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!
Want more? Check out my favourites books about other cultures.
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!