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Think back to your books – how many have been by British authors, possibly American, and set in Britain, the States or possibly Western Europe? We are guilty of it too: Most of our book recommendations are set in the UK or US, with the occasional holiday story from France or historic fiction set in Germany. But what about the rest of the world?

We get it, the reason we often stick to our own authors is because we like originals more than translations. And it’s true, it’s easier to judge a book when you have the author’s original words and voice. It’s still worth trying a few different books every year though.

What do we gain from it?

A book isn’t just about the story – there is so much more subliminal content to take from it.

That’s why local authors are so easy for us, because we “know” the situations, the relationships and the cultural references.

When we start reading foreign authors, we discover other ways of life: From the ways the characters treat people and the way they speak to each other, to their way of life and thoughts.

None of this has to be related to the story itself, but you will notice it in the descriptions and dialogues throughout the book. Just like travelling (and it some ways more so than travel because you are immersed in “local life”) you discover how people live elsewhere, what matters to them and the values they are brought up with.

Where to start?

Here are a few ideas of authors and books you may be interested in. All are by foreign authors but in English, no need to learn a new language to immerse yourself in their world. We’ve specifically picked contemporary authors for you so you can get to know some modern voices from around the world.

Asia

Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee

Born in Seoul, South Korea, Min Jin Lee moved to the United States when she was a child. For her second novel she chose to set it in Japan, where her husband is from and where she lived for six years.

The story is based in the 1900s and starts in Korea where teenage Sunja is pregnant from a married man and decides to go to Japan with a minister offering to marry her. The love story will take through Japanese life – from the criminal side to higher education.

The Mountains Sing, by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai takes us to Vietnam, and more specifically to the Vietnam War. Often referred to in American entertainment, here is a story told across generations from the Vietnam side.

The author herself was born towards the end of the war and tells – in her debut novel in English – one family’s story of the war throughout three generations, starting with Trần Diệu Lan who was 25 when the war started and all the way to her granddaughter Hương who sees her family fight on the Hồ Chí Minh Trail.

It’s the story of a key historical moment, told from a completely different point of view which is rarely even mentioned.

Convenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata

We’re heading to Tokyo, but this time to contemporary Japan, telling the story inspired by the author’s life working in a convenience store herself.

The book is written in Japanese and translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori, who also lives in Japan.

It’s a particularly good book to read because you will be fully immersed in Japanese culture and everyday life as we follow Keiko Furukura in her life at Smile Mart, the shop where she has worked for 18 years until she decides to make a change.

India

While the Indian film industry is becoming more popular, its literary scene is still quite unknown, which is why we decided to give them their own section to try and understand a little more of the culture we come across regularly in our everyday life (without necessarily understanding it).

In the Language of Remembering, by Aanchal Malhotra

This is Malhotra’s second novel and talks about the Indian Partition, when the British Raj dissolved and became India and Pakistan and how it affects people nowadays.

While we see India as a long-established country, we may know very little about its history, the current country borders are actually as recent as the end of the second world war. And just as the second world war is an event discussed with the elderly in our families, so is the Partition in India.

Aanchal Malhotra is an oral historian from New Dehli and over the years she has spoken to a number of Indians, Bangladeshi and Pakistani about the Partition and their lives since. This book is bringing all these stories together.

To Hell and Back, by Barkha Dutt

Humans of Covid: The story of Covid and the first lockdown in India. When the first lockdown hit, journalist Barkha Dutt started travelling her country to meet her fellow Indians and see how they were living the devastating pandemic that claimed millions of lives in her country alone.

She interviewed people from frontline workers to families, politicians, farmers and students, creating a well-rounded view of how it affected the country.

Syria

A Hope More Powerful than The Sea, by Melissa Fleming

A true story that chronicles Doaa al-Zamel’s experiences as a Syrian refugee with an incomparable story. Just like the small boy washed up on the beach, her story will stay with you forever.

Her happy life in a large family in Syria, where Doaa helps her father at his barber shop and dreams of being educated, ends when the civil war starts. A girl who had the same dreams as any little girl you may know, suddenly sees people being shot, her family locked into their house, tanks driving down the street, her school destroyed.

Her life as a refugee starts when her family flees to Egypt. But this is only the beginning of her long and perilous journey. Crossing the sea to Europe, she was one of only eleven survivors on a ship which left with hundreds of people, including her fiancé Bassem dead.

Latin America

The House of The Spirits, by Isabel Allende

It’s impossible not to start with Isabel Allende if you want to read Latin authors. She is easily the most well-known and loved Latina writer weaving her lively characters into her world of magical realism.

In The House of The Spirits, Allende takes us into the heart of Esteban Trueba’s family, getting to know the challenges of each person across generations, but, the core of the story for us, is also experiencing the dynamics of a Latina family.

In the Time of the Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez

For a more historic look at Latin America, travel to the 1960s Dominican Republic: It is a work of fiction, based on three real sisters, the Mirabal sisters known as the butterflies, who were part of a plot to overthrow the government during the Trujillo dictatorship. Alvarez imagined a story around these three sisters, how they would have been growing up, how they got involved in the revolution, and the ties that bind “the butterflies” who were murdered for their part in the plot. All told from the point of view of another sister who didn’t take part, and who gives us insight into the family, but also into a lesser-known historic event.

Africa

Tomorrow I Become a Woman, by Aiwanose Odafen

While this is, at heart, a story about a mother and daughter relationship, it is set in Nigeria and brings with it all of the social background and history the country has to offer.

As Aiwanose Odafen, who was born in Lagos and still lives in Nigeria, develops the story, Uju is desperately seeking her mother’s approval, whilst looking at the cultural expectations put on women, whilst taking us back to and looking at the impact of the Civil War which took place at the end of the 1960s, a historical event we know very little about in Europe.

Call and Response, by Gothataone Moeng

This book which was just published at the beginning of February, takes us to the heart of Botswana and into the lives of its people.

These are all individual stories of women, each at a different stages of their lives and facing different problems. What they all have in common is that they are from Botswana, more specifically Serowe, where the author Moeng is from, and some from the capital Gaborone. Apart from that, the stories are as diverse as the women we encounter in this book.

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