World Reading Challenge: Books Around The Globe 2024
This year marks the seventh year of the World Reading Challenge! I’ve now been publishing recommended book lists and reading my way around the world for six years running. It’s been an ambitious and fulfilling adventure; one which continues to challenge and inspire me in different ways every year. This year I’m planning to continue this tradition with the World Reading Challenge 2024, by travelling the globe through another selection of international fiction.
Please note: This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
The World Reading Challenge 2024: Background
I first created the World Reading Challenge six years ago to expand my own reading horizons and explore the world through literature. I started by reading books representing all 195 UN member and observer states, and have continued reading international literature ever since. These are the lists I’ve shared (and books I’ve read) in previous years so far:
- World Reading Challenge: Books Around The Globe 2018
- World Reading Challenge: Books Around The Globe 2019
- World Reading Challenge: Books Around The Globe 2020
- World Reading Challenge: Books Around The Globe 2021
- World Reading Challenge: Books By Women 2022
- World Reading Challenge: Books From One Country 2023
The World Reading Challenge 2024: Introduction
I spent all of last year reading novels that were related to one country, Japan. It was an indulgent pleasure to immerse myself in a single place. I loved exploring the diversity (and strangeness!) of stories from a country that I adore so dearly.
But you know what else happened? I started to miss the feeling of exploring many distant lands and cultures through literature, which was the whole point of starting Tale Away in the first place!
So here’s the plan for this year. I’m going back to my roots and diving into literature from around the world again. The only change is the length of the list, I’m starting off with ten titles to ease into things. This leaves room to expand the list throughout the year, and maybe even add in some new releases as they hit the shelves.
How were the books selected?
The list below includes (just some of!) the books I’ve been dying to read. The books are related to their various countries in a number of ways; they are either set there, have characters from there, reflect the culture or are by local authors. The books include perspectives from a variety of authors with many of them penned quite recently. They take into account popularity, awards, reviews, ratings and availability in English.
I hope you’ll find something here to inspire your own reading, or perhaps even join me in reading them all. If you have any must-read recommendations to add this year, let me know in the comments. Hope you have a lovely year of reading ahead! 💖
The World Reading Challenge 2024
Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton, 2019
Brisbane, 1985: A lost father, a mute brother, a junkie mum, a heroin dealer for a stepfather and a notorious crim for a babysitter. It’s not as if Eli Bell’s life isn’t complicated enough already. He’s just trying to follow his heart and understand what it means to be a good man, but fate keeps throwing obstacles in his way – not the least of which is Tytus Broz, legendary Brisbane drug dealer.
But now Eli’s life is going to get a whole lot more serious: he’s about to meet the father he doesn’t remember, break into Boggo Road Gaol on Christmas Day to rescue his mum, come face to face with the criminals who tore his world apart, and fall in love with the girl of his dreams.
The Island of Missing Trees Elif Shafak, 2021
Two teenagers, a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot, meet at a taverna on the island they both call home. In the taverna, hidden beneath garlands of garlic, chili peppers and creeping honeysuckle, Kostas and Defne grow in their forbidden love for each other.
A fig tree stretches through a cavity in the roof, and this tree bears witness to their hushed, happy meetings and eventually, to their silent, surreptitious departures. The tree is there when war breaks out, when the capital is reduced to ashes and rubble, and when the teenagers vanish. Decades later, Kostas returns. He is a botanist looking for native species, but really, he’s searching for lost love.
Palace Walk (The Cairo Trilogy #1) by Naguib Mahfouz, William M. Hutchins and Olive E. Kenny (Translators), 1956
Palace Walk is the first novel in Nobel Prize-winner Naguib Mahfouz’s magnificent Cairo Trilogy, an epic family saga of colonial Egypt that is considered his masterwork. The novels of the Cairo Trilogy trace three generations of the family of tyrannical patriarch al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, who rules his household with a strict hand while living a secret life of self-indulgence. Palace Walk introduces us to his gentle, oppressed wife, Amina, his cloistered daughters, Aisha and Khadija, and his three sons – the tragic and idealistic Fahmy, the dissolute hedonist Yasin, and the soul-searching intellectual Kamal. The family’s trials mirror those of their turbulent country during the years spanning the two world wars, as change comes to a society that has resisted it for centuries.
Honor by Thrity Umrigar, 2022
Indian American journalist Smita has returned to India to cover a story, but reluctantly: long ago she and her family left the country with no intention of ever coming back. As she follows the case of Meena — a Hindu woman attacked by members of her own village and her own family for marrying a Muslim man — Smita comes face to face with a society where tradition carries more weight than one’s own heart, and a story that threatens to unearth the painful secrets of Smita’s own past.
While Meena’s fate hangs in the balance, Smita tries in every way she can to right the scales. She also finds herself increasingly drawn to Mohan, an Indian man she meets while on assignment. But the dual love stories of Honor are as different as the cultures of Meena and Smita themselves: Smita realizes she has the freedom to enter into a casual affair, knowing she can decide later how much it means to her.
Beauty Is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan, Annie Tucker (Translator), 2002
The epic novel Beauty Is a Wound combines history, satire, family tragedy, legend, humor, and romance in a sweeping polyphony. The beautiful Indo prostitute Dewi Ayu and her four daughters are beset by incest, murder, bestiality, rape, insanity, monstrosity, and the often vengeful undead. Kurniawan’s gleefully grotesque hyperbole functions as a scathing critique of his young nation’s troubled past: the rapacious offhand greed of colonialism; the chaotic struggle for independence; the 1965 mass murders of perhaps a million “Communists,” followed by three decades of Suharto’s despotic rule.
How to Say Babylon by Safiya Sinclair, 2023
Throughout her childhood, Safiya Sinclair’s father, a volatile reggae musician and militant adherent to a strict sect of Rastafari, became obsessed with her purity, in particular, with the threat of what Rastas call Babylon, the immoral and corrupting influences of the Western world outside their home. He worried that womanhood would make Safiya and her sisters morally weak and impure, and believed a woman’s highest virtue was her obedience.
In an effort to keep Babylon outside the gate, he forbade almost everything. In place of pants, the women in her family were made to wear long skirts and dresses to cover their arms and legs, head wraps to cover their hair, no make-up, no jewelry, no opinions, no friends. Safiya’s mother, while loyal to her father, nonetheless gave Safiya and her siblings the gift of books, including poetry, to which Safiya latched on for dear life. And as Safiya watched her mother struggle voicelessly for years under housework and the rigidity of her father’s beliefs, she increasingly used her education as a sharp tool with which to find her voice and break free.
What You Are Looking For Is in the Library by Michiko Aoyama, Alison Watts (Translator), 2020
What are you looking for?
This is the famous question routinely asked by Tokyo’s most enigmatic librarian, Sayuri Komachi. Like most librarians, Komachi has read every book lining her shelves — but she also has the unique ability to read the souls of her library guests. For anyone who walks through her door, Komachi can sense exactly what they’re looking for in life and provide just the book recommendation they never knew they needed to help them find it.
Each visitor comes to her library from a different juncture in their careers and dreams, from the restless sales attendant who feels stuck at her job to the struggling working mother who longs to be a magazine editor. The conversation that they have with Sayuri Komachi — and the surprise book she lends each of them — will have life-altering consequences.
The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas, Michael Barnes and Torbjorn Stoverud (Translators), 1957
With spare simplicity, Vesaas’ novel tells the tale of Mattis, a mentally disabled man cared for by his lonely older sister, Hege. Their routine, isolated existence is interrupted when a lumberjack arrives at their lakeside cottage and falls in love with Hege, leaving Mattis fearful that he will lose his sister. The careful translation from the Norwegian underscores Vesaas’s rare sensitivity in recording Mattis’s often insightful view of his world. With a limited understanding of the unpredictable power of nature, Mattis nonetheless turns to the elements to discover the answers — with unsettling results.
Welcome to the Hyunam-Dong Bookshop by Hwang Bo-reum, Shanna Tan (Translator), 2022
Yeongju is burned out. With her high–flying career, demanding marriage, and busy life in Seoul, she knows she should feel successful, but all she feels is drained. Yet an abandoned dream nags at her, and in a leap of faith, she leaves her old life behind. Quitting her job and divorcing her husband, Yeongju moves to a small residential neighborhood outside the city, where she opens the Hyunam-dong Bookshop.
For the first few months, all Yeongju does is cry, deterring visitors. But the long hours in the shop give her time to mull over what makes a good bookseller and store, and as she starts to read hungrily, host author events, and develop her own bookselling philosophy; she begins to ease into her new setting. Surrounded by friends, writers, and the books that connect them all, she finds her new story as the Hyunam-dong Bookshop transforms into an inviting space for lost souls to rest, heal, and remember that it’s never too late to scrap the plot and start again.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, 2019
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one’s own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard.
What do you think of the World Reading Challenge 2024?
Have you already read some of these titles? Do you have a recommendation for a great country and book to add? What are you planning to read this year? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the World Reading Challenge 2024 in the comments below.