I love reading, and one of my favourite things about it is discovering and experiencing new cultures through the world of literature. Thus, I have decided to compile a list of book recommendations for our readers, focusing on books from various different countries all over the world, in order to encourage people to learn about culture through a new lens. All of these books are either books that I have read and thoroughly enjoyed, or books that I have heard amazing things about and I am actively interested in, a majority of which I already have on my shelves.
1. Italy - My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrannte
This trilogy, the first book being My Brilliant Friend, is set in post World War 2 Italy and focuses on the lives of two young girls, Elena and Lila, as they build a complex and tumultuous friendship and navigate the unstable and poverty-ridden socioeconomic conditions of the time. On top of the social and political commentary, the book is not short of wonderful descriptions of Italian customs, food and scenery, especially in the later books when the girls grow up and leave their small hometown in Naples for breathtaking Italian locations such as Ischia, Milan and Turin. It is my favourite series of all time and I
couldn’t recommend it more!
2. Spain - Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
This book follows an unlikely hero called Don Quixote de La Mancha as he becomes obsessed with the idea of knighthood and thus makes it his life mission to become a knight himself. He hires his friend Sancho Panza as his squire and the two go through innumerable breathtaking adventures and tragic misfortunes. This book is set in Spain as the two main characters travel through the cities of Madrid, Toledo, Ciudad Real, Barcelona and more, and includes gorgeous descriptions of Spanish scenery, as well as the vibrant and cheerful nature of the Spanish people. This book is hilarious, even though it was published in the 17th century, and made me laugh out loud multiple times.
3. Netherlands - The Dinner by Herman Koch
This mystery novel full of unpredictable twists is set in modern day Amsterdam. It follows the lives of two couples whose teenage sons have committed a horrifying crime, so the couples meet over dinner to discuss what to do next. As the night progresses the tension builds and terrifying secrets are revealed. This book explores Dutch culture through its political commentary, as one of its main characters is campaigning to become prime minister, as well as the mannerisms and nuanced traits of the characters. This novel is spine-chilling and definitely left me contemplating what I had just read after finishing it.
4. Japan - The Makioka Sisters by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki
The Makioka Sisters is a novel set in Osaka, Japan which follows the Makioka family, a wealthy aristocratic family, from 1946-1941, as they seek a husband for the youngest of the three daughters, Yukiko. This book has been described as arguably the greatest Japanese novel of the twentieth century and will transport you into a world that smells of cherry blossoms but is filled with heartbreak, scandal and deception. It includes descriptions of ancient Japanese cultures, traditions and cultural norms, as well as the mesmerizing natural world and scenery of Osaka. It sounds absolutely amazing and like a true exploration of culture, identity, love and tragedy.
5. Russia - War and Peace by Lev Tolstoy
I could talk about this novel forever as it is probably my favourite book of all time. War and Peace is a novel set in the early 1800s during the Napoleonic Era in Russia which explores the effects of the Napoleonic Wars on Tsarist Society, focusing on five main noble families. The action alternates between the cities of St. Petersburg and Moscow and the plot is a collage of dichotomies and extremes: love and heartbreak, strength and distress - war and peace. This story is an incredible deep dive into Russian culture at the time due to it being a study of Russian society more than anything. While reading you can feel the Russian snow on your cheeks and the Russian dishes on your tongue, as you learn about Russia's history due to the book’s seamless mix of fiction, philosophy and history.
6. Colombia - One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
One Hundred Years of Solitude is a masterpiece that changed South American culture, as well as the world of literature, forever. Unlike the other books on this list, One Hundred Years of Solitude is not actually set in Colombia, rather it is set in the made-up town of Macondo, a town which acts as an allegory and metaphor for the country of Colombia, thus giving you a thorough and complex insight into Colombian culture and history. This epic tale follows seven generations of the Buendía family from the postcolonial 1820s to the 1920s, and has been described by many as the greatest literary achievement of all time.
7. Nigeria - Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
This novel is part of the African Trilogy and is probably the most well-known and critically acclaimed African novel in the English language. It follows the story of a man called Okonkwo, who is part of a fictional Nigerian clan called Umuofia, as he grows up in southeastern Nigeria, from pre-colonial times to the arrival of Europeans in Africa in the late 19th century. The novel is split into three parts, the first part which focuses mostly on African culture, society and customs, while the second and third parts focus on the history of European colonialism in Africa.
I hope that you have enjoyed these recommendations and that you feel encouraged to pick up a book from this list. Remember to be curious about the world around you and learn about the history and culture of foreign countries as often as you can. Stories are one of the most effective and enjoyable tools for learning and spreading knowledge, so we should take advantage of them!