Monday, July 18, 2016

Ten Books Set Outside the United States

I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

I try to read a mix of books set in the United States and elsewhere, sometimes more intentionally than not. Here are ten books I've enjoyed that are set outside the U.S.

1. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson (Sweden and elsewhere)
The protagonist of this ridiculous and hilarious story starts off in Sweden, but the book ranges around the world as we learn about his life of getting unintentionally embroiled in major political events of the 20th century. At 100, his adventures aren't over — nor are they any less ridiculous or far-flung.

2. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (Afghanistan, France, and Greece)
Some sections of this book are set in the U.S., but most of it takes place elsewhere in the world. It's a collection of fictional, interconnected stories that together tell a sprawling story of family and opportunity across multiple decades and countries.

3. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo (India)
Boo spent about four years living among the people in a Mumbai slum and recording their lives, and the resulting book is a heartbreaking but important read. It won't provide you with easy answers, but it will give you a thorough understanding of why the climb out of poverty isn't a simple (or sometimes even a possible) one.

4. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (Australia)
I love Moriarty's writing, and this is my favorite of her books to date (though I have a hold on Truly Madly Guilty, which comes out later this month!). School politics, bullying, and domestic violence are by no means limited to the United States, as we see in this cleverly crafted and ultimately relatable mystery.

5. The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis (Afghanistan)
This is a well-written middle grade novel about an Afghani girl who dresses as a boy in order to support her family after her father is taken by the Taliban. Although the external threats she faces are very real, the plot is driven not by action-packed reactions to external conflict but primarily through her own internal struggles as she learns to have courage to do what she needs to do to get by and help her family.

6. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom (Netherlands and Germany)
This memoir of a Dutch woman during World War II was incredibly moving and inspiring. Her faith, and that of her sister, led them to risk everything while trusting that God would be with them, even in the midst of a concentration camp.

7. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (Democratic Republic of the Congo)
The characters in this book are from the United States, but the book is set largely in what was then Belgian Congo. This missionary family thinks they're bringing everything they need with them, but they soon find out that neither their garden nor their Gospel can be wholly transported to another continent and left intact.

8. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (England)
I'm currently reading Never Let Me Go, which reminded me of this other book by Ishiguro that I enjoyed so much. It's an incredibly sweet book told from the perspective of an English butler reflecting over his career and specifically his "strictly professional" (as he keeps insisting) relationship with the housekeeper he worked with for so long.

9. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (China)
This beautiful and painful story of friendship is set in rural 19th-century China. This book is powerful not just for its depictions of friendship, but for its insights into the lives of women at this time and place, something I only knew a little bit about going in.

10. Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi (Japan)
This memoir (written as a novel) tells of the author's experiences at a unique school in Japan in the 1940s where children were encouraged to explore their natural interests and were taught many lessons from everyday experiences. It reminded me a lot of the Ramona Quimby books I loved as a child.

What are some of your favorite books set outside the United States?

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