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When our family traveled around the world, a friend in my book club challenged me to read a novel set in every country we visited. It was a great idea and fun way to immerse myself in a country’s culture and landscape before we even arrived. Most of my choices were enjoyable reads and offered a window into a new adventure.
Of course, if you want to read about our journey around the globe and the adventures we encountered, click here!
I’ve offered a description for the books I highly recommend. Happy reading!
New Zealand and Australia – The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough. A classic, epic piece of historical fiction that follows several generations of a family as they emigrate from New Zealand and set up their lives in the rural Australian Outback.
Thailand – The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker (technically only a mention of Bangkok and mostly set in Burma) and Modoc by Ralph Helfer (technically set in several countries, but since we spent a week volunteering at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, I wanted to learn more about these beautiful beasts.)
Cambodia – When Broken Glass Floats by Chanrithy Him. This memoir opened my eyes to the haunting Khmer Rouge regime and its near-obliteration of the intellectuals and upper-class citizens of Cambodia just a few decades ago. Him recalls her own family’s story as a young girl barely surviving and her incredible redemption story following the conflict.
Vietnam – Catfish and Mandala by Andrew X. Pham. A wonderful, adventurous memoir about a Vietnamese-born American visiting his homeland, his extended family and their culture for the first time as a young adult by bicycling through the country.
Hong Kong – The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee
India – Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure by Sarah Macdonald
Kenya – Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen. A classic set in the 1920’s, the romanticized picture of British-colonized Kenya came to life when our family visited the author’s home, now a museum, in nearby Karen.
*Bonus Kenya book: I had already read Circling the Sun by Paula McLain, based in a similar period with some of the same characters from Out of Africa. Although it’s historical fiction, I actually enjoyed it more than Out of Africa.
Egypt – Nefertiti by Michelle Moran
Turkey – Books of Ephesians, I Timothy and II Timothy in The Bible. During our time in coastal Turkey, I re-read the books penned by Paul and Timothy as they grew the Christian church in that region. As I walked the streets and marveled at the Roman ruins in Ephesus, I was struck by the similarities that our culture still faces two thousands years later.
Croatia – Girl at War by Sara Novic. Another haunting but powerful memoir of a young girl who survives the Croatian-Bosnian war and revisits the region as a young adult determined to understand her past and the pain and loss of her family.
Bosnia – People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
Italy – A Thousand Days in Tuscany by Marlena de Blasi
France – Shadows in the Vineyard by Maximillian Potter
England – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. I introduced my son to Harry Potter while we spent the final month of our journey in England. Nothing is more magical than imagining Harry entering Platform 9 ¾ on his way to Hogwarts. A must-read for every family, in my opinion.