LGBTQ

20 Must-Read Queer Novels Set Outside the U.S., UK and Canada

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In my quest to read all the queer books — yes, I know it’s impossible, but isn’t that fact itself glorious? — I’ve sought out novels in all genres, about all kinds of people, set in all kinds of places. I live in the United States and I only read in English, so it is easy to get caught up in all the great queer lit coming out of the biggest English-speaking countries: the U.S., the UK, Canada, Ireland. So, over the past year or so, I’ve been actively seeking out queer books set in other places. Queer people exist in every country on earth, and I am eager for all of their stories. It is a joy and a privilege to read queer stories from all over the world, to see myself reflected in the experiences of people in India and Iceland, and to witness queer experiences and identities that are nothing like mine.

These 20 books are set in countries as far away from each other as Greenland and Argentina, Uruguay and Cameroon. Some of them are written in English; others are translated from a variety of languages. I’ve tried to include books from as many countries as possible, but you’ll notice that some countries are more represented than others. Many of the African books are set in Nigeria and many of the South American books are set in Argentina. Publishing still has a long way to go when it comes to translating (and straight-up publishing) queer books from certain countries and regions of the world. That said, this list contains queer books set in 15 different countries — and it’s only the beginning! There are so many more queer books from all over the world that I didn’t have space for. These stories, for me, have been a gateway of exploration into so many world literatures. I hope they’ll be a gateway for you, too.

Asia

Cover of Funny Boy

Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai (Sri Lanka)

Arjie is a queer boy who grows up in a wealthy Tamil family amidst violence and political unrest. Though the story focuses on Arjie’s coming of age and growing understanding of his own sexuality, it also explores family dynamics, racism, and Sri Lankan history. Selvadurai’s lyrical, straightforward prose is a powerful blend of the personal and the political.

Love in the Big City Book Cover

Love in the Big City by Sang Young Park, Translated by Anton Hur (Korea)

This episodic novel is a meandering and melancholic look into contemporary queer life in Seoul. In a voice that is calm, slightly detached, sometimes wry and sometimes bleak, narrator Young recounts his friendship with his best friend from college, his strained relationship with his ill mother, his various romantic and sexual exploits, and his career as a writer. It’s a quiet, character-driven book made of ordinary moments, beautifully rendered.

Cover of Last Words from Montmartre

Last Words from Montmartre by Qiu Miaojin, Translated by Ari Larissa Heinrich (Taiwan)

Taiwanese novelist Qiu Miaojin is best known for experimental Notes of a Crocodile. Last Words From Montmartre, which was published after her death, is even more experimental. It’s a series of letters penned by an unnamed narrator, in which she meditates on art, fame, romance, death, travel, intimacy, longing. From these sometimes frenzied and dream-like missives, a love story between two women emerges, along with its catastrophic aftermath.

the cover of Blue-Skinned Gods

Blue-Skinned Gods by SJ Sindu (India)

In a small ashram in Tamil Nadu, India, a boy with blue-skin is raised as the tenth incarnation of the god Vishnu. Kalki grows up in a world constructed by his parents, in which his life is defined by his role as a human incarnation of divinity. When the borders of that carefully constructed world begin to blur, and Kalki ventures outside the ashram, he finally beings to build a world for himself — on his own terms. I can’t say enough good things about this gorgeously written, intricately layered novel. It’s the kind of book that lingers on long after the last page.

South America, Central America, & The Caribbean

Cantoras by Carolina de Robertis book cover

Cantoras by Carolina de Robertis (Uruguay)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this is my favorite queer novel, ever. During the repressive Uruguayan dictatorship of the 1970s, five queer women find refugee in a small shack in an isolated coastal town. Over the next decades, as they fall in and out of love, fight for their right to survive, weather breakups, mistakes, misunderstandings, and loss, they become each other’s family. It’s a beautiful song of a book, an ode to queer survival, queer friendship, and the magic of queer spaces.

Cover of Brickmakers

Brickmakers by Selva Almada, Translated by Annie McDermott (Argentina)

This novel opens with two young men dying after they’ve wounded each other in a knife fight. They are each visited by visions of their dead fathers, and as they wrestle with the ghosts of their pasts, the complicated story of their lifelong rivalry comes to light.

Here Comes the Sun book cover

Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn (Jamaica)

Dennis-Benn’s debut is a bleak look at three generations of Jamaican women, all of whom are struggling under the weight of sexism, homophobia, racism, and an exploitative tourist industry. The novel centers on Margot, who is determined to give teenage sister a better life at all costs. But she’s also keeping secrets, including her love for another woman, and soon the bonds that tie her to her sister and mother begin to fray. This isn’t a a book for the faint of heart, though it’s worth the read. If you’re looking for something a little less hopeless, Dennis-Benn’s second novel, Patsy, is also wonderful.

Cover of Bad Girls

Bad Girls by Camila Sosa Villada, Translated by Kit Maude (Argentina) (May 3)

When Camila leaves her small hometown for the big city to go to university, she finds a welcoming community of other trans women, mostly sex workers, who take her in. At the heart of this unconventional family is Auntie Encarna, a nearly 200-year-old being who looks out for all of them. It’s a beautiful, lightly magical story about self-discovery and trans friendship.

The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezon Camara book cover

The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara, Translated by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre (Argentina)

If you’re looking for a queer international road trip novel, this book is for you. When her husband is called to join the army, China Iron rejoices in her newfound freedom and sets off across the country with her new friend Liz, a Scottish woman who soon becomes her lover. This is a wild romp of a story, a coming-of-age cross-country adventure full of queer awakening and gorgeous descriptions of the Argentine countryside.

Africa

Cover of Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi

Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi (Nigeria)

This stunning novel is about three Nigerian women, Kambirinachi and her twin daughters, Taiye and Kehinde. The story moves back and forth between the past and the present, following the sisters as they move from country to country, fall in love, and build careers, all the while deeply missing each other. It’s a quiet but unforgettable story about sisterhood, forgiveness, food, queerness, healing, and what it means to belong to a person or a place.

The Death of Vivek Oji cover

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi (Nigeria)

Emezi does what they do best with this novel: turn expected western notions about queerness and identity on their heads. The story opens with the death of Vivek — somebody leaves his body in front of his mother’s house. From there, Vivek’s life comes into focus from a variety of POVs: Vivek, his cousin, his mother, and various other friends and family members It’s a beautiful but unpredictable story about friendship, first love, and the messy realities of close communities.

cover of under the udala trees by chinelo okparanta

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta (Nigeria)

A modern classic of Nigerian literature, Under the Udala Trees is a queer coming of age story set against the backdrop of civil war. This is brutal book, as it deals with homophobic laws and homophobic violence. But Okparanta writes beautifully and truthfully, telling a story the world badly needs to hear.

Cover of A Long Way From Douala

A Long Way from Douala by Max Lobe, Translated by Ros Schwartz (Cameroon)

In the first work of Cameroonian writer Max Lobe to be translated into English, a young man sets off on a journey across the country in search of his older brother, who is on his way to Europe, hoping to make it as a footballer. The story unfolds in a series of vignettes that reveal the ups and downs of ordinary life for a queer man in Cameroon.

Cover of Vagabonds!

Vagabonds! by Eloghosa Osunde (Nigeria)

In this dazzling blend of myth, magic, and reality, an eclectic cast of characters, all of whom live on the fringes of Nigerian society, come to life. The novel feels symphonic at times, as it moves back and forth among the POVs of the titular vagabonds — the queer folks, poor folks, those who are fleeing violence, who live on the streets, whose lives are visible only on the margins. As all of these characters struggle to survive, they find comfort and support in one another.

Europe

Cover of All of You Every Single One

All of You Every Single One by Beatrice Hitchman (Austria)

This is a breathtaking portrait of a queer family that stays together despite heartbreak, danger, war, and many messy mistakes. In 1910, queer couple Eve and Julia arrive in Vienna to start a new life together. They soon find family among the fellow tenants of their apartment block. What follows is a moving story about parenthood, marriage, and impossible choices, unfolding across decades in an array of POVs.

cover of Last Night in Nuuk by Niviaq Korneliussen

Last Night in Nuuk by Niviaq Korneliussen, Translated by Anna Halager (Greenland)

This unusual, fast-paced, nonlinear novel follows a group of queer twentysomethings over the course of a weekend in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland. They fall in and out of love, deal with family and friendship, and try to figure out who they are and what they want.

Cover of The Mercies

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (Norway)

This is a bleak but compelling novel about womanhood, power, and queer love. After a brutal storm kills all the men in a small Scandinavian village in 1617, the women continue on independently, living their lives outside of patriarchal authority. But when a man arrives from Scotland to rid the town of the witches rumored to live there, they must fight for their survival in a whole new way.

Cover of Disoriental

Disoriental by Négar Djavadi, Translated by Tina A. Kover (France)

This is a sprawling epic of a novel that explores migration, Iranian history, identity, and more. Kimiâ Sadr left Iran with her family at age 10 and settled in France. Now in her twenties, sitting in the waiting room of a fertility clinic in Paris, and pondering the prospect of parenthood, Kimiâ begins to recall the stories of her ancestors. What follows is a dizzying series of vignettes and moments.

Cover of The Wrong End Of The Telescope by Rabih Alameddine

The Wrong End of the Telescope by Rabih Alameddine (Greece)

This thoughtful and observant novel is heartbreaking, funny, tender, and wise. Mina is a trans Lebanese American doctor who spends a week volunteering at the refugee camps on the island of Lesbos. While there, she meets up with her brother for the first time in years, becomes close with a Syrian woman, and reminisces about her own life. It’s a quiet, character-driven book overflowing with human emotion.

Australia & New Zealand

Cover of Ready When You Are

Ready When You Are by Gary Lonesborough (Australia)

In this YA love story, two queer Aboriginal boys help each other find the courage to be their true selves. Jackson’s life with his family on the Mish is about as ordinary as ever — until the holidays bring not only his visiting relatives, but a mysterious boy. As the two become close, Jackson finally confronts the truths about himself that he’s been avoiding for so long.


Looking for more queer books set outside the U.S.? Check out this fabulous list of must-read queer books in translation!