An Around the World Reading Challenge of books set in each country is the perfect challenge for avid readers looking to expand their horizons and track the countries about which they read at the same time.
As a reader of 100-200 books per year myself, I was disappointed in how few countries I have read books about to date (and also how many countries I never even heard of — really!) If you’re in the same boat as me, this is all the more reason to challenge yourself.
Of note, this is the type of challenge that I don’t see as limited to a particular time or limiting you from participating in multiple challenges. You can easily do another challenge (or just read as you wish) and check off more countries as you read.
Get a FREE PDF to track your Around the World Reading Challenge
Around the World Reading Challenge
Below is a full list of countries in the world and the books I recommend for the countries about which I have read. I will continue to update this list over time, so I would recommend you bookmark it.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple – One of my favorite character-driven novels about a quirky, artsy woman bound by the constraints of modern family life, who escapes to Antarctica to find herself again.
Antigua and Barbuda
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – The reader knows someone is dead at the outset, and the novel unfolds who it is and who’s responsible in this popular ensemble character story of parents keeping secrets and behaving badly.
The Dry by Jane Harper – Instant New York Times bestseller in which Federal Agent Aaron Falk returns to his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend and tries to uncover what happened to him amidst decades of secrets and a steadfast drought.
The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams – In 1941, Lulu arrives to investigate British royalty — the Governor and his wife — for a New York society magazine. As she infiltrates their social circle, she uncovers evidence of treasonous reality involving spies, financial swindles, and racial tension. There’s a notorious murder, a love affair, and a mysterious disappearance in this captivating historical fiction.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue – An Oprah’s Book Club pick I ADORED and often recommend, about Cameroonian immigrants chasing the American Dream, and how it plays out for them as immigrants and the wealthy Americans for whom they work during the collapse of Lehman Brothers.
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery – When I think of Canadian books, I can’t help but picture the beloved red-headed, freckle-faced Anne Shirley and her youthful shenanigans.
Central African Republic
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck – An Oprah’s book club pick and Pulitzer Prize winner I read in high school about a vanished China and one farming family’s shifting fortunes, caught in the history of 1920s China.
Infinite Country is a fresh and captivating account of immigration. After committing an act of violence, Talia is trying to get out of a correctional facility for girls in Colombia. Her father and a plane ticket to the United States are waiting for her to finally be reunited with her family. And how this family came to occupy two countries is an immersive story, from numerous perspectives, of a chain of actions in itself.
Congo, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the
When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleton – A Reese’s Book Club pick, and one of the top sellers on my blog about the Cuban Revolution and a suspenseful tale of familial espionage and forbidden love, learned by a modern woman in Cuba.
The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking – A delightfully illustrated book about how to achieve happiness through Danish secrets about the atmosphere and an experience, such as cozy living. Think: fluffy socks and candles.
Dominicana by Angie Cruz – A harrowing Good Morning America Book Club pick about a 15-year-old girl who marries and immigrates to America. She is miserable, but the Dominican Republic is also in political turmoil, causing her husband to return to their home country for some time, as she tries to build a life in New York.
East Timor (Timor-Leste)
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – When I think of France I always think of this beloved, emotional, #1 New York Times bestseller about sisters struggling to survive in Nazi-occupied France — one of the best books about WW2.
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay – Another remarkable WW2 book about the 1942 Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup and a young girl’s brother left behind in a cupboard after her family is brutally arrested by the French police.
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly – One of my favorite books and a New York Times bestseller, this shocking book sheds light on the abuse of women imprisoned at the Ravensbruck concentration camp in WW2, and the hope that sprung from the ashes thereafter.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut – The unforgettable WW2 classic on the Rory Gilmore book list about the bombing of Dresden. This is fictional Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time, searching for meaning in the deepest fears.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – is a New York Times Notable Book, one of Oprah’s Best Books of the Year and a PEN/Hemingway award winner. In 18th century Ghana, two half-sisters are born into different villages, unaware of each other. One marries an Englishman and moves to the Cape Coast Castle, while the other is captured and imprisoned in the castle, then sold into slavery. This book follows the lineage of these sisters through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. It explores the legacy of slavery from different perspectives in ways that are absolutely exceptional and unforgettable.
A Burning by Megha Majumdar – A Read with Jenna Book Club pick about a Muslim girl from the slums, who is determined to move up in life until she is accused of a terrorist attack on a train because of a careless social media comment. Her story intersects with two other locals amidst the political landscape of modern India.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne – Named Book of the Month Club’s Book of the Year in 2017, this book is the history of modern Ireland, told through the colorful lens of a gay man named Cyril Avery and a cast of unforgettable characters, including the birth mother who was forced to give him up.
Normal People by Sally Rooney – The popular New York Times bestseller and one of my favorite love stories about the push and pull relationship between a young university couple, with very fractured personal lives.
The Guest List by Lucy Foley – A Reese’s Book Club pick and one of my favorite thrillers about a death at a wedding on the Irish coast, wherein everyone is a suspect and the deceased is not known until the end.
A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum – A harrowing, page-turner that was a Read With Jenna Book Club pick and a New York Times bestseller, about a modern teen learning the truth behind the death of her mother and her family’s secrets after her mother was forced to leave Israel for an arranged marriage in the United States.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante – A master class in character writing and my favorite book, about two poor young girls in 1950s Italy, one of whom becomes educated and the other who does not, with themes of gender, class and violence.
From Scratch by Tembi Locke – A Reese’s Book Club pick and one of the top sellers on my blog, this is a heartfelt memoir of a Black American actress who weds a Sicilian chef. After his untimely death, she returns to Italy to make amends with his family and find “home.”
Micronesia, Federated States of
Meet Me in Monaco by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb – Historical fiction about the blooming friendship between a perfumer and a British photographer amidst the backdrop of American actress Grace Kelly’s wedding to Prince Rainier.
The Girl in White Gloves by Kerri Maher – A historical fiction account of the life of Grace Kelly and her ascension to the throne in Monaco, as well as her life after marriage.
The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare – A beloved Read with Jenna Book Club pick and instant New York Times bestseller about a loveable young modern Nigerian girl who desperately wants an education but is married off and must learn to find her voice in the world.
My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite – Nominated for the 2019 Booker Prize, winner of the LA Times Book Prize for mystery/thriller and Women’s Prize, this book is the compulsively readable story about how far a woman will go to protect a murderous sister amidst a Nigerian backdrop.
Papua New Guinea
Night by Elie Wiesel – An Oprah’s Book Club pick on the Rory Gilmore book list, this winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is the poignant autobiographical account of survival as a teenager in the Nazi death camps.
We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter – You’ll never believe this New York Times bestselling story of one Polish family’s insurmountable struggle for survival against all odds during WW2 was based on the true story of the author’s family.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – A book I still think about, this is the popular 1920s story of a man sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin, as he finds community under close quarters in the decades to come.
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Sao Tome and Principe
Hum If You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais – In Apartheid South Africa, a young and charismatic ten-year-old White orphaned girl befriends a fifty-year-old Black woman searching for her daughter, amidst violence, loss, and severe racial tensions that should tear them apart. The characters are memorable — their dialogue as real and nuanced as that of Truman Capote — and the story will tug at your heart.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho – The modern classic fable of an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns travels in search of a worldly treasure and learns about self-discovery and following his dreams. The Alchemist’s quotes have made more impact on me than any other book I have read to date.
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway- The classic on the Rory Gilmore book list about the Lost Generation, as Brett and Jake journey from the nightlife of 1920s Paris to the bullfighting rings of Spain with a group of expatriates.
Beartown (and the sequel Us Against You) by Fredrik Backman – One of my favorite books about Winter, this popular book is basically Friday Night Lights about hockey, as a Swedish community is bound by secrets and crime as they vie for a championship. For more, read my full review of Beartown and the sequel, Us Against You.
The Snows of Kilimanjaro is the classic Ernest Hemingway short story in which a man confronts death and regret after a minor injury goes haywire and he becomes stranded in Tanzania. It’s filled with symbolism you won’t soon forget, and is an absolute must read.
Trinidad and Tobago
United Arab Emirates
Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen – I can’t think of a book more British than this classic love story on the Rory Gilmore book list about the hate to love relationship of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. Superfan can check out my Jane Austen gift guide.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – One of my favorite thrillers that’s on the Rory Gilmore book list, about a naïve woman who marries a wealthy widow and finds his estate to be haunted by the memory of his deceased wife and the secrets surrounding her death.
United States of America
Where do I begin?! Check out my United States of America reading challenge for recommendations by state.
Vatican City (Holy See)
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien – A memorable account of the men who fought in the Vietnam War and the redemptive power of telling their unique stories.
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