Reading My Way Around the World

Reading My Way Around the World

44 countries visited to date (up to 31st July 2021) 

Please note This is my personal reading challenge for the next few years .... to read a book from or about every country in the world.   No time limit.   Ideally the book should be written by someone of that nationality, but obviously I've not stuck to that rigidly - the main thing is a good, well written story and a way of learning a bit of geography and history in the process. Finding translations is the biggest part of that challenge.

This came about a few years ago after reading an Australian book that my brother left behind when he was home 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 and wasn't a book I would have picked up to read.  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.

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 living from her blog so I try to order books through her site when I can 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 quite recent reads in the past couple of years, but mostly since the start of 2020. 


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 ...


The pact we made


Captains of the Sands by Jorge Amaro


Stork Mountain by Miroslav Penkov
Part fable, part history, a young man returns to Bulgaria from America to find his missing grandfather and reconnect with his past. 


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.

A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende (see under Spain)
A fascinating well told story of the Spanish Civil War and the subsequent rescue of thousands of refugees by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and their lives in Chile.    


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

1984 - by George Orwell - another must read book on my list and I really enjoyed it - what a world.  


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 Shadow King  by Maaza Mengiste
Set during Mussonlini's 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, this book sheds light on the women soldiers who were left out of the historical records of what was the first invasion of World War 2.  


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

The Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers
This is a light story, perfect for a day at the beach or lying sick in bed.  With beautiful descriptions of the stained glass windows of the Cathedral in Chartres. 


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


The Sealwoman's Gift


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.    

The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters


Days Without End by Sebastien Barry
This is a fabulous story set in the time of the American Civil War and narrated by a 17 year old soldier who has fled from the famine in Ireland.   The Irish part of the story is only hinted at and in that hinting tells more than many full books on the subject that I have read.   But the glorious prose of the living through a war is simply delicious writing.   


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


She Would be King


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. 

New Zealand

The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimera
A young adult fiction based around an old myth that a youngster will come to rescue the tribe.   Only a boy will do, but a girl in this story outshines and outsmarts them all to become the Whale Rider.   

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.   

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne by Brian Moore
This is one of my all time favourite books - such an intimate look at loneliness - it's like a perfect movie where you can't see the acting - in Brian Moore's books you can't see the writing.  


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.   


War by Candlelight by Daniel Alarcón
Lovely short stories set mostly in Lima - the first published work from this well established writer. 


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.

South Africa

An Instant in the Wind by Andre Brink
I really enjoyed this story set in the mid 1700s of a white woman and a black man making their way across the open plains of South Africa.   Vivid very personal observations.


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


A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende
Set between the Spanish Civil War and Chile


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 BeeKeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri
An up close and personal account of a refugee's flight from Syria, across the Mediterranean, into Greece and eventually the UK, the survival of the loss of the life he has left behind and the beginnings of a new life. Beautiful heart wrenching story. 


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 my Brian Moore binge reads - a lapsed Catholic having a religious vision which she struggles to deal with and explain.  

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Lovely story about a wild child living in the salt marshes on the west coast of America.   Beautiful descriptions of the natural world.  

A Thousand Moons (Days without End Part 2) by Sebastien Barry
Another sumptuous read, this time narrated by the adopted Indian daughter of Thomas McNulty from Days Without End


Zorro by Isabel Allende


  • Algeria
  • Angola
  • Benin
  • Botswana
  • Burkina
  • Burundi ✔️
  • Cameroon
  • Cape Verde
  • Central African Republic
  • Chad
  • Comoros
  • Congo
  • Congo, Democratic Republic of ✔️ (Brazzaville)
  • Djibouti
  • Egypt ✔️
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Eritrea
  • Ethiopia
  • Gabon
  • Gambia
  • Ghana ✔️
  • Guinea
  • Guinea-Bissau
  • Ivory Coast
  • Kenya
  • Lesotho
  • Liberia
  • Libya
  • Madagascar
  • Malawi
  • Mali
  • Mauritania
  • Mauritius
  • Morocco ✔️
  • Mozambique
  • Namibia
  • Niger
  • Nigeria
  • Rwanda ✔️
  • Sao Tome and Principe
  • Senegal
  • Seychelles
  • Sierra Leone
  • Somalia
  • South Africa
  • South Sudan
  • Sudan
  • Swaziland
  • Tanzania
  • Togo
  • Tunisia
  • Uganda
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe

ASIA (44)

  • Afghanistan ✔️
  • Bahrain ✔️
  • Bangladesh
  • Bhutan
  • Brunei
  • Burma (Myanmar)
  • Cambodia
  • China ✔️
  • East Timor
  • India ✔️
  • Indonesia
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Israel
  • Japan ✔️
  • Jordan
  • Kazakhstan
  • Korea, North
  • Korea, South ✔️
  • Kuwait ✔️
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Laos ✔️
  • Lebanon ✔️
  • Malaysia ✔️
  • Maldives
  • Mongolia
  • Nepal
  • Oman ✔️
  • Pakistan
  • Philippines
  • Qatar
  • Russian Federation ✔️
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Singapore
  • Sri Lanka
  • Syria ✔️
  • Tajikistan
  • Thailand
  • Turkey ✔️
  • Turkmenistan
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Uzbekistan
  • Vietnam
  • Yemen


  • Albania
  • Andorra
  • Armenia ✔️
  • Austria
  • Azerbaijan
  • Belarus
  • Belgium
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark ✔️
  • England ✔️
  • Estonia ✔️
  • Finland ✔️
  • France ✔️
  • Georgia
  • Germany ✔️
  • Greece ✔️
  • Hungary ✔️
  • Iceland ✔️
  • Ireland ✔️
  • Italy ✔️
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg ✔️
  • Macedonia
  • Malta
  • Moldova
  • Monaco
  • Montenegro
  • Netherlands
  • Northern Ireland ✔️
  • Norway ✔️
  • Poland ✔️
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • San Marino
  • Scotland ✔️
  • Serbia
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain ✔️
  • Sweden ✔️
  • Switzerland
  • Ukraine
  • Vatican City
  • Wales


  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Belize
  • Canada ✔️
  • Costa Rica
  • Cuba ✔️
  • Dominica
  • Dominican Republic
  • El Salvador
  • Grenada
  • Guatemala
  • Haiti
  • Honduras
  • Jamaica ✔️
  • Mexico ✔️
  • Nicaragua

  • Panama
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis
  • Saint Lucia
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • United States ✔️


  • Australia ✔️
  • Fiji
  • Kiribati
  • Marshall Islands
  • Micronesia
  • Nauru
  • New Zealand ✔️
  • Palau
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Samoa
  • Solomon Islands
  • Tonga
  • Tuvalu
  • Vanuatu


  • Argentina
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil ✔️
  • Chile ✔️
  • Colombia
  • Ecuador
  • Guyana
  • Paraguay
  • Peru ✔️
  • Suriname
  • Uruguay
  • Venezuela

And just for interest sake, here is a list of all the dependencies and territories as listed by

Dependencies or other territories (taken from Worldometer)

1. Taiwan (China)

2. Hong Kong China
3. Puerto Rico U.S.A.

4. Réunion France

5 Macao China

6. Western Sahara (disputed)

7. Guadeloupe France

8. Martinique France

9. French Guiana France

10. New Caledonia France

11. French Polynesia France

12. Mayotte France

13. Channel Islands U.K.

14. Guam U.S.A.

15. Curaçao Netherlands

16. Aruba Netherlands

17. U.S. Virgin Islands U.S.A.

18. Isle of Man U.K.

19. Cayman Islands U.K.

20. Bermuda U.K.

21. Northern Mariana Islands U.S.A.

22. Greenland Denmark

23. American Samoa U.S.A.

24. Faeroe Islands Denmark

25. Sint Maarten Netherlands

26. Turks and Caicos U.K.

27. Gibraltar U.K.

28. British Virgin Islands U.K.

29 Carribbean Netherlands Netherlands

30. Cook Islands (partly New Zealand

31. Anguila U.K.

32. Wallis & Futuna France

33. Saint Barthelemy France

34. Saint Helena U.K.

35. Saint Pierre & Miquelon France

36. Montserrat U.K.

37. Falkland Islands U.K.

38. Niue ( (partly New Zealand)

39. Tokelau New Zealand


  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!


Do drop me a line ... I love to read your comments :)