Around the World for a Good Book


A few years ago, probably not too long after my country began an ill-conceived invasion of Iraq, I decided that I should do something to learn more about people in other countries. Since I’m a compulsive reader the natural solution was to learn about people and culture through their literature. So I started the Around the World for a Good Book challenge to read a book by an author from every country in the world.

I set a few guidelines for the effort:

  1. Due to my monolingualism the book would have to be written or translated into English (one of the great barriers to finding books from some countries)
  2. The book I read should preferably be fiction – a novel or short stories. Poetry is okay as well and a non-fiction work by a native author as last resort.
  3. Failing to find any book that meets the above two requirements I would read a history or travel book about the country in question, again preferably by a native author.

Trying to read a book from every country in the world raises a lot of questions. How many countries are there in the world anyhow? The US State Department Recognizes 191 independent states, the United Nations has 192 member states, and FIFA ranks 201 football-playing entities.  Wikipedia has a list of  245 sovereign states!

Does the United Kingdom count as one nation or four? Is there such a thing as a native of the Holy See? And what about Catalonians, Palestinians, Tibetans, and other peoples who do not have country  to call their own? Fortunately, at my pace of reading I have a lot of time to work on these questions.

Here are the books I’ve read already with links to reviews:

  1. Afghanistan: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  2. Algeria: Cousin K by Yasmina Khadra
  3. Angola: A General Theory of Oblivion by Jose Eduardo Agualusa
  4. Antarctica: Terra Incognita by Sara Wheeler
  5. Argentina: Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar
  6. Australia: Woman of the Inner Sea by Thomas Keneally
  7. Belgium: Life Form by Amélie Nothomb
  8. Belize: Beka Lamb by Zee Edgell
  9. Bosnia and Herzegovina: The Lazarus Project by Alexsandr Hemon
  10. Brazil: Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon by Jorge Amado
  11. Cameroon: The Story of the Madman : A Novel by Mongo Beti
  12. Canada: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
  13. Catalonia: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
  14. Chile: The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
  15. Colombia: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  16. Costa Rica: Assault on Paradise by Tatiana Lobo
  17. Côte d’Ivoire: Aya by Marguerite Abouet
  18. Croatia: Baba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugrešić
  19. Czech Republic: The Joke by Milan Kundera
  20. Djibouti: In the United States of Africa by Abdourahman A. Waberi
  21. Dominican Republic: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  22. Ecuador: Bruna and Her Sisters in the Sleeping City by Yanez Cossio
  23. England: Under the Net by Iris Murdoch
  24. Egypt: I Think of You by Ahdaf Soueif
  25. Ethiopia: Beneath the Lion’s Gaze by Maaza Mengiste
  26. Faroe Islands: Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion by Johan Harstad
  27. Fiji: The Anniversary Present by Larry Thomas
  28. Finland: Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna
  29. France: The Castle of Whispers by Carole Martinez
  30. Georgia: Pilgrimage to Dzhvari by Valeria Alfeyeva
  31. Ghana: Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey
  32. Germany: Billiards at Half-Past Nine by Heinrich Böll
  33. Greece: Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis
  34. Haiti: Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat
  35. Honduras: Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya
  36. Hungary: The Last Wolf & Herman : The Game Warden & the Death of a Craft by László Krasznahorkai
  37. Iceland: The Blue Tower by Thorarinn Eldjarn
  38. India: The God of Small Things by Arundhuti Roy
  39. Indonesia: Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan
  40. Iran: Persepolis & Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi
  41. Iraq: A Sky So Close by Betool Khedairi
  42. Ireland: Patrick Pearse Motel by Hugh Leonard
  43. Italy: Conclave by Roberto Pazzi
  44. Japan: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
  45. Kiribati: The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific by J. Maarten Troost
  46. Kyrgyzstan: The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years by Chingiz Aitmatov
  47. Lebanon: The Prophet by Khalil Gibran
  48. Lithuania: Stalemate by Icchokas Meras
  49. Mexico: The Law of Love by Laura Esquivel
  50. Netherlands: The Book of Everything by Guus Kuijer (NOTE: I read many Dutch books in preperation for a trip to Amsterdam in 2010)
  51. New Zealand: Dogside Story by Patricia Grace
  52. Nigeria: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  53. Norway: The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann
  54. Pakistan: Salt & Saffron by Kamilla Shamsie
  55. Palestine: Gate of the Sun by Elias Khoury
  56. Peru: Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa
  57. Portugal: Jerusalem by Gonçalo Tavares
  58. Romania: Little Fingers by Filip Florian
  59. Senegal: Doomi Golo: The Hidden Notebooks by Boubacar Boris Diop
  60. Somalia: Maps by Nuruddin Farah
  61. South Africa:  Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton
  62. South Korea: Silver Stallion by  Ahn Junghyo
  63. Spain:  The Man of Feeling by Javier Marías
  64. Sweden: Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell
  65. Thailand: The Happiness of Kati by Ngarmpun (Jane) Vejjajiva
  66. Togo: An African in Greenland by Tété -Michel Kpmoassie
  67. Turkey: Snow by Orhan Pamuk
  68. Uganda: Snakepit by Moses Isegawa
  69. Uruguay: The Invisible Mountain by Carolina de Robertis
  70. Vatican City: When in Rome by Robert J. Hutchinson
  71. Zimbabwe: Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga

I’m always looking for new suggestions of good books from different parts of the world.  If you know a good book that meets my guidelines, please post the title and author in the comments field.

15 thoughts on “Around the World for a Good Book

  1. Aloha: Perhaps you have it on your list but in the manner of An African in Greenland I think you should read Sex Lives Of Cannibals. It doesn’t really have much to do with sex lives or Cannibals and is one of the most entertaining books I have ever read about a couple living on a Island in the Pacific. (Kiribati) It really is hilarious and a true story.

    Like

  2. This is a wonderful project. I applaud for undertaking it actually. I can´t help but comment that you haven´t read anything from Macedonia though. You should work some more on your list :D

    Like

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