Books offer the privilege of travelling all around the globe without even having to leave one’s comfort zone. Reading also ignites the level of one’s imagination. However, it is equally true that books are reflections of the author’s mindset and their imaginative outburst.
And when diversity is considered to be an asset, it is certain that their works of art touch a flavor of how they own their diversity and it impacts what we receive by reading their works.
So rather than engaging in reading of only a singular culture and lifestyle, it is valuable to learn of the differences and avoid assumptions about others. Here in this article, we present to you a list of 30 books from 30 different countries that are not only significant in terms of literature but should also help you to understand the different settings in which they are set in a better way.
The list is inspired from author Ann Morgan’s TED Talk in which she shares her experiences of reading one book from each and every country in the world over the period of one year. You don’t need to worry about the language of these books though as these works have been translated into multiple languages.
1. France: The Little Prince
The Little Prince, which was first published in 1943, is one of the finest masterpieces of all time written by French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery. It is the third most translated novel today with translations in more than 250 languages with hundreds of millions of copies sold worldwide.
The novel is a soft tale of love, loneliness, friendship and loss in the form of a young alien Prince who falls to earth. The author is believed to have drawn on his earlier aviation experiences in the Sahara desert to create this novel.
2. England: Emma
One of the best works of Jane Austen, Emma was first published in 1815. Several TV shows, films, and stage shows have been adapted from this novel. In the words of Austen herself, the novel is an attempt to create a heroine only for her to like.
The book portrays a youthful, lively and beautiful Emma Woodhouse as the heroine of Jane Austen where Jane explores the concerns and difficulties of a well-mannered woman living in England.
3. United States of America: The Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter, published for the first time in 1850, is one of the finest works of writer Nathaniel Hawthorne. According to D.H. Lawrence, this book is the most perfect work of American imagination. In this fiction story, Hawthorne sets the character Hester Prynne in the historical setting of 17th century Boston. Hester conceives a daughter after an affair and the novel revolves around her struggle for dignity and acceptance in the society.
4. India: The God of Small Things
The God of Small Things is the debut novel of Indian writer Arundhati Roy, which was first published in 1997. Roy received the Booker Prize in 1998 for the novel, one of the most prestigious awards for English literature in the world.
The book explores the life of two fraternal twins in a village in the Indian state of Kerala and beautifully portrays how small things change the behavior and life of people.
5. Germany: Main Kampf
Mein Kampf is the autobiographical manifesto of Adolf Hitler published initially in 1925 and 1928 in two volumes. The book has been popularly read for its political theory and has been often criticized for its racial content.
Literally meaning “My Struggle”, Hitler outlines his political ideology and plans for Germany. In the book, the narrator describes how he became increasingly anti-Semitic and militarist.
6. South Africa: Long Walk to Freedom
Long Walk to Freedom is an autobiographical book by Nelson Mandela that was published for the first time in 1995. The book has been a huge source of inspiration for many and reflects the struggle and determination of Mandela.
The books explores his early life, his education, his political activities and his 27 years’ prison life in Robben Island under the apartheid government.
7. Russia: Crime and Punishment
Crime and Punishment is a novel written by Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky, published first in a Russian Literature journal in series in the year 1866. The author explores the theme of redemption through suffering. This book, when it appeared brought Dostoyevsky at the forefront of Russian literature and since then, has remained one of the most influential novels in world literature.
8. Italy: The Name of the Rose
First published in 1880, The Name of the Rose is a fine work of Italian author Umberto Eco. The novel has been translated into several languages and in 1996, it was even adapted into a film starring Sean Connery and Christine Slater, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud.
Set in Italy during the Middle Ages, the book explores a murder mystery in one Italian monastery in the year 1327.
9. China: The Garlic Ballads
The Garlic Ballads is written by 2012’s Nobel Prize winner for Literature Mo Yan. This book was first published in English in 1995 as Yan’s gateway book. Set in the 20th century in rural China, the farmers in the novel are asked by government officials to only grow garlic but which they refuse to buy later. The book is banned in Yan’s native China in the wake of the protests in Tiananmen Square.
10. Switzerland: Siddhartha
Published for the first time in 1922, Siddhartha is written by novelist Hermann Hesse. In 1960s when it was first published in USA, the book gained more popularity. With simple words but deep meaning, this book is a capsule to wisdom.
The novel is a spiritual journey of a man named Siddhartha who renounces all his princely life back in Kapilvastu, Nepal and decides to live an ascetic life in search of light.
11. Lebanon: The Prophet
The Prophet is a book of prose and poems, first published in 1923. Ever since its first publication, the book has never been out of print. This book is considered to be the best work of Kahlil Gibran and has been a best-seller for many years.
The book is divided in chapters that talk about marriage, love, children, drinking, eating and many other aspects of life. Lines from this book have influenced many political speeches, songs and other artistic works worldwide.
12. Spain: Don Quixote
Don Quixote is one of the most influential works from the Spanish Golden Age. Published first in two volumes in 1605 and 1615, the full title of this novel, written by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, in English is “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha”.
It tells the story of Alonso Quijano, a Hidalgo, living near La Mancha region of Spain around the beginning of 17th century. He reads the tales about knights, princesses and enchanted castles extensively without even sleeping properly that he goes out of his mind.
13. Japan: Almost Transparent Blue
First published in 1976, Almost Transparent Blue is written by prominent Japanese novelist Ryu Murakami. Murakami won several awards for this novel including the prestigious Akutagawa Prize. The book portrays life around the US Base Camp near Kanagawa in the 1970s. The near-plotless story chronicles an intense journey through rough drug addiction, group sex, and other violent acts.
14. Norway: A Doll’s House
A Doll’s House is a three-act play in prose that was initially published in 1879, written by Norwegian author Henrik Ibsen. The play was considered significant for it challenged the dogmas of 19th century marriage norms.
The play was based on the real life of Ibsen’s close friend Laura Kieler. It describes the events that unfold on the lives of Nora Helmer and her husband Torvald when Nora secretly burrows large sums of money to cure her husband’s illness.
15. Portugal: Blindness
Published for the first time in 1995, Blindness is a novel by Nobel Prize winning Portuguese author Jose Saramago.
The novel is a magnificent, mesmerizing parable of loss by Saramago. The story is of a city that is hit by an epidemic of “white blindness” that spares no one. The book is a folly and heroism of ordinary lives.
16. Turkey: My Name is Red
My Name is Red is written by Orhan Pamuk who won 2006’s Nobel Prize in Literature. It appeared in its Turkish version first in 1998. It is the recipient of 2003 International IMPAC Dublin Award. Set in Istanbul in the late 1590s, the book is a philosophical thriller about a stirring murder mystery. The other themes of the novel are love, artistic devotion and tensions between the East and the West.
17. Egypt: Children of Gebelawi
Published originally in 1959, Children of the Gebelawi is a novel written by Egyptian Nobel Laureate writer Naguib Mahfaouz. The book was opposed by religious authorities in Egypt, which even resulted in him being stabbed by religious extremists and he nearly died in the incident.
The novel reconstructs the interwoven account of the past of the three Abrahamic religions of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. It is set on an imaginary Cairene alley of the 19th century.
18. Brazil: The Devil to Pay in the Backlands
The Devil to Pay in the Backlands, written by Brazilian writer Joao Guimaraes Rosa, was first published in 1956. The book is now considered to be among the greatest works of Brazilian literature and one of the important works in Latin American Literature.
In this book, Riobaldo, a bandit who has been long travelling Brazil’s interior, tells the story of his life to an unknown listener. The story initially begins in ordinary manner but soon it tells about the life of a man struggling with life, love, friendship, devil and trust.
19. Ireland: Gulliver’s Travels
Gulliver’s Travel is the most popular and classic work of Jonathan Swift, that was published for the first time in 1726. This satire of travel narratives and human behaviors became a bestseller soon after its publication.
It is the story of Lemuel Gulliver, a surgeon from Nottinghamshire who loves traveling. On a fateful voyage to the South Seas, he is caught up in a storm and washed up on Lilliput, an island of tiny people who are about 6 inches tall. He then runs into several other types of people in different places as well.
20. Iceland: The Independent People
Originally published in two volumes in 1934 and 1935, The Independent People is an epic novel written by Nobel Laureate Halldor Laxness. This book, along with others helped Laxness win the Nobel Prize in 1955 crediting his vivid epic power that has renewed the great narrative art of Iceland.
The book is the story of an Irish sheep farmer Guobjartur Jonsson and his battle for independence. After working for others for many years, Jonsson saves enough to lease a sheep farm of his own. However, it is in a valley believed to be haunted.
21. Iran: The Blind Owl
The Blind Owl is a book by Iranian writer Sadegh Hedayat. It was published first as a limited edition in Bombay in 1937. It later appeared in Tehran in 1941. Written during the final years of Reza Shah’s rule, it’s considered a major literary work of Iran from the 20th century.
Regarded among the finest works in modern Iranian literature, Hedayat’s masterpiece is a moving tale of loss and spiritual ruin that tells the story of a young man’s anguish after the loss of his enigmatic lover.
22. Mexico: Pedro Paramo
Published originally in 1955, Pedro Paramo is a novel written by Mexican author Juan Rulfo. The book has been a source of inspiration for many Latin American writers including Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
This novel is about a man named Juan Preciado who after the demise of his mother, travels to her hometown of Comala to find his father and happens to come across a ghost town populated by haunted figures.
23. Austria: The Man without Qualities
The Man without Qualities is an unfinished novel published first as three books from 1930 to 1943, written by Austrian novelist Robert Musil. This unfinished novel took Musil more than twenty years and was halted by his death.
Set in Vienna on the eve of World War I around the time of Austro-Hungarian monarchy’s last days, this novel is now considered to be one of the most important modernist novels. It dissects various human themes and feelings.
24. Sweden: Pippi Longstocking
Pippi Longstocking is a series of children books by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren. The name Pippi was given by Lindgren’s then nine year old daughter. Different volumes of the book were published at various times between 1945 and 2000.
Story set in a Swedish village, it tells the story of Pippi who lives in her madcap house “Villa Villekulla” with a monkey. Her exuberant ways cause as much trouble as fun but she remains irrepressible and irrefutably charming at all times.
25. Peru: The Time of the Hero
Published for the first time in 1963, The Time of the Hero is a novel written by Nobel Prize Winner Mario Vergas Llosa. The novel has been adapted into a film by Peruvian film director Francisco Lombardi.
The story of the novel is set up among a community of cadets in a military school in Lima. Llosa was so accurate in portraying the academy with the powerful social satire that it outraged the authorities of Peru, where thousands of copies of the novel were burnt publicly.
26. Argentina: The Motorcycle Diaries
The Motorcycle Diaries is the memoir of Marxist revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara from his early motorcycle journey across Latin America, when motorcycling didn’t involve modern gadgets. The book has been a New York Times bestseller for a long time.
It tells the real story of a young Argentine man who went on to become such a huge icon and a major threat to global capitalism. The experience in the travel that transforms Che has been described by many as a coming-of-age story of adventure and self-discovery.
27. Colombia: One Hundred Years of Solitude
Published originally in 1967, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a masterpiece from Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It’s one of the representative novels from the literary Latin American Boom.
The multi-generational story of the Buendian family is a brilliant amalgamation of elements from all Marquez’s previous short stories. It tells the captivating story of the rise and fall of a mythical Macando town through the family’s history.
28. Chile: The House of the Spirits
Published for the first time in 1982, The House of the Spirits is a masterpiece bestseller of Isabel Allende. The novel was declared as the best novel in 1982 in Chile where Allende also received the country’s prestigious Panorama Literary award.
Allende constructs a spirit ridden world that turns out to be a symbolic family saga and story of the turbulent history of an unnamed Latin American country. Incorporating the elements from magical realism, it tells the story of Trueba family spanning across four generations.
29. Nigeria: Things Fall Apart
Published originally in 1958, Things Fall Apart is a post-colonial novel written by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe which is probably the first to receive global critical acclaim. It was also the first work to be published in Heimann’s African Writers Series.
The novel is an intertwining of two stories both centered on the protagonist Okonkwo, who is an Igbo leader and local wrestling champion in the fictional Umuofia village of Nigeria.
30. Pakistan: I am Malala
I am Malala is Malala Yusufzai’s fearless memoir, co-written by journalist Christina Lamb that was published for the first time in 2013. This book is inspirational and depicts the dire necessity of change in the life of women in Pakistan.
The youngest Nobel Laureate, Malala explains the life under Taliban rule in her home district, Swat Valley in Pakistan. Already an activist for girl’s education in the Swat Valley since 2012, Malala explains the situation of women in Pakistan.
Featured photo credit: Girl Reading a Book via pixabay.com