radetsky March
Radetsky March by Joseph Roth paints a dynamic picture of the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire through the experiences of a family with close ties to the emperor. As one of the best German-language novels of the century, Radetsky March is simultaneously weighty and ironic.
The Bahamas: Wind from the Carolinas
A fictional account of the settlement of the Bahamas islands, Wind from the Carolinas follows aristocratic families loyal to the English crown as they flee the newly-formed United States at the end of the Revolutionary War.
Bangladesh: A Golden Age
In A Golden Age, Tahmima Anam tells a heroic story of hope and sorrow during Bangladesh’s War of Independence. A Golden Age and the sequels The Good Muslim and The Bones of Grace follow a young widow through Bangladesh’s transition from part of Pakistan to a sovereign nation of its own.
Barbados: Song for Night
Song for Night opens with the young narrator, My Luck, waking up after a land mine explosion. Through My Luck, Chris Abani weaves together the brutality of war and the haunting beauty of humanity.
Belarus: Voices from Chernobyl
Svetlana Alexievich presents the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in a new way. Rather than examining the circumstances and details of the event, she tells her story through the personal experiences of hundreds of bystanders and witnesses to the disaster. Voices from Chernobyl is non-fiction that reads like the most gripping fiction made all the more heartbreaking by the fact that it is true.
Belgium: War and Turpentine
Like many war veterans, Stefan Hertman’s grandfather was forever changed by his experiences at war. In War and Turpentine, Hertman uses his grandfather’s journals to shine light on his grandfather’s childhood in Belgium and the country’s tragedies and triumphs during the Great War.
Belize: On Lizards, Heroes, and Passion
Zoila Ellis’s collection of short stories examines the life of modern Belizean men and women both in and out of Belize. The collection’s strength comes from the variety of stories it tells and the authentic voice of its author.
Bhutan: The Circle of Karma
The Circle of Karma follows its young protagonist on an epic journey across Bhutan and beyond on her quest to light ritual lamps to honor her mother’s memory. The Circle of Karma is the very first novel written in English by a woman from Bhutan and offers a clear glimpse of the country through a native’s eyes.
Bolivia: American Visa
Winner of Bolivia’s National Book Prize, American Visa tells the story of an unemployed English teacher trying to get an American visa to visit his son in Miami. When he finds himself without the money he needs to bribe embassy officials, Alvarez comes up with a dangerous scheme to rob a gold buyer in the vein of the thanks to his obsession with American crime dramas.
Bosnia: The Bridge on the Drina
The Bridge on the Drina chronicles the troubled history of the former Yugoslavia through the story of a strategically important bridge over the Drina River on the border between present-day Bosnia and Serbia. The Bridge on the Drina was an immediate literary classic after its publication in 1945 and continues to be an important pillar of modern European literature.
Botswana: When Rain Clouds Gather
Bessie Head’s drew on her own experiences as a refugee in Botswana to tell the story of a small village of exiles living in rural Botswana. The village’s traditional way of life is irreversibly changed when an English agricultural expert and South African refugee work together to try to modernize the village.
Brazil: The Devil to Pay in the Backlands
One of the greatest works of Brazilian literature, The Devil to Pay in the Backlands is the story of Riobaldo, a former bandit at the turn of the 20th century. When an unnamed visitor from the city arrives at Riobaldo’s ranch, Riobaldo relates the adventures, loves, and tragedies of his long and action-packed life.
Brunei: Devil of a State
Before writing his masterpiece, Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess wrote Devil of a State—a novel based on his experiences living and working in Brunei in the late 1950s. The plot follows a father and son hired to do marble work in a grand mosque, based on the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque that was built while Burgess was living in Brunei.
Bulgaria: Under the Yoke
Ivan Vazov’s classic Bulgarian novel takes place during the Ottoman rule of Bulgaria in the days leading up to the Bulgarian uprising of 1876. The story follows a young Bulgarian as he falls in love, joins the revolution, and faces old friends and enemies. Under the Yoke is one of the most famous pieces of Bulgarian literature both in and out of Bulgaria.
Burma: Saving Fish from Drowning
Saving Fish from Drowning is a 2005 novel from award-winning author Amy Tan. The novel follows American tourists on the Burma Road from China to Myanmar as one misunderstanding after another leads to a humorous mix-up with a village of Kayin people in rural Burma.
Cambodia: First They Killed My Father
Loung Ung’s memoir, First They Killed My Father, is an account of her childhood and experiences as a child soldier during the Khmer Rogue period in Cambodia. First They Killed My Father is a sometimes-painful and close look at a difficult part of Cambodia’s modern history.
Cameroon: Dog Days: An Animal Chronicle
Patrice Nganang’s uses an unexpected approach in Dog Days by having a dog narrate his story of political unrest and change in the capital city of Yaounde. The unconventional narrator allows Nganang to portray the vibrant sights and sounds of the city in a lighthearted and often comical way.
Canada: The Blind Assassin
Margaret Atwood is one of Canada’s most celebrated artists. The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize, may be her most ambitious book to date. Through multiple nesting narratives, a suspenseful mystery unfolds about a family fortune, a mysterious death, and the power of the stories we tell.
Chad: Told by Starlight in Chad
Told by Starlight in Chad is a lyrical recounting of Joseph Brahim Seid’s childhood in Chad. It serves as a beautiful introduction to the culture and traditions of Chad, complete with folk tales and national pride.
Chile: The House of the Spirits
Isabel Allende’s debut novel, The House of the Spirits, is a multigenerational saga following one family through post-colonial Chile. Like most of Allende’s works, The House of the Spirits incorporates elements of magical realism throughout the story. A film adaptation of the same name was released in 1993.
China: Romance of the Three Kingdoms
One of the four great novels of classical Chinese literature, Romance of the Three Kingdoms details the Three Kingdoms period in Chinese history with equal parts history and legend. The complex plot features over 100 historical characters and gave rise to many of China’s most popular proverbs.
Colombia: One Hundred Years of Solitude
One Hundred Years of Solitude is commonly considered one of the greatest pieces of modern Latin American literature. Gabriel García Márquez was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, thanks in part to the success of One Hundred Years of Solitude. The novel follows Buendía family through multiple generations of successes and failures in the fictional village of Macondo, which may have been inspired by García Márquez’s childhood home.
Costa Rica: The Lonely Men’s Island
Jose Leon Sanchez spent 20 years on San Lucas Island, Costa Rica’s infamous island prison, in the 1950s and 60s. The Lonely Men’s Island is a fictionalized account of his experiences on the island and is both a rare look inside the workings of the island prison and a testament to the power of determination and hope.
Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast): The Bitter Side of Sweet
Tara Sullivan’s The Bitter Side of Sweet recounts the experiences of Amadou and Seydou, brothers forced into slavery on a cacao plantation in present-day Ivory Coast. When a new girl arrives at the plantation, the brothers muster up the courage to try one more escape.
Croatia: The Return of Philip Latinowicz
As possibly the very first full-length novel from Croatia, The Return of Philip Latinowicz is a philosophical examination of how the past is constantly shaping decisions in the present. When Philip Latinowicz, a painter and art critic, returns to his childhood home in Croatia, he is dismayed at the conditions of the townspeople and the apparent uselessness of the aristocracy.
Cuba: The Old Man and the Sea
Ernest Hemingway’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Old Man and the Sea opens with an old Cuban fisherman desperate to break an unlucky streak after over 80 days without catching any fish. The story is full of both action, as the fisherman struggles for days to reel in a giant marlin, and emotion, as the fisherman’s neighbors and friends react to his situation.
William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy of jealousy, revenge, and love takes place in both Venice and the island of Cyprus. Cyprus was a Venetian colony during the beginning of Shakespeare’s lifetime and throughout Othello. Although Shakespeare may have taken his inspiration from earlier Italian works, most of the setting and feel of Cyprus was his own addition to the story.
Czechia: I Served the King of England
I Served the King of England follows a young man through various adventures and setbacks in Prague and the surrounding countryside during the Nazi occupation of Prague. Bohumil Hrabal’s novel is both ambitious in scope and intricately drawn: the small details and day-to-day experiences give the story a personal feel even as the characters face the overwhelming changes brought on by war and occupation.
Democratic Republic of the Congo: The Poisonwood Bible
Barbara Kingsolver’s bestselling novel about a missionary Nathan Price’s experience in the Belgian Congo is a timeless classic. The Price family arrives on the shores of Africa woefully unprepared for the physical and political climate in 1959—one year before the Congolese would earn independence from Belgium.
The Old English epic poem Beowulf takes place in what is now Denmark and parts of Sweden. Beowulf, already a famed hero, arrives on the island and promises to vanquish the monster Grendel. After slaying Grendel, Beowulf must contend with Grendel’s mother and later a treasure-stealing dragon. Beowulf is widely believed to be the oldest surviving epic poem in Old English.
Dominica: Black and White Sands
In 1932, Scottish socialite Elma Napier moved to the British colony of Dominica and fell in love with the island and its people. Black and White Sands is her memoir of her life in Dominica, including her move to the island, the people she met there, and her time as the first woman elected to Dominican parliament.
The Dominican Republic: The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Dominican-American author Junot Díaz’s novel follows the lives of a Dominican family living in New Jersey and the Dominican Republic. The titular character, Oscar Wao, struggles to find a place in either Dominican or American society. The book’s narrators often use Spanglish and other Spanish slang in the middle of the English narrative, as is typical of children who grow up in America in Spanish-speaking homes. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2008.
Ecuador: The Villagers
Jorge Icaza’s 1934 novel The Villagers chronicles a landlord’s exploitation of his native tenants and neighbors. The story is a dark look at the injustice and cruelty that is still all too common in developing countries around the world. Although the novel is over 70 years old, it is no less relevant today.
Egypt: Palace Walk
Palace Walk is the first book in Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo trilogy, a sweeping saga that follows three generations of the same family through Egypt’s colonial years after the First World War. Both the family’s story and the backdrop of Egypt on the brink of independence are compelling features of the story.
El Salvador: Bitter Grounds
Bitter Grounds, Sandra Benitez’s American Book Award winner, takes place on a lush coffee plantation in the heart of El Salvador. Through the often-intertwined experiences of the women in the families that own and staff the plantation, Benitez paints a portrait of El Salvador during the decades following the peasant massacre of 1932.
Equatorial Guinea: By Night the Mountain Burns
In By Night the Mountain Burns, Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel present colorful and lyrical memories of his childhood in Equatorial Guinea. The memoir makes the most of the sounds of language and reads like an oral history sounds: part myth, part history, and part poem.
Ethiopia: Cutting for Stone
Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone tells the story of twin brothers raised in Ethiopia in the years leading up to the Civil War until a betrayal tears them apart. One brother flees to the United States. In reality, his leaving moves him closer to a dramatic reunion with his father and twin. Cutting for Stone is equal parts medical drama and family saga written by an outstanding novelist who also teaches and practices medicine at Stanford University.
Finland: Under the North Star
Under the North Star is a three-volume epic saga from Finnish author Väinö Linna. The three novels follow one Finnish family through both World Wars and the Finnish Civil War in 1918. Under the North Star uses one family’s experiences to examine the unrest and opposing forces in Finland during the first half of the 20th Century.
France: The Three Musketeers
Alexander Dumas is one of the most widely read French authors worldwide. The Three Musketeers is a historical adventure novel about a young man who travels to Paris to join the Musketeers of the Guard. Through a series of coincidences, d’Artagnan joins forces with three famous musketeers to foil an assassination plot against the Duke of Buckingham. The Three Musketeers has been adapted to film and stage countless times since its publication in 1844.
Georgia: The Knight in the Panther’s Skin
The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, by Shota Rustaveli, is a poetic masterpiece from the 12th century. Rustaveli is credited with influencing the Georgian language and literary tradition as much as Shakespeare did English. The poem relates the tale of two brave heroes on a quest to find the protagonist’s true love.
Often considered the greatest work of all German literature, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust is a tragic play detailing one man’s quest for all knowledge. In his desire to understand everything, Faust makes a deal with Mephistopheles: Faust’s soul for the devil’s power. At its core, Faust is a story about temptation and redemption.
Ghana: No Sweetness Here and Other Stories
In eleven stories of varying lengths and topics, Ama Ata Aidoo examines everything from cultural traditions to modern Africa. The stories in No Sweetness Here take place after Ghana’s independence in the 1960s. The characters are struggling with the changes and difficulties that accompany the transition.
Greece: Zorba the Greek
At the beginning of Zorba the Greek, the narrator meets the enthusiastic Alexis Zorba who is looking for work. The narrator hires Zorba as a foreman and the two set off for Crete. The bulk of the novel takes place in conversations between Zorba and the narrator. Zorba the Greek has been adapted to both film and stage since its publication in 1946.
Grenada: Pynter Bender
Pynter Bender, a novel by Jacob Ross, follows a young field worker in Grenada whose eyesight is miraculously healed. Pynter’s view of the world is shaped by the aunts and female cousins who raise him. When war comes to Grenada, Pynter must reconcile the small world of his rural neighborhood and the greater issues facing his country.
Guatemala: Men of Maize
Miguel Ángel Asturias, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, published the Guatemalan epic Men of Maize in 1949. The novel documents the life of native peoples in Latin America at the turn of the 20th Century. While the native tribes believe they are made of maize, foreign investors see the corn as a way to turn a profit. This opposition fuels the story’s conflict and gives the novel its name.
Guinea: The Radiance of the King
When the narrator is shipwrecked on the coast of Africa, he demands an audience with the local king. He travels through the center of the kingdom in an effort to find the king until a surprising end forces both the narrator and the reader to face their own prejudices and assumptions.
Guyana: Palace of the Peacock
The first of Wilson Harris’s Guyana Quartet, Palace of the Peacock follows a diverse group of men traveling through the jungles of Guyana. As the group travels further into the jungle, the journey takes a mystical turn. Harris’s prose is poetic and evocative as he examines colonial life in his native Guyana.
Haiti: The Comedians
Graham Greene’s classic novel, The Comedians, opens when three men bound for Haiti during the under the reign of Francois Duvalier. Through the eyes of three very different outsiders, Greene develops a complex story of circumstances and motivations based on historically accurate events in the middle of the 20th Century.
Cipote by Ramón Amaya Amador is the story of a young boy that earns money by shining shoes in the capital city of Tegucigalpa although he cannot afford any shoes himself. When the boy’s mother dies, he and his siblings must work together to eke out a living on their own. The novel shines light on the income disparity between the high and low classes in Honduras
Hong Kong: A Many-Splendoured Thing
A Many-Splendoured Thing by Han Suyin relates the love story of a British expatriate and a Chinese doctor. Against the backdrop of their involvement, Suyin provides commentary about the relationship between Hong Kong and China and the wide variety of people currently living in Hong Kong. A Many-Splendoured Thing was adapted to film in 1955 and inspired the song, “Love is a Many-Splendoured Thing.”
Nobel Prize-winning author Imre Kertész wrote Fatelessness, a semi-autobiographical account of a Hungarian Jew’s imprisonment in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps during World War II. At the end of the war, the narrator returns to Hungary and must come to terms with everything that has changed—including himself—since he was last in Budapest.
Iceland: The Sagas of Icelanders
The Sagas of Icelanders is a compilation of stories of the Norse men and women who first populated Iceland. The sagas continue to recount tales and histories through the time of Leif Eriksson and the Viking journeys to North America. The Sagas of Icelanders does not contain every Icelandic saga, but it does provide a wide sampling of the historical and mythological breadth represented in the sagas.
India: The White Tiger
Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger is a darkly humorous look at class division in modern India. The novel’s protagonist, Balram Halawi, escapes a life of poverty to become a wealthy and head of a successful taxicab company in Bangalore. The White Tiger was awarded the Man Booker Prize in 2008.
Indonesia: This Earth of Mankind
This Earth of Mankind is a 1980 novel by Hasta Mitra written while he was a political prisoner in the 1970s. The story follows the main character through his education at a Dutch school and his interaction with the concubine and daughter of a Dutch man. The novel examines Dutch colonialism without portraying all Europeans as villains or all native Indonesians as heroes. The complexity of characterization is one reason This Earth of Mankind works so well.
Iran: My Uncle Napoleon
My Uncle Napoleon from Iranian author Iraj Pezeshkzad was an instant success when it was published in 1973. The satirical novel follows the narrator through adolescence and early adulthood in the company of his large extended family governed by his slightly eccentric “Dear Uncle Napoleon.”
Iraq: The Long Way Back
Fuad al-Takarli’s The Long Way Back is a family saga following one four generations of one family living in Baghdad in the 1960s. The Long Way Back has been a staple of Arabic literature and is now finally available in English translation. Takarli’s portrayal of the city of Baghdad bring to mind thousands of years of history underneath a modern culture and time.
Ulysses by James Joyce is considered one of the premier classics of modern English literature. The story follows the main character, Leopold Bloom, through an ordinary day in his life in Dublin. The title is an intentional reference to Odysseus as many aspects of the novel mirror parts of The Odyssey. The novel also touches on Ireland’s complicated relationship with England and the complexities of the English language.
Israel: Panther in the Basement
The hero of Amos Oz’s Panther in the Basement is a twelve-year-old boy named Proffy living in Jerusalem in the days preceding the Battle for Jerusalem and the Jerusalem riots in 1947. Proffy’s love for language and literature leads him to befriend a British officer despite his loyalty to the Israeli resistance.
Italy: The Name of the Rose
An accusation of heresy and a series of murders in an Italian abbey lead Brother William of Baskerville through a complex investigation of coded manuscripts, secret messages, and semiotics to solve the mystery at the heart of the abbey. The Name of the Rose is Umberto Eco’s most famous novel.
Jamaica: Wide Sargasso Sea
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys is an imagined prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. The novel follows Antoinette Cosway, a Jamaican Creole, through her adolescence and later marriage to an Englishman who takes her back to England where she will become the madwoman in the attic.
Japan: The Tale of Genji
The Tale of Genji, written by Murasaki Shikibu in the 11th century, is often considered to be the world’s first novel. The novel centers on the life and love affairs of a Genji, an Imperial officer, and son of the Japanese emperor. Some of the main characters, including Genji himself, may have been styled after real people close to the Imperial court during Shikibu’s lifetime.
Jordan: The Language of Baklava
Diana Abu-Jaber is a Jordanian-American author who split her time between Jordan and upstate New York growing up. The Language of Baklava is a heartwarming memoir of her travels and the importance her family placed on food of all kinds. The book includes authentic recipes and comical stories of her adventures both in the United States and among the Bedouin tribes in Jordan.
Kenya: Weep Not, Child
Weep Not, Child by Ngūgī wa Thiong’o was the first novel to be written in English by an East African author. The main character, Njoroge is the first member of his family to attend school. His life continues to diverge from his family and peers thanks to his educational opportunities. Weep Not Child is set against the backdrop of the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya in the late 1950s.
Kosovo: Travels in Blood and Honey: Becoming a Beekeeper in Kosovo
When Elizabeth Gowing moves unexpectedly to Kosovo, she finds herself in a completely unfamiliar world. After she signs up for a beekeeping apprenticeship, she makes friends with a mismatched group of her new neighbors. Travels in Blood and Honey is part travel memoir, part recipe book, and part love letter to present-day Kosovo.
Kuwait: Small Kingdoms
When five strangers find out that a young housemaid is being abused by her employer, they must each decide how much they are willing to risk to help someone in need. Small Kingdoms by Anastasia Hobbett masterfully weaves together the lives of people in Kuwait in the years between the Gulf Wars.
At the end of his life, a Kyrgyz artist reflects back on his childhood and his memories of a love affair between his sister-in-law and a local man. Jamila was the first novel published by Kyrgystan’s most famous author, Chingiz Aymatov.
Laos: The Coroner’s Lunch
The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill is the first novel in the Dr. Siri Paiboun murder mystery series. Dr. Siri Paiboun, recently appointed state coroner for the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, finds himself embroiled in a murder mystery that he can solve only with the help of his friends and neighbors.
Latvia: The Earth is Singing
The Earth is Singing by Vanessa Curtis tells the lesser-known story of Latvian Jews during World War II. At times deeply disturbing, the plot follows the life of fifteen-year-old Hanna and her family living in Riga in the 1940s. The Earth is Singing was inspired by the experience of the author’s own ancestors.
Lebanon: The Prophet
Almustafa, the book’s titular prophet, is journeying home after more than a decade abroad when he stops to visit with a group of travelers to discuss life and philosophy. Each of the book’s chapters centers around a different fable the prophet uses to teach a moral. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran has never been out of print since its publication in 1923 and has been translated into more than 40 languages.
Chaka by Thomas Mofolo tells the mythical legend of the influential Zulu king Shaka. Both the historical and mythical Shaka and his mother were exiled in his childhood due to his illegitimacy, but he rose to become on of the greatest Zulu warriors of all time. Mofolo’s Chaka weaves history and legend together in a tragic story of passion and ambition.
Libya: The Bleeding of the Stone
The Bleeding of the Stone by Ibrahim al-Koni is a beautiful portrayal of the Libyan desert and the traditional life of the Bedouin tribes. When hunters threaten the existence of the prized wild sheep, a lone Bedouin works to ensure their continued survival. Although The Bleeding of the Stone was originally published in 1990, it took until 2002 for an English translation to become available.
Liechtenstein: Seven Years in Tibet: My Life Before, During and After
Seven Years in Tibet is a memoir of Heinrich Harrer’s travels and stay in Tibet during the Second World War. Harrer’s intricate descriptions of Tibetan culture and customs have introduced millions of readers to the isolated country in the mountains between India and China. Seven Years in Tibet has been translated into 53 languages and adapted into two different films.
Lithuania: Vilnius Poker
In a surreal depiction of Lithuania under Soviet control in the 70s and 80s, Vilnius Poker by Ričardas Gavelis is a masterpiece of Baltic literature. A disparate cast of characters in the city of Vilnius deals with the occupation in their own ways. The novel is full of symbolism and dark humor alongside poetic depictions of the city itself.
Madagascar: Voices from Madagascar
Voices from Madagascar is a collection of poems, short stories, and plays by contemporary writers on the island of Madagascar. The anthology, published in both French and English, is responsible for bringing Madagascar’s modern literature to a larger audience.
Malawi: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
William Kamkwamba and Brian Mealer detail the inspiring true story of how Kamkwamba brought electricity to his village after countless hour studying old textbooks and tinkering with scrap metal and discarded machinery. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is an inspiring example of the power of the human spirit.
Malaysia: The Garden of Evening Mists
Yun Ling Teoh is the only survivor of a Japanese war camp attempting to vanquish the ghosts of her past by wandering the remote jungles of the Cameron Highlands district. There she stumbles upon a pristine Japanese garden and its reclusive owner. Yun Ling apprentices herself to the gardener and the two develop a tentative trust as they each heal from their respective pasts.
Mali: The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu
For centuries, Timbuktu was a center of learning and literature. Hundreds of thousands of ancient Islamic manuscripts were housed in Timbuktu’s libraries until al-Qaeda militants occupied the city in 2012. Joshua Hammer’s book details one librarian’s brave plot to sneak the priceless manuscripts to safety.
Mexico: Pedro Páramo
Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo has been hailed as one of the most influential pieces of 20th-century literature by authors like Gabriel García Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges. When Juan Preciado visits the town where his mother grew up, he finds a town inhabited entirely by ghosts. The story alternates between Preciado’s point of view and that of his father, Pedro Páramo, decades earlier.
Monaco: Loser Takes All
Cary and Bertram change their wedding plans last minute to get married in Monaco. That’s the plan, anyway. When Bertram’s boss fails to show up with the yacht, they are stuck in Monaco with no plans and no money. Graham Greene’s Loser Takes All is the story of a man and a woman fighting for their marriage in the middle of all the glitz and glamor of 1950s Monaco.
Mongolia: The Blue Sky
In the early 1960s, a young man born in the Mongolian high country returned from Germany to lead his people back to their home. Galsan Tschinag is the first member of the Tuvan tribe to tell their story in print with his autobiographical trilogy that begins with The Blue Sky.
Montenegro: The Mountain Wreath
The Mountain Wreath by Petar II Petrovic Njegos is a play set during the 18th Century detailing the spread of the Turkish empire through Europe and the massacre of Montenegrins who had recently converted to Islam. There is some debate about whether or not the massacre is an accurate historical event, but whether or not it happened, the play has been a classic of Montenegrin literature for over a hundred years.
Morocco: The Sand Child
When Hajji Ahmed’s eighth daughter is born, he is determined to make her a son instead so that she can inherit after he dies. In The Sand Child by Tahar Ben Jelloun, an anonymous storyteller relates the poetic and lyrical tale of one child’s confusion, one family’s secrets, and one entire country’s expectations.
Mozambique: Sleepwalking Land
Mia Couto’s novel Sleepwalking Land follows an old man and a young boy as they travel through war-torn Mozambique during the civil war. Muidinga and Tuahir take shelter in a burnt bus and discover a stash of notebooks hidden inside. The narrative alternates between the two characters and the notebooks through the remainder of the war.
Nepal: Palpasa Cafe
Palpasa Cafe is the story of the Nepalese Civil War through the experiences of a young artist named Drishya. The author, Narayan Wagle, was exceptionally qualified to write about this topic as the editor of a major newspaper in Nepal. Few novels capture the sights and emotions of the Nepalese countryside like Palpasa Cafe.
Netherlands: The Diary of Anne Frank
Anne Frank’s remarkable diary, discovered in the attic where she hid from the Nazi Gestapo for the last years of her life, offers a personal look into the tragedies and experiences of Jewish families in Holland during the Nazi occupation through the eyes of a young girl as she lived it.
New Zealand: The Matriarch
The Matriarch by Witi Ihimaera tells the story of a man searching to untangle truth from legend surrounding his powerful grandmother, the matriarch. Through Tama Mahana’s search, Ihimaera introduces the world to the history, culture, and myths of New Zealand.
Rubén Darío is one of the most influential Nicaraguan poets of all time and played an important role in the rise of modernism across Latin America. Azul… is a collection of poems and stories by Rubén Darío compiled in one volume for a new generation of readers to discover.
Nigeria: Things Fall Apart
Set in late 19th-century Nigeria, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is a fictionalized account of the colonization of Africa by European nations seen through the experiences of an Igbo warrior struggling to maintain his traditions and culture in the midst of British colonization. Things Fall Apart is a classic of African literature that is beloved worldwide.
North Korea: The Orphan Master’s Son
Winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson is the expertly crafted tale of a young man raised in modern North Korea. The novel is an exquisite story in its own right but also holds the distinction of providing a glimpse into one of the most secretive countries in the world.
Hunger by Nobel Prize-winning author Knut Hamsun is the disturbing story of a struggling artist caught in the throes of hunger and starvation. Hamsun uses incredible detail to describe the plight of his protagonist in the streets of Norway’s capital city.
Oman: The Turtle of Oman
When Aref’s family prepares to move from Oman to the United States, he does not want to go. In desperation, his mother calls his grandfather to talk some sense into Aref. Instead of a lecture, however, his grandfather takes Aref on adventures around Oman to collect memories and tangible mementos of Oman to take across the world to Michigan. The Turtle of Oman is heartwarming, humorous, and full of details that bring modern Oman to life for readers wherever they are.
Pakistan: The Reluctant Fundamentalist
In The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, a Pakistani man named Changez tells an unnamed American tourist the story of his life and a recent love affair with an American woman. After September 11, 2001, Changez began to develop resentment toward the United States and its relations with Pakistan.
Palestine: Mornings in Jenin
Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa is a multigenerational saga following a Palestinian family from their forcible removal from the newly formed Israel in 1948 through to present day. The novel is a hauntingly beautiful look at the lives of one Palestinian family: the major events with far-reaching implications and their smaller daily decisions.
Panama: The Tailor of Panama
Harry Pendel is a British Intelligence agent and a tailor to Panama’s elite. Under the cover of his day job, Pendel keeps tabs on the corruption and political unrest in Panama. Unbeknownst to his wife and superiors, however, he also has a plan of his own. The Tailor of Panama by John le Carré is a fast-paced thriller set on the streets of Panama after at the end of the 20th Century.
Papua New Guinea: The Crocodile
The Crocodile by Vincent Eli is the first novel published in English by a native of Papua New Guinea. The main character, Hoiri Sevese, is a native young man raised by white missionaries. As such, he has a unique perspective on the colonization of Papua New Guinea after the Second World War.
Paraguay: I, the Supreme
Based on the regular rise and fall of militant dictators throughout Latin America, I, the Supreme by Augusto Roa Bastos imagines the election of a Supreme Dictator for Life in Paraguay. Roa Bastos is a Paraguayan author exiled from his home country for over four decades. His novel is both thoughtful, satirical, and painfully close to reality.
Peru: Who Killed Palomino Molero?
When a young military recruit is found brutally murdered, Lt. Silva and Officer Lituma from the Peruvian Army are called in to investigate. Mario Vargas Llosa’s murder mystery is a thought-provoking look at life in an increasingly corrupt society. Vargas Llosa’s companion novel, Death in the Andes, continues the story of Officer Lituma in a remote village high in the Andes mountains.
Philippines: Noli Me Tángere
Noli Me Tangere by José Rizal details Spain’s colonization of the Philippines. The novel, which is required reading in many Filipino schools, follows a young man returning to the Philippines after being educated abroad. Upon his return, he cannot help but notice the corruption in the church and government that had not been apparent to him when he was younger.
Poland: Pan Tadeusz
Pan Tadeusz is an epic Polish poem published in 1834. Widely regarded as the national epic of Poland, the book recounts a love affair between young adults from feuding nobility during the Russian occupation of parts of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
José Saramago’s Blindness is a thrilling account of a blindness epidemic that sweeps through and unnamed city. The social structure of the city falls apart under the panic caused by the fast-moving illness. The main characters include a doctor, his wife, and a number of patients quarantined at the beginning of the outbreak. Three years after the publication of Blindness, José Saramago was awarded the 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature.
The original Gothic vampire novel, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, is set in Transylvania—part of present-day Romania. Through a series of letters and diary entries, Stoker lays out the story of Count Dracula looking for fresh victims abroad. Although the novel takes place in multiple locations throughout Europe, the thrilling final battle occurs outside the Count’s castle in Romania.
Russia: War and Peace
War and Peace is one of Leo Tolstoy’s most famous works. Through the experiences of five Russian families, Tolstoy examines the effects of the French invasion of Russia in the early 1800s. War and Peace has been adapted to film and stage numerous times in multiple languages and is considered one of the great classics of 19th-century literature.
Rwanda: Running the Rift
Jean Patrick Nkuba is a Tutsi boy dreaming of becoming Rwanda’s first long-distance runner to win an Olympic medal. In the days leading up to the Rwandan genocide, however, it becomes apparent that he will first need to run to save his very life.
Samoa: Where We Once Belonged
Where We Once Belonged by Sia Figiel follows a young Samoan girl as she comes of age on an island torn between tradition and Western cultures. Figiel’s novel is written in the style of traditional Samoan storytelling to further enhance the disparities between Samoa’s past and its future.
Saudi Arabia: Girls of Riyadh
Girls of Riyadh is a coming-of-age story set in present-day Saudi Arabia. Rajaa Alsanea uses emails and letters between the main protagonists to explore what life and relationships are like for young women in Saudi Arabia today. The book was banned in Saudi Arabia after its publication in 2007 but was an instant sensation across the Middle East.
Senegal: So Long a Letter
Detailing the lives and conditions of women in Western Africa, So Long a Letter by Senegalese author Mariama Bâ. The story unfolds in a series of letters between friends as the protagonist observes a traditional mourning period for her recently deceased husband.
Serbia: Dictionary of the Khazars
The Khazars were a semi-nomadic people that lived between Europe and Asia. Much of the Khazars history is disputed because they kept no written records themselves. Dictionary of the Khazars by Serbian author Milorad Pavić is less of a historical narrative than an allegorical one; he uses the Khazars as a symbolic people to represent small cultures and countries stuck between two larger powers.
Sierra Leone: A Long Way Gone
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah is an account of Beah’s childhood as a soldier in Sierra Leone during its civil war. From the age of 13-16, Beah was forced to serve in the armed forces and was exposed to violence, drugs, and manipulation. A Long Way Gone is his record of his experiences and escape.
Singapore: The Singapore Grip
J.G. Farrell uses a heavy dose of satire to describe Singapore during World War II in The Singapore Grip. The story follows the experiences of a British family in Singapore during the Japanese occupation. The Singapore Grip is the second of three novels that make up Farrell’s Empire Trilogy.
Slovakia: Rivers of Babylon
Rivers of Babylon is a crime thriller from Slovak author Peter Pišt’anek set in Slovakia after Velvet Revolution brought an end to communism in Slovakia. The protagonist is a roguish anti-hero that represents a collection of people that rule the towns and streets of the formerly communist country.
Set in the imposing Alamut Castle, Alamut by Vladimir Bartol tells the story of the Hashshashin—a Persian sect of Shia Islam famous for their warriors and assassins—and their plot to assassinate the Seljuk Sultan. Alamut was inspired by Mussolini’s rule, but it has become a classic in fascist regimes around the world ever since.
Somalia: The Orchid of Lost Souls
British-Somali author Nadifa Mohamed’s The Orchid of Lost Souls follows a small cast of women through the days leading up to the Somali Civil War. Using the experiences of three different women gives Mohamed the opportunity to explore the personal side of war and conflict while a putting a face on events known to history.
South Africa: Cry, the Beloved Country
Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton opens with a provincial minister’s summons to Johannesburg to help his sister. Once in Johannesburg, Reverend Kumalo searches for a sign of his son Absalom. When Kumalo finally tracks down Absalom, he discovers Absalom has been in trouble and is accused of murder. Cry, the Beloved Country is a story about a father and about the racial divides that separated South Africa in the 1940s.
South Korea: The Vegetarian
The Vegetarian by Han Kang follows a young wife in Seoul as she decides to become a vegetarian after a series of disturbing dreams. The novel is broken into three sections, each of which shines light on another result of Yeong-hye’s decision. The Vegetarian won both the Man Booker International Prize and the Man Asian Literary Prize after its publication and subsequent translations.
Spain: Don Quixote
Miguel de Cervantes’s iconic classic, Don Quixote, is the best-selling book in history after the Bible and other religious and political texts. When Alonso Quixano decides to leave his quiet study to become a noble knight, hilarity ensues. Through the madcap adventures of the often-delusional protagonist, Cervantes provided commentary on the role and form of contemporary literature.
Sri Lanka: Anil’s Ghost
When Anil Tissera, a young woman born in Sri Lanka but educated abroad, returns to Sri Lanka to investigate a series of murders, she must confront both the evidence in front of her and the ghosts of her past. Set against the backdrop of the 1980s civil war, Anil’s Ghost is a complex look at Sri Lanka during a difficult time in its past.
Sudan: Season of Migration to the North
Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih is considered one of the most important Arab novels of the 20th Century. An unnamed narrator returns to Sudan during the decade after Sudan’s independence from Britain and Egypt in 1956 and discovers an enigmatic stranger named Mustafa Sa’eed. Through the course of the novel, Mustafa reveals his colorful history to the narrator.
Swaziland: Weeding the Flowerbeds
Sarah Mkhonza’s Weeding the Flowerbeds is a fictionalized account of the author’s experiences in a British-run boarding school in her native Swaziland as a child. The book is full of her experiences seen through the eyes of three fictional girls. The novel is at times tender and other times humorous as it portrays the teachers’ attempts to educate their pupils and the girls’ best efforts to get out of lessons.
Sweden: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Stieg Larsson’s international sensation, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a psychological thriller centered on the disappearance of the grandniece of a wealthy businessman. Lisbeth Salander, the socially-awkward protagonist, and Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist, join forces to solve the mystery. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels have won multiple awards and been adapted to highly successful Swedish films.
Heidi by Johanna Spyri is a beloved classic about a young orphan girl who goes to live with her aging grandfather in the Swiss Alps. Although her grandfather is not immediately pleased to be given care of Heidi, they quickly develop a strong bond. Heidi develops friendships both in the mountains and in Frankfurt, and her friends play a vital part in the book’s plot.
Syria: The Dark Side of Love
When a Muslim officer is found dead in St. Paul’s Chapel in Damascus, Detective Barudi leads an investigation into the murder. Just days into his investigation, however, the Secret Service takes over the investigation and shuts Barudi out of any information. Without any official permission or resources, Barudi continues a private investigation and uncovers a century-long feud and a tragic love affair at the heart of the murder.
Taiwan: Crystal Boys
Pai Hsien-yung’s story of a group of young outcasts on the streets of Taipei examines universal themes of love, belonging, and poverty in a setting that evokes the sights and sounds of Taipei. The Crystal Boys was recently adapted to a popular TV miniseries in Taiwan.
Hurramabad by Andreī Volos is a collection of short stories all set the fictional city of Hurramabad in Tajikistan following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Each story follows the daily life of a resident of Hurramabad, providing a glimpse into the difficult consequences of Tajikistan’s independence.
The narrator of Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Desertion, a boy named Rashid, tells his family’s story in Zanzibar during the transition to independence from colonialism. The story alternates between Rashid’s childhood and his adulthood 50 years later, providing a glimpse of personal and national changes over half a century.
Thailand: The Bridge Over the River Kwai
Pierre Boulle’s famous novel, The Bridge Over the River Kwai, is a fictionalized account of the construction of the Burma Railway during the Second World War by British prisoners of war. The 1957 film adaptation of the novel won the Academy Award for Best Picture that same year.
Tonga: Tales of the Tikongs
Tales of the Tikongs is a collection of satirical short stories focusing on the missteps of islanders and developers alike. The stories are set on a fictional island of Tiko, a tiny island in the South Pacific analogous with Epeli Hau’ofa’s home country of Tonga. The stories poke fun at social and political conventions in modern Tonga while still maintaining a compassion and understanding of the people involved.
Trinidad and Tobago: A House for Mr. Biswas
A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul is a story based partly on the author’s father. Mr. Biswas, who suffers one setback after another, sets a goal to own his own house. in a society where large families often live together in one communal home. Bucking the traditions of his wife’s large family, Mr. Biswas devotes his energies to building his own home and life.
Tunisia: The Pillar of Salt
In the years leading up to World War II, a young Tunisian boy struggles to gain the acceptance of his country’s French elite. As the war looms, however, he is forced to confront both his history and his heritage. The Pillar of Salt by Albert Memmi is a semiautobiographical account of Tunisia as a French colony on the brink of war.
Turkey: My Name is Red
My Name is Red is the first novel from Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk. In it, Pamuk uses multiple narrators to lay out the mysterious puzzle surrounding the death of a miniature painter in the Ottoman Empire. Pamuk masterfully nests stories within other stories throughout the entire novel, which one of many reasons he was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize after its publication.
Turkmenistan: The Tale of Aypi
The Tale of Aypi by Ak Welsapar tells the story of a group of fishermen fighting to keep their homes and their community out of the hands of the ruling authorities. The book’s quiet style is compelling without being flashy, much like the fishermen themselves.
Uganda: Abyssinian Chronicles
With breathtaking detail, Moses Isegawa paints a picture of the many faces of Uganda in Abyssinian Chronicles. From the rural countryside to the capital city, his novel follows an optimistic and wry narrator through a series of cruel circumstances in his efforts to make it in modern Uganda.
Ukraine: Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors
Before Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors was an award-winning film, it was a book by Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky. With a detailed but unflinching depiction of Ukranian Hutsul culture, Kotsiubynsky relates the tale of two young lovers from feuding families.
United Arab Emirates: The Sand Fish
In a story that provides a glimpse into the United Arab Emirates before the oil boom, The Sand Fish by Maha Gargash tells the story of one woman’s struggle against the restrictions on women in her country as she prepares to become a bride.
United Kingdom: Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen’s classic novel is one of the most widely read books in English worldwide. Pride and Prejudice follows the life of Elizabeth Bennet and her family as they welcome a new, eligible bachelor to the neighborhood. Through her story of romance, misunderstanding, and marriage, Jane Austen provided witty commentary on the societal structures of her day.
United States of America: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain is a witty novel about the adventures and escapades of young Tom Sawyer growing up on the banks of the Mississippi river. Tom and his friends repeatedly make mischief through the summer and manage to interfere with a nefarious plot along the way.
Uruguay: The Invisible Mountain
Carolina De Robertís’s multigenerational tale of a family of strong-willed women begins in the Uruguayan countryside at the turn of the 20th Century. The Invisible Mountain is about the bonds that tie mothers and daughters together and the path each woman must walk on her own.
Uzbekistan: Chasing the Sea
Tom Bissell first fell in love with Uzbekistan during a brief stay as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1996. Chasing the Sea is his account of his return to the country to investigate the rapidly shrinking Aral Sea. The book is full of his travels, striking aspects of Uzbek culture, and his run-ins with the local police.
Venezuela: Doña Bárbara
Doña Bárbara by Rómulo Gallegos is a masterpiece of Venezuelan literature. The novel’s titular character is a femme fatal that is said to rule the Venezuelan countryside wit a combination of seduction and witchcraft. When Santos Luzardo arrives in Apure to sell his family’s property, he must contend with Doña Bárbara in order to regain control of the land.
Vietnam: Paradise of the Blind
The first Vietnamese novel to be published in the United States, Paradise of the Blind, tells the story of the protagonist’s life through a series of flashbacks. She remembers the things she has done and sacrificed for her family’s honor, struggling under the cultural expectations of children’s responsibility to their parents.
Yemen: A Land without Jasmine
A Land without Jasmine by Wajdi al-Ahdal is a satirical mystery novel set in the capital city of Sana’a. When a student at Sana’a University goes missing, multiple narrators relate another part of her story leading to a surprising conclusion.
Zambia: A Cowrie of Hope
Nasula, a young Zambian widow, dreams of a better life in the midst of intense poverty and depravation. In an attempt to secure an education for her daughter, Nasula travels to Lusaka to sell her most prized possession. Binwell Sinyangwe’s novel is full of hope and friendship in spite of—or because of—the day-to-day trials of its characters.
Zimbabwe: The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm
Newberry honor book, The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm is a futuristic science fiction novel set in Zimbabwe. Nancy Farmer’s fast-paced tale of a paranormal detection agency hired to find the Chief of Security’s missing children combines the culture and traditions of Zimbabwe with a fantastical imagining of its future.