Five Eye-Opening Books Set Outside the U.S.

Friday, May 5, 2017


I've been saying lately that having a child has killed my travel bug. The thought of dealing with a toddler on a long flight, fighting jet lag, and needing to take into account naps and early bedtimes makes me too exhausted to even want to take James to a different country.

But I don't want to stop learning about new countries and cultures, so I've compiled a list of some wonderful books that take place outside the U.S. In these books I've been exposed to ideas that have helped me savor the breadth of experience in human lives.


1. Marching Powder by Rusty Young
Thomas McFadden, a British citizen, is the center of this book. He is in the Bolivian prison San Pedro for drug smuggling, and experiences a bizarre form of freedom where inmates buy their cells, are able to have their families live with them, and can go on supervised visits to the outside world. It is a fascinating look at an inner world I knew nothing about.

2. My Life in France  by Julia Child
Julia Child's life was unfamiliar to me before reading this book, and I was amazed to learn that she didn't begin cooking until her late 30s, when she moved to France with her husband. Her book is full of great descriptions of food and France in the 1950s, and it is inspiring to read about her strong relationships with friends and family.

3. Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick
When I was 14, my family visited South Korea, including the DMZ, where I was able peer out at North Korea. Ever since then I have been fascinated by North Korea and the little bit we know about life there. This book helped quench my thirst for North Korea stories, as the author interviews six people who defected to South Korea and learns what their lives were like before they came. The reality of their experiences is a little hard to take sometimes, but I came away a more well-rounded person after reading it.

4. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
This is an incredible novel describing pre-and post-colonial life in Nigeria. It is rare that a book adequately describes what different areas in Africa looked like before European colonists came, and this one gives a vivid picture into the lives and traditions of the people. This book is on my 'best novels' list because it is thought-provoking and unique.

5. Japan at War by Haruko Taya Cook and Theodore Failor Cook
In general, I'm not really a fan of WWII books, but I was convinced to try this one after Brock read it for a college class and assured me I would love it. He was so right; I lived and breathed this book and could barely tear myself away to do anything else. It's a collection of firsthand accounts of Japanese people during WWII. You'll read about soldiers who almost completed suicide missions, officers training others about beheadings, children exposed to the atomic bomb, and so much more.

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