50 Countries. 50 Books
Finished: January 2023
In 2013 I embarked on a journey to diversify my reading. I’ve read thousands of books in my lifetime yet I’d been feeling for some time that my reading had been heavily biased towards the UK and USA. I knew little about the literature of South America, Africa or many parts of Europe.
The World of Literature Project was designed to change that. I set a goal of reading books by authors from 50 different countries.
Where in the world?
I deliberately excluded authors from the UK (Wales, Scotland,England and Northern Ireland); Eire and USA because I’d read extensively from those parts of the world already so it wouldn’t have been much of a challenge to include them.
My initial idea was to focus on the countries that lay along the Equator and the Prime Meridian. In theory that gave me 21 countries to explore. Unfortunately there were some countries that offered little if any option for books in English.
I’d love to be able to say at some point in the future that I’ve read a book from every county in the world but the chances I will find anything from small nations like Burkina Faso or Mali are slim.
It’s taken me almost ten years to complete the project — my last country was Iceland in January 2023.
I could have made life a lot easier and I’d have finished the project much soon if I’d chosen books set in a particular country. But I wanted an insider’s perspective on the language, way of life and culture of the country so I limited myself to the authors born in/raised in each country.
Which authors count?
That decision did present me with a few difficulties.
Would I include authors born in a country but living elsewhere? What if they were born in country A but most of their time was spent living in country B? How about second generation authors? Those who might never lived in China themselves, for example, but through their parents and networks had a strong cultural affinity to that location?
There was no clear cut answer so I just had to use my own judgement. For example, if an author left the country of their birth when they were a very small child and never returned (or only for a short visit) then I didn’t classify them as being from that country.
I probably made some incorrect decisions along the way — If I discover them, I’ll go back and find a different author from that country.
Books on the reading journey
The lists below show you what I read as part of this project. Some countries have more than one entry but I counted the country just once.
Austria: A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler
Belgium: Fear and Trembling by Amelie Nothomb
Croatia : Hotel Tito by Ivana Simić Bodrožić
Czech Republic: Miss Silver’s Past by Josef Škvorecký
Denmark: The Murder of Halland by Pia Juul
Finland: White Hunger by Aki Ollikainen
France: Old Goriot by Honoré Balzac
Germany: The Search for Christa T by Christa Wolf
Holland/The Netherlands: The Evenings by Gerard Reeve
Hungary: Satantango by Lasio Krasznahorkai
Iceland: Snowblind by Ragnar Jonassonan
Italy: Inspector Montelbano by Andrea Camilleri
Norway: Love by Hanne Ørstavik. The Blue Room by Hanne Ørstavik
Poland: Chasing the King of Hearts by Hanna Krall
Switzerland: Twelve Nights by Urs Faes
Turkey: 10 Minutes, 38 Seconds In This Strange World by Elif Shafak
Brazil: Dom Casmurro by Joachim Maria Machado de Assis
Canada: Dear Life by Alice Munro
Chile: The Infinite Plan by Isabelle Allende
Colombia: The Armies by Evelio Rosero Diago
Cuba: The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
Guadeloupe: The Tree of Life by Maryse Conde
Jamaica: The Long Song by Andrea Levy
Mexico: Signs Preceding The End Of The World by Yuri Herrera
Afghanistan: And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
Australia: The Snow Kimono by Mark Henshaw. The Sound of One Hand Clapping by Richard Flanagan
Bangladesh: A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam
China: Kinder Than Solitude by Yiyun Li. The Chilli Bean Paste Club by Yan Ge
India: The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
Indonesia: The Book of Jakarta by Maesy Ang and Teddy W. Kusuma
Japan: The Housekeeper and The Professor by Yoko Ogawa. After The Banquet by Yukio Mishima
New Zealand: The Luminaries by Eleanor Cotton. The Bone People by Keri Hulme
North Korea: In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park. River of Darkness by Masaji Ishigawa
Pakistan: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
Vietnam: The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
South Korea: The Vegetarian by Hang Kang. Please Look After Mom by Shin Kyong-sook
Africa and Middle East
Algeria: Memory in the Flesh by Ahlam Mosteghanemi
Angola: A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa
Burkina Faso: The Parachute Drop by Norbert Zongo
Democratic Republic of The Congo: Full Circle by Frederick Yamusangie
Ghana: Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartery
Israel: A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar
Ivory Coast: In the Company Of Men by Véronique Tadjo
Kenya: Petals of Blood by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
Nigeria: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Republic of the Congo: Broken Glass by Alain Mabanckou
Rwanda: The Barefoot Woman by Scholastique Mukasonga
Somalia: From a Crooked Rib by Nurradin Farah
South Africa: Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
Zimbabwe: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo