10 Books To Travel The World

One of the things I miss most about travelling overseas for work, is the chance to ask my colleagues for recommendations of books to read from their countries.

I loved doing this because it gave me ideas of authors that I’d never heard of previously. It’s how I got to read Amelie Nothomb’s Fear and Trembling and Dom Casmurro by Joachim Maria Machado de Assis for example. I still have a lot of recommendations lingering on my shelves so I thought I’d make a list of these as part of this week’s Top Ten Tuesday hosted by  That Artsy Reader Girl.

Some – but not all – of these are books that are considered classics in the author’s homeland. Others are simply novels that my former colleagues enjoyed.

1. France: The Ice People by René Barjavel

This is a science fiction novel from 1968 so wouldn’t normally hold much appeal for me. But I was reassured by a team member that Barjavel often wove themes about the durability of love into narratives about the collapse of civilisation. That combination sounds intriguing.

2. Brazil: : The Girl in The Photograph by Lygia Fagundes Telles

I’ve had a copy of this since 2016 so its long overdue a read. It’s a novel about three young women who live in a boarding house somewhere in Brazil. The intense friendship that’s developed between them is severely tested by the political upheaval resulting from a coup in 1964. 

3. Colombia: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Unquestionably the most famous title in this list, Marquez’s 1985 novel is one I’ve meant to get around to for years. I’ve hesitated because it took my three attempts to read his earlier novel One Hundred Years of Solitude.

4. China: Red Sorghum by Mo Yan

The first novel by this Nobel prize winning author Red Sorghum has been described as “a legend in China … a book in which fable and history collide to produce fiction that is entirely new and unforgettable. Spanning three generations, this novel of family and myth is told is through a series of flashbacks that depict events of staggering horror set against a landscape of gemlike beauty, as the Chinese battle both Japanese invaders and each other in the turbulent 1930s.

5. China: Red Azalea by Anchee Min  

The only work of non fiction in my list, Red Azalea is a memoir about growing up in the last years of Mao’s China. Forbidden to speak, dress, read, write, or love as she pleased, Anchee Min found a lifeline in a secret love affair with another woman. Selected to appear in a film version of one of Madame Mao’s political operas, Min’s life changed overnight. Then Chairman Mao suddenly died, taking with him an entire world.

It’s going to be interesting to compare this with two other memoirs about life in China in the Mao era – Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin and Wild Swans by Jung Chang.

6. Japan: The Makioka Sisters by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

Described as one of the greatest Japanese novels of the twentieth century, this is the story of four aristocratic women living in Osaka in the years immediately before World War II and trying to preserve a way of life that is vanishing.

7. Turkey: My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk

Pamuk’s best known novel is a murder mystery set amid the splendour of Istanbul and the Ottoman Empire. It’s also part fantasy and part philosophical puzzle,  with themes about love, artistic devotion and the tensions between East and West.

8. South Africa : The Way of the Women by Marlene van Niekerk

This could well be the year I read van Niekerk’s novel about an old woman, confined to her bed by a deadly paralysing illness, struggles to make herself heard by her maidservant and now nurse, Agaat. As death draws near, she looks back on good intentions and soured dreams, on a brutal marriage and a longed-for only son scarred by his parents’ battles, and on a lifetime’s tug-of-war with Agaat.

9. Portugal: Raised From the Ground by José Saramago

An early work by this Nobel prize winner, this is also Saramango’s most autobiographical work. It follows the changing fortunes of a family of poor, landless peasants as national and international events rumble on in the background 

10. USA: Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

I avoided Steinbeck for years but having now read (and enjoyed immensely) Cannery Row and Of Mice and Men, I’m now ready to tackle the book that’s probably his most celebrated work. Set during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on the plight of poor tenant farmers who are driven out home by drought, economic hardship, agricultural industry changes, and bank foreclosures.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

39 thoughts on “10 Books To Travel The World

  • I may very well have to add some of these books to my reading list. TIme to hit up Goodreads, I think!

    • That’s always the danger when you read someone else’s lists – you end up just buying more!

      • Luckily, I’m in the process of converting my bookshelf to completely digital so I can carry it on my mobile devices. Getting rid of a lot of the clutter.

        • Completely digital! Wow, I don’t think I could do that, I do like physical books too much

        • I love having physical books, but I have too many, and with me moving on to a (hopefully) more mobile phase in my life, having a lot of books around isn’t really going to be feasible. I love my book collection, and I don’t want to lose it, so this seemed like an acceptable compromise.

          It’s going to be a long process, but I’m slowly plugging away at it.

        • Ah now I get it – deciding what to keep in physical format is going to be a tough decision I suspect

  • Great list!

    I thought that this Barjavel wasn’t translated into English. I loved it as a teenager and I don’t dare to read it again.

  • Marianne Maurer

    Great list. I’ve read #s 3, 4, 7 and 10 but a few of the other authors. Well done. I did European countries with my TTT.

  • Awesome list!
    1. Yes, great classic by Barjavel !
    6. I’m a bit scared by this one. But I have recently read 4 books by Tanizaki, all 4 very different genres, and so good! But much smaller too 😉
    9. I have read Blindness by Saramago, quite powerful!
    10. My favorite by him is East of Eden. His nonfiction Travels with Charley is so good too. I listened to it with my husband during a road trip

    • My husband highly rated East of Eden too – it’s on my list to read (sometime).
      So glad the Barjavel met with your approval!

  • Sheree @ Keeping Up With The Penguins

    The Makioka Sisters is on my to-read list! I picked up a copy not long ago, but haven’t got to it yet. The Grapes Of Wrath is a stunning read – I went in with pretty low expectations, but it was gut punch after gut punch, absolutely breathtaking, and so resonant with contemporary issues around climate change! If you’re ever on the hunt for books to “travel” to Australia, let me know… 😉

    • Between you, Lisa, Sue and Kim I have seen so many Australian authors i’d love to try – the issues are availability and cost. So many times when I’ve seen a review I’ve thought “I want to read that” only to find its not yet available in UK or if it is, then the cost is ridiculous and the library doesn’t plan to stock it. Sigh…

  • I’ve read a little Steinbeck fiction – Cannery Row is a huge favourite – but I’d also recommend his non-fiction. Travels with Charley… and A Russian Journal are excellent.

    • Emma also recommended Travels with Charley!. I loved Cannery Row – that scene where they go off hunting for frogs is hilarious.

  • I’ve heard of but not read a handful of these, Karen, reminding me that I have quite a few books from around the world to either get round to or even finish—Russia, China, Colombia, Nigeria, Mexico, Poland and Pakistan for starters—so hopefully I’ll get stuck in this summer and autumn. Good luck with your armchair travels!

    • I have a number of other countries to visit too – would love to do more of this armchair travelling because I love learning about cultures beyond my own

  • What a great list! I’ll have to bookmark it to come back to on my own quest to journey around the world through books. I can recommend The Makioka Sisters and The Grapes of Wrath.

    • The Makioka Sisters seems to be a popular choice based on the comments here Lory.

  • I love all of Steinbeck’s novels, but Grapes of Wrath is one of his most powerful. And I love Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but I found Love in the time of Cholera quite intolerable.

    • Oh good, I have found someone at last who seems to have had similar issues with Love in the time of Cholera. I just couldn’t get far into it at all

  • Great idea Karen. I’ve read 3, 6 and 10, and recommend them all. I started 7, but just couldn’t finish it, though I have kept it because I feel it was a matter of timing. I love his non-fiction book, Istanbul, and can recommend that. It’s one of those books that has stuck with me, and I enjoyed his novel, Snow. Some of your others interest me a lot, and some just a bit!!

    • Interesting comment about Pamuk – I tried reading Snow a few years ago but couldn’t get enthused by it so abandoned it about a quarter of the way through

      • Hmmm…then I’ll be interested to see if you like My name is red. But, who knows?

  • Great post, Karen. How I’d love to be doing the real thing but books are the next best way to travel. I remember enjoying The Makioka Sisters quite some time ago. Thanks for reminding me of it.

    • I’d never heard of it but it seems there are quite a number of bloggers who have – and all have said they enjoyed it so it must be good!

      Armchair travel is the only variety I am going to be doing this year

  • Looking at my Around the World reading challenge, I have gaps for Portugal, Brazil and Columbia (although read Love many, may years ago).

    • I hope this list helps fill in some of the gaps for you. I have gaps in some of the African countries but I suspect its because there is so little literature from them and even less has been translated.

  • wadholloway

    I’m glad I’ve read one of them anyway. Grapes of Wrath of course which has some interesting trucks. I have Love in the time of Cholera in my Audible library, so I’ll get to it. After that they all sound good, but perhaps the French SF.

    • I had a giggle reading your comment about Steinbeck’s inclusion of trucks in his narrative. Do you keep a list of books which feature trucks???

      • wadholloway

        Not really, but by its nature as a road story there are quite a few trucks in GoW so I used that as a way into my review.

  • Grapes of Wrath is one of my top 3 books of all time. I’ve read it three times and will probab,y read it again. 🐧❤

    • It’s good fun doing a list post – I always come across books I’d forgotten I had

    • Sorry not to have replied earlier Chelsea, your comment got trapped in my spam folder unfortunately. But absolutely agree with you – I don’t think, even if travel restrictions were lifted, I’d feel comfortable getting on a plane/ferry right now


We're all friends here. Come and join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: