{read this} Around the World in 20 Books

I am one of those lucky people who gets to travel a lot, and when I do, I try to find books set in the place I’m visiting. There is nothing quite so immersive as reading a book set in the very place you’re experiencing!

Of course, only a rare few of us can travel as much as we’d like, so in between we can read books that take us around the world. I thought I’d share this list of 20 books that can take you around the world from the comfort of your living room sofa. These books make you feel you have taken a grand trip, without the jetlag. And please let me know what you think is missing from this list! I’d love to hear your favorites.

Around the World in 20 Books – 20 Great Books That Transport You to Another Place

Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres – Greece

This is a beautiful book set on the island of Cephallonia, in Greece, during World War II. You can almost feel the sea breezes and the cool white walls of the island while you immerse yourself in this lovely and heart-wrenching story.

Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie- Nigeria

I love this historical novel set around the events of the Biafran independence movement, which occurred in the 1960s (and which I somewhat embarrassingly had never even heard of until I read this book.) Rich characters, joy, sorrow, and a lushly painted backdrop.

Rain of Gold by Victor Villaseñor – Mexico

This saga has long been one of my favorite books, as it spans generations and follows the branches of a Mexican family through war, triumph, loss, and love.

Wild Swans by Jung Chang – China

Wild Swans is one of those books that reads like a novel, because its contents seem too poetic and heartbreaking to be real, but it’s actually an autobiography spanning the 20th century. The author details her own experience growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution and provides family history back to the early 1900s.

Radio Shangri-La by Lisa Napoli – Bhutan

An excellent entree into this quirky mountain kingdom, written by an American woman who improbably found herself working at a radio station in Bhutan.

Stasiland by Anna Funder – East and West Germany

This book is a fun read and offers a first-hand look at what it was like to live in the shadow of the Berlin Wall.

The Good Daughter by Jasmin Darznik – Iran

Author Darznik immigrated to the US from Iran at age 3, and later found a secret diary of her mother’s. The author lovingly retells her mother’s moving story of growing up in Tehran, and discovers many surprises in her exploration of 3 generations of Iranian women.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry – India

Mistry weaves a heart-wrenching, gripping tale of life in India in the 1970s. It is not a light read! But such a well-crafted book.

The Queen of Water – Ecuador

An easy and enlightening read, this is the true story of an Ecuadorean peasant in the 1980s.

The Sicilian by Mario Puzo – Italy

Puzo is most famous for The Godfather, but I prefer this book, a fictionalized account of the egocentric Italian criminal Salvatore Giuliano.

The Lost City of Z – Brazil

This rousing adventure flip-flops between the modern day and the early 1900s to explore the real search for a mythical lost city deep in the Amazon jungle.

Night Falls in Damascus – Syria

If you’re a fan of detective novels, you’ll enjoy this fun read set in 1920s Damascus.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See – China 

Lisa See writes many wonderful page-turners set in China or the Chinese diaspora, but this is my favorite. Set in 1800s China, See’s characters are irresistibly written.

Revolution in Zanzibar by Don Petterson – Zanzibar

The true and amazing account of the 1964 revolution in Zanzibar, as told by the man who was a very junior US ambassador on the island at the time.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows – Channel Islands

Beloved by many a book club, this eminently readable and satisfying story is set on Guernsey, one of the islands in the channel between Britain and France, during World War II.

Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides – New Mexico

This epic saga spanning Kit Carson’s life will take you back to 19th century New Mexico and the wild West.

Paramedic to the Prince by Patrick (Tom) Notestine – Saudi Arabia

This is not a terribly serious or weighty read, but rather a fun (and true) memoir of a paramedic who finds himself in some very interesting and exalted positions when he takes a job in Saudi Arabia.

When a Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin – Zimbabwe

A haunting look into the experiences of Godwin and his elderly parents, who live under Mugabe’s rule in modern-day Zimbabwe.

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez – Dominican Republic

This is a wonderful, lush historical novel about four sisters, set in the time of the Trujillo dictatorship.

The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh – Burma

Set in Burma during the British invasion of 1885, this book offers a peek into 19th century Burma during colonial times.

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2 Responses

  1. Amy says:

    Cool list – thanks! I don’t travel internationally so much but like to read stories in different settings.