If You Can Only Read One Book Per Country, Make It This

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

“I am hardly the first person to have ever thought ‘wouldn’t it be neat to read books written by authors from every country in the world, at least one each?’,” says Giulia [last name not given], whose recent question on Reddit sparked a deep, fascinating look at the books readers recommend being read from their country.

“I like gathering recommendations and opinions from multiple sources and eventually converging onto a book with (1) a premise that intrigues me, (2) which has been recommended as representing some part of the national or regional culture well and (3) that will keep my momentum going for the rest of the list!,” she said.

In the r/booksuggestions subreddit, Giulia asked what she admitted to being a tough question: If you only read one book from my country, make it…, leaving space for users to drop their suggestions into the thread.

And respond they did.

Book suggestions poured in from around the world, including titles that have been translated into English, as well as those which haven’t.

“I think different people understood the question differently: some people clearly recommended a book they particularly liked from a given country, without further considerations, while others opted for the books that they thought contained the best essentialised summary of their culture à la ‘this will explain what it’s like to be X or live in X’, and others went for what are considered their national classics. It’s a good mix, and I’m happy people kept it open,” said Giulia.

Her goal in asking the question was to help develop a project for her reading life.

“I like to strengthen my knowledge by just revisiting a certain topic (in this case, country) multiple times and creating connections between different pieces of media and putting myself in a place where I need to research something to understand the missing links. I have a similar list to this one, with movies from various countries!” she said, noting that because people took the question in so many different ways, she feels like there are now multiple projects on her hands. Born in Italy and residing there until she was about 18, Giulia has lived in other European countries for the last 8 years.

In what will be familiar refrain for everyone who enjoys a book or two, Giulia is excited about the reading future ahead with these recommendations, but she’s also intimidated by the reality of time being a limited resource.

“I plan on taking these lovely recommendations as guidelines for what books to buy next, after I am done with the pile I currently have on my desk! As a whole, I definitely consider this a bit of a reading challenge, as with every day that passes, I realise that the number of books I will read in my lifetime is finite, and if I don’t start making smart choices now, I will never be able to peek into all these other realities that exist in the world,” she said.

So, what’s on the list? A little bit of everything!

  • Albania: The General of the Dead Army by Ismail Kadare
  • Argentina: Fictions by Borges; Rayuela by Julio Cortázar
  • Australia: Candy: A novel of love and addiction by Luke Davies; Cloudstreet by Tim Winton; Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey; The secret river by Kate Grenville; The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay; The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • Austria: Chess Novel by Stefan Zweig
  • Azerbaijan: Ali and Nino by Qurban Saeed
  • Bangladesh: Shesh Bikeler Meye by Zahir Rayhan
  • Belgium: The Misfortunates by Dimitri Verhulst; Any book from Eric Emmanuel Schmidt
  • Bosnia: Bridge Over Drina by Ivo Andrić; Derviš i smrt by Meša Selimović; The Legend of Ali-Pasha by Enver Čolaković
  • Brazil: Dom Casmurro by Machado de Assis; The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas by Machado de Assis
  • Canada: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (or the Handmaid’s Tale or Alias Grace); The Black Donnellys by Thomas P. Kelly.; Anything by Alice Munro; The Life of Pi by Yann Martel; Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald; Any Mordecai Richler
  • Chile: 2666 by Roberto Bolaño; El Obsceno Pájaro de la Noche by José Donoso; Los Detectives Salvajes by Roberto Bolaño (Donoso’s novel is a bit more complicated, because it requires a certain level of knowledge about his previews work and the context of the book but it is a masterpiece); La casa de los espíritus by Isabel Allende
  • China: 活著 by 余華 (“To Live” by Hua Yu)
  • Colombia: 100 Años de Soledad by Gabriel García Marquez
  • Croatia: Run! Don’t wait for me! by Bojana Meandžija; Na rubu pameti by Miroslav Krleža; Kiklop by Ranko Marinković
  • Egypt: Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz
  • Finland: The Egyptian by Mika Waltari; The Unknown Soldier by Väinö Linna
  • France: La chute by Camus
  • Germany: Perfume by Patrick Süskind; Känguru Chroniken by Marc-Uwe Kling
  • Georgia: The Knight in the Panter’s Skin (ვეფხისტყაოსანი) by Shota Rustaveli
  • Germany: The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann; Poems by Herman Hesse; Anything by Kai Meyer; Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
  • Honduras: Cipotes by Ramón Amaya Amador
  • India: Annihilation of caste by B.R. Ambedkar; The Legends Of Khasak by O.V. Vijayan; The Mahabharata; Raag Darbari by Shrilal Shukla; Godan by Munshi Premchand; Shekhar: A life by Agyeya
  • Iran: The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat
  • Ireland: On Tuesdays I’m a Buddhist by Michael Harding; Dracula by Bram Stoker; Portrait by James Joyce
  • Israel: The Blue Mountain (רומן רוסי) by Meir Shalev
  • Italy: Oceano Mare by Alessandro Baricco; La coscienza di Zeno by Italo Svevo; The Path to the Spider’s Nests by Italo Calvino; The Leopard by Giuseppe Tommasi di Lampedusa
  • Japan: Rashomon by Ryunosuke Akutagawa; No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai; The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu; Night on the Galactic Railroad by Kenji Miyazawa
  • Lebanon: The Prophet by Gibran Kahlil Gibran
  • Lithuania: Dievų Miškas (Forest of the Gods) by Balys Sruoga
  • Kazakhstan: My name is Kozha by Berdibek Sokpakbayev; Abai Zholy (Path of Abai) by Mukhtar Auezo
  • Malaysia: The weight of our sky by Hanna Alkaf
  • Mexico: Pedro Parámo by Juan Rulfo; The mastery of love by Don Miguel Ruiz; La región más transparente by Carlos Fuentes; El laberinto de la soledad by Octavio Paz
  • Netherlands: The discovery of heaven by Harry Mulisch. Children’s books The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt; De ziekte van Lodesteijn by Lévi Weemoedt; Knielen op een bed violen by Jan Siebelink. Thea Beckman, Jan Terlouw and Paul Biegel as authors.
  • Norway: Beatles by Lars Saabye Christensen; Hunger by Knut Hamsun
  • Pakistan: The idea of Pakistan by Stephen Cohen (nonfiction)
  • Palestine: Men in the Sun by Ghassan Kanafani
  • Philippines: Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan
  • Poland: Księgi Jakubowe (The book of Jacob) by Olga Tokarczuk
  • Portugal: Ensaio sobre a cegueira by José Saramago; Death with Interruptions by José Saramago; The Maias by Eça de Queirós
  • Puerto Rico: Poema en Veinte Surcos (Poem in Twenty Furrows) by Julia de Burgos; La Carreta by René Marqués
  • Romania: Orbitor (Blinding) by Cartarescu; Pe culmile disperării by Emil Cioran; Forest of the Hanged by Liviu Rebreanu
  • Russia: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov; Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov; Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev; Anna Karenina by Lev Tolstoy
  • Scotland: Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh; Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg
  • Serbia: Lake Como by Srdjan Valjarevic
  • Spain: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
  • Sweden: The long ships by Frans Bengtsson
  • Turkey: The time regulation institute by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar; The Last Island by Zulfu Livaneli; Turkey: Ince Memed by Yasar Kemal; Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali; The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk
  • UK: Dark Matter by Michelle Paver; Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen; 1984 by George Orwell
  • USA: Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy; The Great Gatsby by Francis Scott Fitzgerald; Catch 22 by Joseph Heller; World War Z by Max Brooks; Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry; The inconvenient Indian by Thomas King; Confederacy of Dunces by John Kenney Toole; Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain; To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut; Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (preferably the deathbed edition); True Grit by Charles Portis
  • Venezuela: Doña Bárbara by Rómulo Gallegos
  • Wales: Collected Poems by R. S. Thomas
  • Zimbabwe: When A Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Goodwin

    As for her reading life more broadly, Giulia notes that she’s a traditionalist when it comes to how she reads, and she’s got a fondness for just about any kind of story.

    “I used to be a big reader before university and work, now I truly just do my best! I must admit, I am quite stubborn and over the years I have refused to acquire any kind of e-reading device or to learn to read faster than I currently do. I just have such an emotional attachment to paper books and I enjoy savouring sentences slowly, letting my mind wander and draw all sorts of sensory, social, and even random, tentative connections between what I am reading and what I already know or have experienced. I also read in multiple languages, and for the ones I am less good at, my reading speed decreases dramatically, so my books/year number could be higher! No genre is off-limits, I will give everything a try, though I tend not to enjoy straight-up love stories too much. I am partial to a (good) short story,” she said.

    You can check out the original reddit post, along with titles not yet included on Giulia’s compilation in the post’s comments. Of course, use the opportunity to agree, disagree, or add your own suggestions.