Once a month, I make a list of the books I’ve been reading as a way to keep tabs on my reading and join in with other readers around the internet who participate in Ann Bogel’s Quick Lit. This month, I keep finding myself gravitating more to what I’d like to read than what I’m reading now. (Call it literary wanderlust, if you will.) Thanks to a side writing project I’ve been working on, I discovered both Ann Morgan’s TED talk about reading a book from every country in the world in a year and this world map made by an incredibly creative reddit user. First of all, I’d love to have a map like that on my wall. Secondly, it got me thinking about what I would do if I wanted to represent the world in books. What a daunting task to pick one book to represent an entire country! I’m far from making my own list, but I have enjoyed reading both lists and all the comments from readers around the world chiming in with their own suggestions. My international reading has suffered in the decade since college, so I’m gleaning ideas off both lists for my own TBR list. Here are the eight books that caught my eye first:
Wind from the Carolinas by Robert Wilder. I had no real concept of the history of the Bahamas until recently, so my knowledge is spotty at best. Wind from the Carolinas is a fictionalized account of one family of British loyalists fleeing the United States after the Revolutionary War to settle in the Bahamas. Not only does it cover a moment in history I don’t know much about, but it’s supposed to be a great read as well.
The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric came up again and again in the world book map comment section to represent more than one Balkan country. This sweeping novel covers centuries of people and events through the history of one bridge that spans the river between Bosnia and Serbia. I’m putting this one on my list by virtue of the overwhelmingly positive reviews and my total ignorance of the subject.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Lo Kuan-Chung. In my Asian literature class in college, we read one of China’s Four Great Classical Novels: I Dream of a Red Chamber. Romance of the Three Kingdoms is another of the four and is often considered the very first Chinese novel. I’m fully expecting to struggle with this one a bit, but I’d love to expand my reading chops outside of North America and Europe.
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. It feels like cheating to pick a book originally written in English for a world reading challenge, but I’ve read very little Canadian literature and nothing by Margaret Atwood. (I don’t like to admit that often.) I’m sure any of her books would be a good place to start, but The Blind Assassin includes one of my favorite literary devices (a story within a story) and a murder mystery, so I’m fully expecting to be entertained.
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. I read quite a few classics of Italian literature in college thanks to my lifelong obsession with Italy, but I haven’t read anything written in the past two centuries. I’d like to think I could read The Name of the Rose in Italian, but my Italian has been dormant too long for that. Instead, I’ll have to be happy with the bestselling translation and dreaming of a trip to Italy.
Under the Yoke by Ivan Vazov is that book for Bulgaria: the one book that always comes up when someone talks about Bulgarian literature. I’d like to read some more recent Bulgarian literature too, but I should probably start with the iconic novel first.
My Uncle Napoleon by Iraj Pezeshkzad is a contemporary Iranian novel about a large extended family and its eccentric patriarch “dear Uncle Napoleon.” My list really needs some humor, and I’m hoping this choice will be lighthearted and enlightening at the same time.
The Knight in the Panther’s Skin by Shota Rustaveli is Georgia’s national poem. Wikipedia says that a copy of the epic was part of every bride’s dowry until the last hundred years. (That says something to me about both the poem and the culture’s appreciation of it.) Poetry in translation is always a bit of a gamble, but I’m hoping to find the audio version of a stellar translation to make up for it.
There’s no way I’m making it through all eight of these books in a year (let alone one for each country in the world), but I’m fascinated by the idea. For those of you that have traveled or lived abroad, what would you add to the list?