5 Shorter Novels From Around the World

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Summer Loomis


Summer Loomis has been writing for Book Riot since 2019. She obsessively curates her library holds and somehow still manages to borrow too many books at once. She appreciates a good deadline and likes knowing if 164 other people are waiting for the same title. It's good peer pressure! She doesn't have a podcast but if she did, she hopes it would sound like Buddhability. The world could always use more people creating value with their lives everyday.

Sometimes I want a shorter novel to keep my reading going. If you’re in a reading slump, there are short novels to help you get out of one. If you’re strengthening your reading habit, I have other ideas on how to do that. But sometimes you just need something to keep yourself going. I usually use shorter novels — as in under 300 pages or so — for this sort of need.

Here are five shorter novels to keep you reading. They are all very different, which should come as no surprise given the different places they come from. The only thing they have in common is that I think they will be fast reads so I hope some of them appeal to you.

Last Summer of Reason cover

The Last Summer of Reason by Tahar Djaout, Translated by Marjolijn de Jager

This slim book was found among the papers of its author after his 1993 assassination in Algeria, his home country. It’s set in a time when the Vigilant Brothers are in control and their extreme approach to religion rules the lives of those who live in their unnamed country. The main character, Boualem, is a bookstore owner and a quiet force of opposition to the new regime. This novel has a hard-to-pin-down dreamlike quality that some may find very engrossing. I highly recommend it if this appeals to you as a reader.

A Burning Cover

A Burning by Megha Majumdar

This book is set in present-day Kolkata, India, and opens with a fire, the consequences of which will be even farther reaching than one would imagine. Focused around several characters and ‘interludes,’ the perspective switches between short chapters that propel the narrative forward. Three characters form the backbone for this novel. Jivan is a young girl who makes a naive mistake on social media. Lovely longs to be in Bollywood, going to classes to improve her chances. Pt Sir is a gym teacher who once taught Jivan and who will eventually become entangled in her story.

The Book of Unknown Americans

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez

This novel is about a family who immigrates from Mexico to the U.S. in the hopes of providing a better life for their injured daughter. The book switches perspectives between chapters so even though it is the longest book on this list (at just about 300 pages), it feels like a fast read. The characters’ stories are more complicated than they appear on the surface, so if you are looking for a novel about immigration, I offer you this book as a good selection.

Vengeance is Mine All Others Pay Cash cover

Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash by Eka Kurniawan, Translated by Annie Tucker

This shorter novel is from Indonesia and starts with the sexual yearnings of its main characters Ajo Kawir and Gecko. Both are young toughs; Ajo Kawir enjoys finding trouble and fighting others, while Gecko fights alongside him as his friend. More graphic than the other novels in this list, Ajo Kawir and Gecko go to a mysterious house at night, with Gecko promising that his friend has never seen anything like what he is about to show him. And from there, you have to read to find out what happens next.

Celestial Bodies cover

Celestial Bodies by Johka AlHarthi, Translated by Marilyn Booth

This Man Booker International Prize winner is from Jokha Alharthi, an Omani author, assisted in the translation by the outstanding Marilyn Booth. This is the first Arabic language novel to win the Man Booker International Prize. This shorter novel follows several generations of Omani women as they navigate their lives. This is another book that switches perspectives frequently so the chapters are often short. Booth writes in her translator’s introduction that Celestial Bodies “has been praised by critics across the Arab World for its fineness of portraiture, its historical depth and subtlety, and its innovative literary structure.” If you are looking for historical fiction set outside the usual places, this is an excellent book to choose.

So that is my list! I hope you find some of these enticing. If you need help with your reading goals, here are some tips or if you like, you could try to read more backlist titles. And as always, there are more ideas for keeping your reading going on Book Riot — so I hope you keep coming back.