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:
Afghanistan: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Algeria: Cousin K by Yasmina Khadra
Antarctica: Terra Incognita by Sara Wheeler
Argentina: Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar
Australia: Woman of the Inner Sea by Thomas Keneally
Belgium: Life Form by Amélie Nothomb
Belize: Beka Lamb by Zee Edgell
Bosnia and Herzegovina: The Lazarus Project by Alexsandr Hemon
Brazil: Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon by Jorge Amado
Cameroon: The Story of the Madman : A Novel by Mongo Beti
Canada: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
Catalonia: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Chile: The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Costa Rica: Assault on Paradise by Tatiana Lobo
Côte d’Ivoire: Aya by Marguerite Abouet
Colombia: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Croatia: Baba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugrešić
Czech Republic: The Joke by Milan Kundera
Dominican Republic: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Ecuador: Bruna and Her Sisters in the Sleeping City by Yanez Cossio
England: Under the Net by Iris Murdoch
Ethiopia: Beneath the Lion’s Gaze by Maaza Mengiste
Faroe Islands: Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion by Johan Harstad
France: The Castle of Whispers by Carole Martinez
Georgia: Pilgrimage to Dzhvari by Valeria Alfeyeva
Ghana: Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey
Germany: Billiards at Half-Past Nine by Heinrich Böll
Greece: Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis
Haiti: Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat
Honduras: Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya
Iceland: The Blue Tower by Thorarinn Eldjarn
India: The God of Small Things by Arundhuti Roy
Iran: Persepolis & Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi
Iraq: A Sky So Close by Betool Khedairi
Ireland: Patrick Pearse Motel by Hugh Leonard
Italy: Conclave by Roberto Pazzi
Japan: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Kiribati: The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific by J. Maarten Troost
Kyrgyzstan: The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years by Chingiz Aitmatov
Lebanon: The Prophet by Khalil Gibran
Lithuania: Stalemate by Icchokas Meras
Mexico: The Law of Love by Laura Esquivel
Netherlands: The Book of Everything by Guus Kuijer (NOTE: I read many Dutch books in preperation for a trip to Amsterdam in 2010)
New Zealand: Dogside Story by Patricia Grace
Nigeria: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Norway: The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann
Pakistan: Salt & Saffron by Kamilla Shamsie
Palestine: Gate of the Sun by Elias Khoury
Peru: Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa
Portugal: Jerusalem by Gonçalo Tavares
Romania: Little Fingers by Filip Florian
Somalia: Maps by Nuruddin Farah
South Africa:  Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton
South Korea: Silver Stallion by  Ahn Junghyo
Spain:  The Man of Feeling by Javier Marías
Sweden: Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell
Thailand: The Happiness of Kati by Ngarmpun (Jane) Vejjajiva
Togo: An African in Greenland by Tété -Michel Kpmoassie
Turkey: Snow by Orhan Pamuk
Uganda: Snakepit by Moses Isegawa
Uruguay: The Invisible Mountain by Carolina de Robertis
Vatican City: When in Rome by Robert J. Hutchinson
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.

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12 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.

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  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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