A reading list of the best books set in the Balkans. A collection of interesting novels about the Balkans to read before you travel to the region.
Travel the World in Books
Books from different countries are my favourite kind of books. I never go anywhere without a book in my bag. Right now I'm lucky enough that I'm travelling whilst reading. But there have been many times in my life when I've turned to books to transport me to far away places, give me travel inspiration and teach me about other countries and cultures.
So I've created a list of books to take you around the world without leaving the comfort of your couch. These are my favourite books to inspire travel that are set in a variety of countries, cultures and time periods. Click on the book to read more about it or purchase a copy!
The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared - Sweden
Yes, the title is a mouthful but this is a truly brilliant book. Both Max and I laughed our way through this funny, heart-warming adventure of Allan the centurian as he gets caught up in all kinds of events. It also tells the story of his incredible 100 years. Very entertaining and clever. 'The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden' by the same author is also great.
The Little Coffeeshop of Kabul - Afghanistan
I accidentally bought this book twice as it has a different title in the US (A Cup of Friendship). This story is about five women and their lives in Kabul. An interesting and gripping insight into their individual lives and how they all come together.
The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas - Germany
This book was originally meant for children but it's harrowing subject makes it a good read for adults too. Set in a concentration camp in Germany two little boys strike up an unlikely friendship. Very sad but very striking, it's a book that stays with you. There is also a movie which is good.
Also Read: 24 Hours in Frankfurt: Things to do
The Caliph's House - Morocco
This is the amusing and intriguing true story of a family who move to Casablanca for a year. I really enjoyed reading all of their hassles, problems and triumphs trying to renovate a house and fit in. It didn't sound easy but some of the descriptions of the place had me wanting to go back and explore more of Morocco!
Small Great Things - The United States of America
I always whizz through Jodi Picoult novels but often find them thought-provoking and gripping. This was no exception. The story of a nurse and a family whose baby dies at the hospital and a the following court case. Brings about lots of discussion about race in modern USA.
Also Read: Seven Free Things to Do in New York
Mr Pip - Papua New Guinea
Set during the civil war in the 1990s on a small island. It follows Matilda, a teenage girl, through her experiences of the war. The one white man left on the island, Mr Watts, begins reading 'Great Expectations' to the children and they are swept away by their imaginations. But soon terrible things happen in Matilda's village. This is a pretty sad and often graphic story but I definitely learnt about country's history I knew very little about previously.
Do Not Say we have nothing - China
I read this one recently after picking it up at an airport in the UK (panicking that I wouldn't find a good range of English books for a while.) It's chunky (460 pages) and the language is very poetic but.. wow! With the risk of sounding corny it really takes you on magical journey. Weaving characters and families from modern day Canada to periods across Chinese history. And I know you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover but this one is as beautiful as the story within!
Also Read: 12 Hours in Beijing: Layover in China
The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Pakistan
This book is extremely well written. It takes place in a cafe in Lahore where a local Pakistani man sits with an American tourist over tea and tells him the story of his life. The cliff-hanger ending leaves the reader to decide how the story ends. I found this a very witty, interesting and gripping read. If you're looking for a true story set in Pakistan 'I am Malala' is a must-read.
The Motorcycle Diaries - Argentina
This iconic true story of Che Guavara and his friend who travel South America by motorbike. Along the way they discover many of the social injustices within the continent and are inspired to fight for the cause. An great piece of travel writing but also an interesting insight into the start of Che Guavara's revolutionary thinking.
The White Tiger - India
I found this book very different to lots of books I'd read set in India (I've read a lot). It's the story of a boy from a small village and his life as he tries to make something of himself, struggling against the class he was born into. It is written in first person in the form of letters and has some very sad, funny and thought-provoking moments. It is superbly written and won the Man Booker Prize in 2008.
Anything by Ian Rankin - Scotland
When I moved to Edinburgh I lived on the street next to the police station where these books are set. After constantly being told by my dad to go and 'ask for Inspector Rebus' I finally decided to read the books and see what he was going on about. Thoroughly gripping crime writing and all set in the streets of Edinburgh which I called home. There are 21 in the series so they are a great option if you're looking to get hooked into something. Also a great read if you've been or are going to Edinburgh. There are Rebus tours of Edinburgh too!
Also Read: Best Bookshops in Edinburgh
Half of a yellow sun - Nigeria
This is hands down one of my favourite books of all time. I love books that write from the perspective of multiple characters and weave the stories together and this book does it brilliantly. Set during the Nigerian civil war it tells the story from the perspective of twin daughters of an influential businessman, a professor, a British citizen, and a houseboy. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie also writes 'Purple Hibiscus' and 'Americanah' which are both fantastic.
Reading lolita in tehran - Iran
This is a true story of a university professor who starts a book group in 1990s in Tehran when many books are still banned in the country. It also tells the story of the revolution in Iran through the experiences and favourite books of the author. A great read for book lovers, women and anyone interested in the history of Iran.
Captain Corelli's mandolin - Greece
A love story set on a Greek island during World War Two. An Italian Army captain and local Greek woman fall in love and the story follows their relationship through the war and beyond. This is historical fiction so the events are based on real happenings during the war. An excellent story of love and life on a little Greek island.
The Whale Rider - New Zealand
I struggled for a while to choose a novel from my home country but this one is pretty iconic. It's set is a small town on the North Island of New Zealand and follows a young girl who wants to be the chief of her tribe. The story also incorporates the Maori traditional myth of the whale rider. A good read for anyone interested in Maori culture and myths.
Also Read: Christmas in New Zealand
All the Light we cannot see - France
Set during World War Two a blind girl and her father escape from Paris. The story simultaneously follows a German soldier and throughout the story you know they will meet but are constantly drawn in as to where and when! It's a beautifully told story that spans the lives of two interesting characters both before and during the war.
The ruins of us - Saudi Arabia
Told from the perspective of a American woman who spent part of her childhood in Saudi before marrying a Saudi Arabian man and moving back there and raising two children. Her husband decides to take a second wife and the family is suddenly put through some very trying times. I found this situation interesting and enjoyed reading about ideas such as polygamy, marriage and religion from a different perspective.
Child 44 - Russia
A crime thriller set in Moscow during the Stalin regime of the 1950s. Leo, a former state security agent, begins to investigate a series of murders and is exiled. But he continues to search for answers with the help of his wife. A real eye-opener into life under Stalin and also a gripping thriller.
Without you there is no us - North Korea
North Korea is by no means on my travel list but it's sure an interesting place to read about, especially considering the lack of information coming out of the country. This is the true story of a woman who goes to teach in English in North Korea. Her stories and experiences are entertaining, scary and at times completely mind-blowing to think this is really happening in our world in 2017.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of harold fry - England
As I read this book I found myself thinking of a little less complicated version of 'The 100 year old man...'. Harold receives a letter and is compelled to leave his home and walk the length of England to see an old friend. A simple, touching, sad and funny story.
The Poisonwood Bible - The Congo
This is about a missionary family from the US who move to the Belgian Congo in the 1960s. It follows the family through the narratives of the four daughters during their time there and the years that follow. It's a long read but has an interesting storyline and deals with important themes such as colonisation, family bonds and guilt.
Long Walk to Freedom - South Africa
Ok confession: I haven't finished reading this book. It's a real brick and is currently keeping all of the other books stable on our van bookshelf. But I think it's a really important book to read about an incredible person. The autobiography of Nelson Mandala is a great way to understand some of the recent political events in South Africa. It covers is early life and his 27 years in prison leading up to him being released and becoming the first black president of South Africa. Inspiring to say the least.
Cloud Street - Australia
Somewhat of an Australian classic I'm told. This is set in the suburbs of Perth over the 1940s-60s and is about two working class Australian families living in a two floors of the same house. The way their lives become entwined over the 20 years makes for a funny, sad and entertaining read.
So now you know all my favourite books from around the world. The next time your looking for a book to inspire travel, teach you something new or just to cuddle up with on the couch, pick a country and get reading!
All books are affiliate links. This means if you purchase one I'll get a small amount towards a new book too (at no extra cost to you!) Happy reading!
For a lover of books and travel what could be a better activity than visiting libraries around the world?! From beautiful old libraries to modern buildings there are so many worth seeing and they are usually free to go into. While I don't always sit and read, the feeling of walking through large rooms filled with books is enough to satisfy my inner bookworm. So, in no particular order, here are some incredible libraries I have visited around the world!
A little hard to find among the sprawling buildings of the university but when you do it is worth it. There are mixed reviews about which parts you can go into as a member of the public but we managed to find a friendly librarian who took us on our own little tour (free of charge). The highlight was the Aula Magna, a beautiful room lined with books from floor to ceiling with globes standing next to wooden reading desks and ladders leading to the higher shelves.
The New York Public Library is free to enter and has brilliant hallways to walk through as well as stunning reading rooms. In the children's section you can see the soft toys which inspired the characters of Winnie the Pooh. There is also a great shop with lots of book related gifts.
National and University Library, Ljubljana, Slovenia
The reading room of the National and University library, Ljubljana is only open at certain times as it is still used as a study room for university students. It costs €2 to enter and is a really beautiful old reading room. The rest of the library and exhibitions are free to enter.
Jose Marti Provincial Public Library, Santa Clara, Cuba
Technically not a tourist attraction, we found ourselves invited inside for a tour with the security guard and a Danish family we had met a few days earlier. The place was closed for the day but usually functions as a public library. To me it looked more like a museum set up to show what libraries looked like 50 years ago. Huge wooden book shelves, two ancient computers and a paper system for categorizing and checking out books. One wall was painted with a giant mural of Mother Earth. Although it had a bit of a ghost-town feel this was an interesting experience and very different to most other libraries I've experienced.
Duchess Anna Amalia Library, Weimar, Germany
This is an amazing library with a very interesting history. Entrance is limited to 290 people per day and costs €7.50. We went in the morning and got in without an issue. There was an audio guide available in many languages and is free. It explained to us about the history of the library and how lots of it was lost in a fire in 2004. There are videos and exhibits showing the painstaking process of restoring both the library and many of the priceless books.
Library of Alexandria, Egypt
If you're like me this name conjures up images of an ancient library filled with scrolls. However, this is a brand new building built in 2002 to commemorate its namesake which was destroyed in a fire. Entrance to the library is around €5 and cheaper for students (Egyptians are free). The building includes an impressive collection of books in a large reading room. There are also several other rooms and a shop. Downstairs there is an exhibition hall with a collection of ancient artefacts, this costs extra, The best view of the library (in my opinion) is from the outside where you can clearly see the amazing architecture of the building.
National Library of Kosovo, Pristina, Kosovo
This was named one of the worlds ugliest buildings and the architecture sure is interesting. But it's a cool place to see. It's free to enter and is quite small. But there are some historic photos on the walls and nice architecture inside. It's definitely one of the more novel libraries I've visited.
Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland
This is the first library that will come up in most amazing libraries bucketlists. It's an incredible place and should be number one on your list of things to do in Dublin. You can walk through the amazing library rooms and see The Book of Kells. Entrance costs €10.
When I can't be off exploring other countries I like to read about them. My favourite places to read about are ones that might not necessarily be high on my travel list but fully immerse you in a foreign way of life and introduce you to new cultures and traditions. Here are a few honourable mentions to take you away from the every day!
Click on any of the books for more info or if you're like me and want to buy them straight away!
Anything by Khaled Housseni
These books are all brilliantly written stories about children in Afganistan. All three of them got me properly emotionally involved and gave me an interesting insight into life in Afganistan pre and post the Taliban regime. I would start with 'The Kite Runner'.
Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
A novel set during the Biafran War in Nigeria. The characters were so intriguing and entertaining. This was also a part of history I knew very little about so I enjoyed learning about it through the eyes of characters I found believable and likeable. I was hooked by the changes in perspective and time throughout the book.
Shantaram- Gregory David Roberts
I have always wanted to go to India and reading this book only strengthened that feeling. It is based on the true story of an escaped Australian prisoner who finds himself living in a slum in Bombay. It is a mammoth read (nearly 1000 pages) but keeps you entertained and enthralled throughout. There is a deeper philosophical side which you can choose to engage properly in or stick the surface of the story telling.
Sweetness in the Belly- Camilla Gibb
This book bounces between 1980s Britain and 1970s Ethiopia to tell the tale of a white Muslim nurse who grew up in Africa. When she returns to the UK she bonds with Ethiopian refugees and together they find new meanings for 'family' and 'home'. This book is well-written and very easy to read and enjoy.
The Angel of Grozny- Asne Seierstad
I've just ordered the third book by this author as I find her books so interesting and eye-opening. Seierstad is a Norwegian journalist who travels to war zones to report on real-life stories of people living there. This book is set in Chechnya and tells the story of woman who takes in children who have been lost or orphaned by the conflict with Russia. It also tells the children's stories and gives some history into the war and how it developed. Her other books 'The Bookseller of Kabul' and 'With Their Backs to the World' cover the conflicts in Afganistan and Kosovo.
Without You, There Is No Us- Suki Kim
This book is written by a Korean-American who goes to teach English in North Korea. She compiles notes in secret and uses the information she gathers to give an amazing insight into a country most people will never have anything to do with. I found it both mind blowing and though provoking to learn about how people brought up in such a regime act.
Lion (A Long Way Home) - Saroo Brierley
The true story of a six year old boy who gets lost on a train in India and finds his way to Calcutta where he lives on the streets. He ends up being adopted by an Australian family. This is the story of how he got lost and how he spent many years trying to find his family again. It is now a movie too.
Three Cups of Tea- David Oliver Relin
I hesitated about recommending this book due to the controversy surrounding it but decided to do it because I found it so inspiring. The true story of an American climber who finds himself in a small Pakistani village after getting lost on a mountain. He vows to help the people of the village by building a school. Not only does he fulfil this promise but also goes on to build many other schools in the neighbouring villages. There is debate as to the truth behind his original story and the use of the money his charity raised. But looking past that, this book really hit home when talking about the importance of education, particularly for girls. I was inspired to look for ways Max and I could help similar causes during our travels.
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