Reading My Way Around the World

Reading My Way Around the World

33 countries visited to date (updated 24th June 2020) 

A few years ago I read an Australian book by Tim Winton that took the reader on a journey up the West coast of Australia.   I found it fascinating and realised that it's a part of the world that I will never ever get to visit.    Travelling in books has always been a huge delight for me and while I'll go through periods of living vicariously in one country for several months or even years, eventually the need to wander will present itself again.

So this is my personal reading challenge for the next few years .... to read a book from every country in the world.   No time limit and the book ideally should be written by someone of that nationality, or be set there. Finding translations is the biggest part of that challenge.

I'm dropping in frequently to a wonderful blog written by Ash at Tale Away - for 3 or 4 years now she has been setting a challenge to read 52 books from 52 countries in a year.  Here's the 2020 challenge.  I've taken some of her suggestions, although many are books I've read in the past, or quite simply don't interest me - she's a lot younger than me and with different tastes, but she has a hugely comprehensive site and it is well worth a regular visit.  She makes her lilving from her blog so I try to order occasional books through her site as a payment for all the information she has so painstakingly put together. 

So here's my overall list and I will put posts up about the varous books as I go along (when I can figure out how to link it all). And these are recent reads - so I'm not including things pre the start of 2019. 

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Housseini
I adored this book and have read it twice.   A glimpse into a much misunderstood world.

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian
I didn't know anything at all about the Armenian holocaust - this was an eye opening book and well written without being too academic - it came out to coincide with the centenary of 1.5 million Armenians being wiped out by Turkey. 

Dirt Music by Tim Winton
a trip up the west coast of Australia ... really fascinating ...

Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder
I'm entering this for two countries as the are both the subject of this book and truthfully I couldn't face reading more about this awful period in history.
This Pulitzer Prize winning story is the memoir of Deogratias 'Deo' Niyizonkiza
who escaped the genocide in his native Burundi by first of all travelling to Rwanda, then back to Burundi and eventually to America where, with no English and only $200, he managed to survive, eventually studying at Columbia University, and travelling back home to set up a medical clinic near where he was born.
Burundi is one of the 3 poorest countries in the world and in the bottom 5 of GDP and as a teenager Deo tried to build a clinic in his village.  It is an amazing story of hope and triumph and belief in human goodness.   

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Enough has been said about this book, which I enjoyed. 

Eva Luna by Isabel Allende
This wasn't my favourite Allende book, but it was an easy read and enchanting.

 The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
I loved this book, set in a tea growing ethnic minority community in the north of China and following through into the adopted Chinese American community.  It was brilliantly researched and I'd love to read more from this writer.   

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton
This was a bit too chick lit for me, but nonetheless it was an interesting look into the lives of both the wealthy Cubans who fled the country when Castro took power and also the lives of those who stayed behind.   It also gave a good account of the events that took place to make Cuba the country it is.  The one result of reading this was that any desire I had to visit Cuba went with the book.  

Egypt /Andalusia
The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo
This needs to be read every couple of years :)

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
This was a labour of the "must read" category and I loathed it!   Probably the fact that I was in bed with a chest infection didn't help but oh my god ... I just wanted to slap the pair of them. 

A Legacy of Spies by John le Carre

The Man Who Spoke Snakish by by Andrus Kivirähk - translated by Christopher Moseley
This is a crazy book - more like a fairytale.   People living in the forest who can communicate with the animals.   Close by is a village where Christianity and modern ways have brought people away from the old ways.   The story is about the conflict between the old and new ways.  I kept thinking that I wasn't enjoying the book, but it still kept my attention right to the end.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
This is really nice bedtime reading - short stories about an aristic grandmother bonding with her granddaughter on a tiny island in the Gulf of Finland.   Based on the life of the Swedish speaking Finnish writer and illustrator  Tove Jansson who's famous as the illustrator of the Moomins.   

The Statement by Brian Moore
Brian Moore is originally from here and I just picked up one from a shelf one day and got hooked on his writing - he's fascinated by the collaboration between the church and the nazi regime and this book is about a Nazi hunter in the 1970s.   Loved it

Stones from the River by Ursula Hegl
Set in Germany between the wars, I've written about this book here

Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd
This was a strange book, set in a nature reserve of people observing chimpanzees - so if you're into the intimate details of animals you'll enjoy it.   It brought some sun to me on a cold winter's day but otherwise not a great book.

Hold by Michael Donkor (not finished)
Set between Ghana and London, this was interesting because there was a lot in the native language left to your own imagination as to most of the meaning which I found fascinating.   But the lead characters were just very young and bored me so I never finished it.

Circe by Madeline Miller
A history lesson of the Greek gods - hard going

I have read a lot of books from India over the years and love both the writing and the culture.   These are just my most recent reads.

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (not finished)
This was the Booker Prize book of the quarter century and I felt it therefore required reading ... It was so long winded and took so long to get anywhere I jsut gave up..

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
This was a very beautifully written book about consequences - how one incident can change a life -lots of details of the small things in life - again I found it a tough read and I nearly gave up but I'm glad I perservered.   

Small Island by Andrea Levy
Adored this - and it was a great depiction of the Windrush generation coming to England
*The Long Song by Andrea Levy
didn't enjoy this one as much - set on a Jamaican plantation during the end days of slavery

The Woman in the White Kimono  by Ana Johns
A very enlightening book and beautifully written.  It's the story of a Japanese girl falling in love with an American marine after the end of World War 2, or the end of the American occupation of Japan as people there would see it.   The discrimination against mixed race children was appalling and still to this day their is prejudice ... in both countries. 

The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
A really sweet book - easy read, told through the eyes of the cat

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Frankly it was the cover that attracted me to this - bright shiny things.
But a really enjoyable book set between Korea before partition and Japan over several generations of the one family.

The Pact We Made by Layla Alammar
Dahlia is the unmarried daughter of a wealthy Kuwaiti family who's mother's sole objective in life is to get her married off before she's 30 while she herself has the sole objective of following her artistic dreams.   Beautifully written, this story, set in modern times, takes a very close look at the conflict between the old traditions and the modern world in a culture that is very foreign to us.   While Dahlia works in an advertising agency, she also holds a deep trauma close to her heart.

A Girl Made of Dust by Nathalie Abi-Ezzi
I absolutely loved this book. - the descriptions through the eyes of a child are simply gorgeous.  

Eight-year-old Ruba lives in a village outside Beirut. From her family home, she can see the buildings shimmering on the horizon and the sea stretched out beside them. She can also hear the rumble of the shelling

The Expats by Chris Pavone
This is a spy novel set in Luxembourg City

The Gift of Rain by Ian Twan Eng
Fabulous book set on the island of Penang before and during the Japanese occupation during the Second World War.   I will definitely read more from this author.

*The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo
Set during the British regime in the  1930s this is a mixture of fantasy and local culture.   There is a myth that a man can turn into a tiger and kill people and in rural areas, as with many myths, many people still fear that prospect.  The story focusses on a young boy who has to find a lost finger and return it to the grave of its owner within a certain period of mourning and about the young girl who finds it.  It read more as Young Adult fiction rather than adult, but it was an interesting and engaging story. 

Tangerine by Christine Mangan
This just fulfilled a category - uninspiring. 

Northern Ireland
The Butterfly Cabinet
The Watch Tower both by Bernie Magill
Bernie Magill is a beautiful writer - the Watch Tower is set on Rathlin Island when Marconi's men are testing the cross Atlantic signals with the background of the ongoing unrest in our part of the world.
The Butterfly Cabinet was a dramatisation of  court case that actually happened in the late 1800s.  

Celestial Bodies by Johka Alharthi
Three sisters in a small community in Oman - this enclosed life is beautifully described - one of the sisters is moving out into the more open, modern world and it's the two worlds colliding - the ancient and the modern.   

The Tatooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
This book is based on the writer's interview with the Tatooist who survived and lives in New Zealand - I thought it would be harrowing in the extreme but it's a very readable account from another point of view of a terrible terrible time in history. All these stories are warnings for our present day to stop these things happening again.   

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Another bestsetller and a really jaunty read of an aristocrat who's under house arrest in a hotel and the evolving world from the fall of the Tsars to modern times seen through the eyes of him in that establishment ...

*Rwanda - see Burundi

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Such an empowering story - if you need a positive lift this defintiely fits the bill.

The Muse by Jessie Burton
Set between Spain during the Spanish Civil War and London of the 1960s.

The Pianist of Yarmouk by  Acham Ahmad
I adored this book.   It's a memoir, not a novel, set in a Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus.  Acham's father is a blind musician and works tirelessly to give his son a musical education in the midst of the conflicts surrounding an enormous refugee camp and telling the real story of all the different factions within that war torn country.   A must read.  Just fabulous. 

The Overstory by Richard Powers
A story of the fight to save the trees - packed with information, both scientific and environmental about how trees communicate etc ... 10 different characters come together as the book goes along in different ways to try and protect various forests ...

Cold Heaven by Brian Moore
Another of Brian Moore binge reads - a lapsed Catholic having a relgious vision which she struggles to deal with and explain.  


  1. Hi Fil. An interesting challenge and some interesting examples mentioned. I have recently enjoyed Maggie Muggins, by Keith Waterhouse - set in London around tube stations in particular, so more specific than England in general. I also enjoy William Boyd - Sweet Caress (Europe in general) and Love is Blind (France/Scotland/Russia). Good luck with your quest. Hugh

  2. This is a great challenge and you are doing brilliantly so far! I am now intrigued to think which countries I have read books from. Hmmmm.....
    Does it have to be written by someone from there? If not, I recommend 'A house in Bali' by Colin McPhee. He was American but he lived in Bali learning Gamelan music for years. (His piece Tabuh-Tabuhan is a beautiful take on Gamelan in orchestral form)- it is a wonderful book for seeing what Bali was like in the 1960's.

  3. Wow Fil. This is a wonderful and interesting challenge. Congratulations on your already dry impressive list. Xxxxx

  4. Thank you all for the great suggestions folks and feel free to add any others as I progress. love the Bali one Kezzie - I've only heard gamalan once and would love to know more about it.

  5. Hi Fil - this will be a great reference for many of us ... now there's time to read - yet I'm thinking of doing the A-Z ... still life will go on - with some new opportunities of time and reading ahead of us. Take care and look after yourselves seeing as it's now March ... cheers Hilary

  6. It's good to loook at this again. For Iceland, I recommend Burial Rites by Hannah Kent- it was a really good book!


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