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International Book List for Travelers: Stories Set in Other Countries

Women on the Road
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Has this ever happened to you? You read a book that inspires you so much you have to visit that place?

We're not always in a position to travel but even if we can't, we can daydream through literature and history, through stories from books about other countries that take us there, at least in spirit.

This international books list represents suggestions from readers of Women on the Road, to which I've added books I have read and loved about the world. It's also a work in progress: Do you have a book you'd like to add, one that has inspired you to visit a city or country? If so please go to the bottom of this post and email me!

NOTE: Women on the Road publishes travel book reviews - by women or about women - once a month, in addition to the list below (which is not female-specific). You'll find those reviews HERE.

africa and the middle east

angola

  • The Book of Chameleons by Jose Eduardo Agualusa (suggested by Suroor Alikhan: "A whimsical, lyrical story about truth and memory narrated by a gecko living in the house of Felix Ventura, an albino who gives people a brand new past."

botswana

  • #1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith (suggested by Laverne Bissky: "Now I've got Botswana on my bucket list." And let me add: this is one of the most fun series I've ever read and I have most of them - along with a strong desire to see Botswana.)
books about Botswana - Alexander McCall SmithMy own collection of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency - I do like these! ©WOTR

congo, republic of

  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (suggested by Two Dusty Travelers). An epic story of a missionary family's undoing and reconstruction in the Belgian Congo in postcolonial Africa. 
  • King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild. King Leopold II of Belgium's tragic seizure and plundering of the Congo.  
  • The Lights of Pointe-Noire by Alain Mabanckou (suggested by Suroor Alikhan: "The author's memoir about life as a child and his return as a writer more than two decades later."

congo, democratic republic of 

  • Blood River by Tim Butcher. A harrowing story of the author's journey along the Congo River, in the footsteps of Stanley, the legendary Victorian explorer. I loved this book - for many reasons, but I looked at this region differently after reading it.
  • In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: by Michela Wrong. A fascinating look at a stereotypical despot, Mobutu Sese Seko, former president of Zaire, who ruled his country for 32 years.
  • No Place to Call Home by JJ Bola (suggested by Suroor Alikhan: A haunting book about growing up and people who hide scars deep within them."

cote d'ivoire

  • Aya of Yop City by Marguerite Abouet and drawn by Clément Oubrerie (sugggested by Suroor Alikhan: "A graphic novel about young women in a neighbourhood of Abidjan.")

egypt

  • The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswamy (suggested by Suroor Alikhan: "The lives of people in an apartment block in Cairo.") I loved this too!
  • The Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz (suggested by Suroor Alikhan: "An Egyptian classic. Through the Al Jawad family, we see the changes in the country as it moves towards independence.")

equatorial guinea

  • By Night the Mountain Burns by Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel (suggested by Suroor Alikhan: "The narrator looks back at an incident in his childhood that led to calamity.")

ethiopia

IRAQ

  • Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Sadaawi (suggested by Suroor Alikhan: "The author transposes Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Baghdad in the early 2000s.")

jordan

  • Our Last Best Chance: A Story of War and Peace by King Abdullah II (suggested by Laurie Bennett Linden). King Abdullah's own memoir about brewing regional resentment, the Arab awakening and a call to arms. 
  • Married to a Bedouin by Marguerite van Geldermalsen (suggested by Laurie Bennett Linden). A New Zealand nurse marries a Jordanian souvenir seller in 1978, moving into his cave and learning his ways, which she comes to love.

kenya

  • Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh (suggested by Diana Pardee). A novel set in pre-independence Kenya, rife with political upheaval and nostalgia.
  • City of Thorns by Ben Rawlence. Stories from Dadaab refugee camp, where half a million people somehow survive.
  • The Honey Guide by Richard Crompton. A crime story behind the scenes in modern Nairobi.
  • The Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley (suggested by Dawn Tyers). Growing up in Kenya before World War I.

liberia and sierra leone

  • Chasing the Devil: On Foot Through Africa's Killing Fields by Tim Butcher. A journalist treks through the region and uncovers devastation and recovery. (I recommend anything by Tim Butcher!)

lybia

  • The Dictator's Last Night by Yasmina Khadra (suggested by Suroor Alikhan: "The fictionalized account of the last days of Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi.")

madagascar

  • Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo (suggested by Suroor Alikhan: "The 19th century history of Madagascar, seen through the lives of a young woman and her slave.")

morocco

  • A House in Fez by Suzanna Clarke. I was fortunate to meet Suzanna in Fez and saw this house first-hand... a compelling inside look.
  • In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams by Tahir Shah. A journey across traditional Morocco (everything by this author is worth reading).
  • Leo Africanus by Amin Maalouf. The imaginary autobiography of a 15th-century explorer.

nigeria

  • Looking for Transwonderland by Noo Saro Wiwa. Brought up in England, the author eventually returns to Nigeria, where her activist father Ken Saro-Wiwa was killed. More than about Nigeria, this is about Nigerians. 

palestine

  • A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum (suggested by Jeanette Archbold). Three generations of Palestinian women and a move to America.

rwanda

south africa

  • Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Patton. A moving story about racial injustice, but filled with hope and courage. 
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. A unique biography about growing up in South Africa.
  • Tandia and The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay (suggested by Phillis Frederickesn: "A young boy growing up in South Africa experiences colonialism and fights for independence. Wonderful reads!")

sudan

  • What is the What by Dave Eggers (suggested by Lynn Sommers). About the lost boys of Sudan who were forced to leave home amid war.  
  • Disturbed in their Nests by Alephonsion Deng and Judy A. Bernstein (suggested by Jeanette Archbold). How cultures collide - a Sudanese arrives in America just before 9/11.

syria

  • The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri (suggested by Jeanette Archbold). The unimaginable upending of normal life and escape from Syria.

uganda

  • The Last King of Scotland by Giles Foden. A disillusioned Scottish doctor ends up as Idi Amin's personal physician in Uganda. 

zambia

  • The Africa House by Christine Lamb (suggested by Brian Cunningham). An English officer builds himself a home - and feudal empire - in what was then Northern Rhodesia.

zimbabwe

  • Love in the Driest Season by Neely Tucker (suggested by Jeanette Archbold). A family memoir of moving to Zimbabwe at a time of trouble and disease.

(Click here to read some female-focused Africa and Middle East book reviews.)

book list by country

the americas

bolivia

  • Marching Powder by Rusty Young (suggested by Lynn Sommers). An Australian journalist researches an English drug trafficker imprisoned in Bolivia in one of the world's strangest prisons. 

Brazil

  • Fordlandia by Greg Grandin (suggested by Geneva Saint-Amour). How Henry Ford bought a piece of Brazil the size of Delaware to establish a rubber plantation and mini-America settlement.
  • A Samba for Sherlock (suggested by Gisele Oliveira). A thriller set in 19th-century Rio with the texture of the city's different classes against a backdrop of crime. 

canada

(above 5 suggested by Marjorie Smales)

  • Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese. A heartbreaking story of growing up Ojibway.
  • Where Nests the Water Hen by Gabrielle Roy. A story of multiple cultures in northern Manitoba in the early 20th century.
  • The Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Monro. Chronicles a young girl's adolescence in rural Ontario in the 1940s.
  • The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill. A child is kidnapped in Africa and sold as a slave in South Caroline. Growing up she eventually escapes to Canada.
  • Obasan by Joy Kogawa. A story of internment of Japanese-Canadians in British Columbia during World War II.
  • The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence. A life story set in the Prairies.
  • Two Solitudes by Hugh McLennan. The Canadian classic set in Catholic Quebec and Protestant Ontario.
  • Promises to Keep by Genevieve Graham. Romance and the uncertainties of war against a backdrop of the Acadians' expulsion from Nova Scotia.

(above 8 suggested by Jane Maltais)

  • Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. Documents the independence and partition of India.

chile

  • House of Spirits and Eva Luna by Isabel Allende (suggested by Colleen Betts: "I 'blame' Isabelle Allende for my fantastic three-week trip to Chile.")

colombia

cuba

  • The Double Life of Fidel Castro by Juan Reinaldo Sanchez (suggested by Lynn Sommers: "This one gave me chills when I was in Cuba.") Memoir of Castro's bodyguard for 17 years, who was imprisoned by the leader and later escaped from Cuba. 
  • The Man Who Liked Dogs by Leonardo Padura (suggested by Suroor Alikhan: "The assassination of Trotsky in Mexico and the ripples it creates years later in the life of a young writer in Cuba.")

dominican republic

  • Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa. The rule of former dictator Trujillo, replete with violence and blackmail, and the birth of democracy in the Dominican Republic.  

guatemala

  • Split at the Root by Catana Tully (suggested by Geneva Saint-Amour). Memoir of the Black daughter of German settlers in Guatemala explores identity, adoption and race.

jamaica

  • The Book of Night Women by Marlon James (suggested by Suroor Alikhan: "A haunting, brutal story about slavery in Jamaica.")

mexico

  • House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer (suggested by Geneva Saint-Amour)
  • The Devil's Highway by Luis Alberta Urrea (suggested by Lynn Sommers: "Story about a group of men who crossed from Mexico into the US in southern Arizona.")
  • Lovesick by Angeles Mastretta (suggested by Ana Franco: "Reading it transported me to the revolutionary Mexico of my grandparents by the hand of Emilia, a strong woman fighting for what she loves and believes."

peru

united states

  • The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver (suggested by Anne Stockwell: "A great portrait of the city of Tucson, Arizona.")
  • Sacred Clowns (and other Navajo Tribal Police mysteries) by Tony Hillerman (suggested by Anne Stockwell: "These inspired my husband and myself to travel extensively in the American Southwest. And Tony's daughter Anne has continued the series, with the emphasis shifted to a female character - and I think I like her books even better."
  • No Fixed Line (and other Kate Shugak Investigations) by Dana Stabenow (suggested by Tina Schadeberg: "Set in Alaska, the state, and indigenous culture, are almost characters of their own."
  • Beach Music by Pat Conroy (suggested by Maria Yerema: "This - or really any of his books - inspired me to go to South Carolina. All his books are a love story to that awesome area!")
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt (suggested by Anne Stockwell). Irresistible true crime with Savannah, Georgia, as a full-fledged character.
  • Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. Investigative masterpiece about money and murder among the Osage Indians in the early 20th century.
  • The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy (suggested by Kathy Francis: "Anything by Pat Conroy - a fantastic story teller from near my home in South Carolina.")
  • Roots by Alex Haley. A classic family saga that traces the author's ancestry back to Africa.

(Click here to read female-focused Americas book reviews.)

book list by country

asia and the pacific

  • The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux (suggested by Sona Bari). Early adventures on Asia's fabled trains, from London to Tokyo.
  • Inspector Singh Investigates, a series by Shamini Flint (suggested by Karin Hosking). A Singaporean detective chases crime across Asia.

afghanistan

  • The Places in Between by Rory Stewart (suggested by Suroor Alikhan). The author walks through Afghanistan, crossing the mountains in the dead of winter, acquiring a dog along the way.
  • A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby (suggested by Laura). A couple of amateurs travel to one of the earth's most remote wildernesses.

australia

  • Mutant Message Down Under by Marlo Morgan (suggested by Marie-Louise Nebaeus). A life-changing four-month walkabout by an American woman with nomadic Aboriginals.

bangladesh

  • Brick Lane by Monica Ali (suggested by Suroor Alikhan). A portrait of the Bangladeshi community in the UK

Brunei Darussalem

  • Written in Black by K.H. Lim (suggested by Suroor Alikhan). A 10-year-old boy travels through Brunei, looking for his brother who has run off to join a band. 

cambodia

china

  • Wild Swans by Jung Chang (suggested by Sharon Verrall: "Helped me understand the Mao years like nothing else.")
  • The Russian Concubine by Kate Furnivall. A sweeping novel set in war-torn 1928 China, with a star-crossed love story at its center.
  • Red Sorghum by Mo Yan. An acclaimed novel of love and resistance during late 1930s China by a Nobel Prize in Literature.

india

  • Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (suggested by Lynn Sommers). An epic novel that drills deeply into Bombay and India. 
  • Sideways on a Scooter: Life and Love in India by Miranda Kennedy (suggested by Diane Murphy: "I read it before I traveled solo to India a few years ago, and liked the insights into the different types of women.") A young US reporter moves to New Delhi and discovers a culture that in many ways hasn't changed in centuries. 
  • In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India by Edward Luce. Noted journalist travels throughout India's many regions, cultures, and religious circles, investigating its fragile balance between tradition and modernity.
  • The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken by Tarquin Hall (suggested by Suroor Alikhan: "How can you resist a title like that? It’s the best of the series but I would also recommend the other cases of Vish Puri, India’s Most Private Investigator, who is helped by his formidable Mummi-ji and his equally formidable wife.")
  • Harilal & Sons by Sujit Saraf (suggested by Suroor Alikhan). A sprawling family saga that starts under the British and ends in 1972 with the creation of Bangladesh.
  • The Space between Us by Thrity Urmigar (suggested by Suroor Alikhan: "The relationship between a woman and her maid dissects the rigid class system in India."
  • The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi (suggested by Romola Hopman: "Set in Jaipur in mid nineteen fifties, a look into the lives of the well to do and the people that serve them.")

indonesia

  • Indonesia Etc by Elizabeth Pisani (suggested by Carly Day: "Loved reading about someone who travelled almost the length of Indonesia in the days before internet and cellphones. So brave and so interesting - plus a lot of history packed in.")
  • Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan (suggested by Suroor Alikhan). The country's history traced through the story of a sex worker and her daughters.

iran

israel

  • Judas by Amos Oz (suggested by Suroor Alikhan: "A novel about what makes a traitor, how Israel was created and the animosity between Jews and Christians. He writes beautifully with a strong sense of place.")

kurdistan

lebanon

malaysia

  • The Gift of Rain and The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (both suggested by Isabel Ryaant: "Beautifully written fiction of the Japanese occupation period in (then) Malaya. Accurate description of places, sights and food in Penang and Cameron Highlands.")

myanmar

  • Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan (suggested by Sue Hawkins: "It's the book that immediately had me on a plane to Myanmar."

nepal

north korea

  • Dear Leader by Jan Jin-sung. Defection and escape of a high-ranking North Korean counterintelligence agent.
  • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. An epic tale of four generations of Koreans and their life in Japan.

pakistan

  • The Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif (suggested by Suroor Alikhan: "A novel that tries to explain how the President of Pakistan, Zia ul-Haq, died. Black humour.")
  • The Shadow of the Crescent Moon by Fatima Bhutto (suggested by Ann E.). The lives of five young people in Pakistan's Tribal Areas near the Afghan border.

samoa

  • Leaves of the Banyan Tree by Albert Wendt (suggested by Suroor Alikhan). A family saga that spans pre- and post-independence Samoa. 

Sri lanka

thailand

  • The Sad Part Was by Prabda Yoon (suggested by Suroor Alikhan: "A collection of short stories set in Bangkok that are all a little off-centre, a little strange −in a good way.")

tonga

  • Tales of the Tikongs by Epeli Hau’ofa (suggested by Suroor Alikhan). A collection of short stories on a fictional Pacific island. "Hapless foreign experts fight losing battles with the delightfully laid-back islanders."

vietnam

  • The Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huang (suggested by Suroor Alikhan: "It’s refreshing to read a book about the lives of ordinary Vietnamese, instead of seeing the country from the perspective of American soldiers.")

(Click here to read some female-focused Asia-Pacific book reviews.)

europe

albania

  • The File on H by Ismail Kadare (suggested by Suroor Alikhan: "Two naïve Irish-American scholars travel to Albania in the early 1930s in search of the origins of epic poetry and set off alarm bells in government offices.")

bosnia and herzegovina

  • The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andrić (suggested by Suroor Alikhan). A novel that charts Bosnia’s history through the life of one town and its bridge.

czech republic

france

  • The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (suggested by Beverly Dawn: "The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley. Makes you want to dash to Paris and follow in their footsteps, discovering Paris as they might have.")
  • A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle (suggested by Karina Rossi: "It was of great influence to decide my trip to France and Provence during summertime. And I still dream of going back in spring and winter to have at least a shortened version of my own four seasons in Provence."
  • Little French Bistro by Nina George (suggested by Diana Pardee: "Brought a unique insight into the culture and people of the area.")
  • The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman (suggested by Jeanette Archbold). Love story on St Thomas in the early 1800s with a French twist.
  • Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes by Robert Louis Stevenson (suggested by Laura). Before fame as the author of Treasure Island, he wrote travelogues.
  • Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. An epic historical novel that takes place in 19th-century France.
  • A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke. A humorous look at the French.

guernsey

iceland

  • Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. A haunting murder story in the stark Icelandic landscape.
  • Independent People by Haldor Laxness. A classic about poor farmers in the early 20th century.

Italy

  • Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (suggested by Julie A. Siciliano). A love affair begins on the Italian coast and resurfaces in Hollywood half a century later. 
  • Death at La Fenice and any other of the Commissioner Brunetti series by Donna Leon, which all take place in Venice.
  • The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt. Revealing the truth behind the 1996 fire at La Fenice opera house in Venice.
  • A Small Place in Italy by Eric Newby (suggested by Dawn Tyers). A travel memoir and autobiographical tale of renovating a house in Italy.

great britain

(both suggested by Jeanette Archbold)

greece

  • Mani by Patrick Leigh Fermor (suggested by Serena Grimaldi: "After reading this wonderful book, I had to visit the Mani in the Southern Peloponnese, Greece...I ended up living there for a year!")
  • Cartes Postales from Greece by Victoria Hislop (suggested by Anne Denholm). A love affair with Greece.
  • My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell (suggested by Dawn Tyers). An English family moves to Corfu between the wars.
  • Eurydice Street: A Place In Athens by Sofka Zinovieff. A Brit marries an expat Greek and moves to Athens. Learning to cope.

netherlands

poland

  • Poland: A Novel by James A. Michener. A sweeping novel that looks at eight centuries of Poland through the eyes of three Polish families.
  • Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (suggested by Suroor Alikhan: "An old woman believes forest animals are responsible for recent murders − a combination whodunit wth meditation on astrology, vegetarianism and the mistreatment of animals.")

portugal

  • The First Global Village by Martin Page (suggested by Kathe Byrne: "It is history but reads like fiction.")
  • 300 Days of Sun by Deborah Lawrenson (suggested by Julie A. Siciliano). Behind the façade of Faro.

russia

  • A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (suggested by Kathy Klouda). A fictional account of a Russian aristocrat under house arrest for 30 years in a hotel across the street from the Kremlin
  • Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham (suggested by Kathy Klouda). An investigation into the real story behind the disaster.
  • The Last Tsar: The Life and Death of Nicholas II by Edvard Radzinsky. A fascinating look at the czar and the imperial family's final days.
  • War and Peace by Leon Tolstoy. A classic of Russian literature, with Napoleon's invasion as backdrop.

scotland

  • The Lewis Trilogy by Peter May (suggested by Phillis F.: "Set on the Isle of Lewis in the far North of Scotland - mysteries with beautiful descriptions of the country.")

spain

  • Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart (suggested by Teresa Llorente). A former musician moves to Andalucia and becomes a farmer and travel writer.
  • Ghosts of Spain by Giles Tremlett. An investigation of the silence surrounding Franco's death squads during Spain's civil war. 
  • Duende: A Journey Into the Heart of Flamenco by Jason Webster. A lyrical journey through the world of Flamenco, Spain's remarkable musical genre.
  • The Basque History of the World by Mark Kurlansky. An exploration of the Basque country, Europe's oldest nation (not country). 
  • City of Good Death by Chris Lloyd. A good crime story set in Catalonia.
  • Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (suggested by Linda Maltezos). An intriguing book about a book set in Barcelona in the Franco era.

sweden

  • Meet Me in Malmö by Torquil MacLeod (suggested by Gisele Oliveira: "The Malmö Mysteries series made me come to the city.") The first in a series.
  • Lagom: The Swedish Secret of Living Well by Lola A Åkerström. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, written by a non-Swede.

switzerland

  • To the Back of Beyond by Peter Stamm (Suggested by Suroor Alikhan: "What happens when a man walks out of his seemingly perfect life? A complex book in a deceptively simple style.")

turkey

(Click here to read some female-focused Europe book reviews.)

books that cover several countries or regions or don't fit anywhere else

levant

  • From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium by William Dalrymple (suggested by Barbara: "Any of his books. He's a scholar who writes wonderfully entertaining travel books with a journalist’s eye and a historian’s knowledge."Here, he follows a 6th-century monk visiting Eastern Christian communities from the Balkans to the Levant.

yugoslavia

  • Black Lamb Gray Falcon by Rebecca West (suggested by Partha Adhikary). An epic masterpiece about Yugoslavia, a country that has now splintered into separate Balkan states. It provides a deep understanding of the region. 

GLOBAL TRAVEL

time travel

  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (suggested by Ruth Gardner: "A love story about time travel and the Scottish Highlands.") Indeed, a fascinating tale!

survival

  • Night Trilogy by Elie Wiesel (suggested by Jeanette Archbold). Autobiographical account of a teenager's survival in Nazi death camps.

ethics

Do you have any suggestions to add to this list? 

Please email me!

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