What To Read In 2018: International Edition
“The more that you read, the more things you’ll know. The more things you know, the more places you’ll go.” Dr. Seuss.
The editors at Freely Magazine have compiled a list of books written by a diverse mix of international authors that we wish to share with you. Each of these books have changed the way we think and understand different cultures, and we hope they do the same for you. Reading books written by authors from a country or culture different than your own allows for a deeper understanding of the human experience, and one that spans borders, boundaries, and perceived cultural barriers. So, the next time you’re at the library or in a bookstore, try picking up a book written by a writer from a country, culture, or community that’s different than your own. While we recommend the books below for their clarity, relatability, and originality, there’s thousands upon thousands of other books to choose from, each one offering just a little bit more insight into the big, confusing, and beautiful world around us.
By: The Editors
Il Conformista (The Conformist)
Writer: Alberto Moravia (Italy)
This fascinating book takes its readers back in time to Italy during the time of Mussolini, one of the world’s most infamous and brutal dictators. Marcello Clerici, the book’s main character, is employed in the Mussolini regime’s “secret service” corps, and is asked to travel abroad to France to orchestrate the assassination of his old professor. Marcello’s journey is marked by inner turmoil, as he tries to decide whether to obey orders or spare the life of his professor. He is motivated by a deep desire to not stand out, but instead to be comfortably invisible, cloaked in a sense of normalcy, and obedient to his superiors. But his values are challenged as he confronts the moral dilemma of murdering his kind and intelligent professor-mentor.
Though published in 1951, the book touches on progressive topics such as feminism and sexuality, while diving deep into the complicated subjects of morality, conformity, authoritarianism, dissent, and normalcy. Moravia’s novel resonates with the modern reader, creating a timeless masterpiece that continues to teach us about what makes us unique as humans, and why we sometimes fear being different.
Be sure to watch the Bernardo Bertolucci film based off of the book, (also called The Conformist)
Writer: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria)
Adichie’s widely-acclaimed third novel follows the story of Ifemelu, a Nigerian student who moves to Philadelphia to attend college. The book is a manifesto on the challenges of being an international student, the peculiar ways in which Americans approach race, and how moving to a new country can change the way one views their home country. Adichie’s voice is powerful, combative, and politically charged, forcing the reader to think deeply about their assumptions and behaviors.
Ifemelu, in many ways, represents the myriad challenges that international students, students of color, and young women face in the United States. Ifemelu’s determination in the face of immense challenge is a testament to her dynamism as a character and her resilience as a young woman of color slowly becoming aware of how much race, gender, and class impacts her life. Through Ifemelu, Adichie criticizes both the United States and Nigeria, but in very distinct ways. For American readers, the book gives much-needed perspective as to the experience of immigrant students. For Nigerian readers, the book offers a controversial view on the future of Nigeria as it becomes ever-more prosperous and globally connected. For other readers around the world, the book tells the story of a strong, determined, and intelligent woman being perpetually challenged by the world around and against her. This is a book that should be on EVERY reader’s bookshelf.
This Brave New World
Writer: Anja Manuel (USA)
This highly informative non-fiction book by former U.S. Department of State Special Assistant Anja Manuel tells the fascinating story of the economic rise of China and India, and how their newly outsized roles in the world will change the course of the current world order. Though dense, the book is a must-read for anyone interested in the inner workings of the global economy. This Brave New World leaves the reader with a comprehensive understanding of the future of international relations, as well as the history of China and India that have helped shaped a new world order.
Writer: Saleem Haddad (Lebanon/Palestine/Iraq/Germany)
Saleem Haddad’s debut novel is about the life of a gay man named Rasa living in an unnamed but highly oppressive Arab country. Rasa moves to the United States to attend college, where he hopes he will finally be able to openly identify as gay and start a new life for himself. But he is unexpectedly faced with the concomitant challenge of being an Arab in post-9/11 America, and finds that most of his time is spent making sense of his “Arabness” and less time making sense of his sexuality. Haddad’s honesty and rawness in the book leaves the reader with an emotionally charged understanding of the challenges of being gay in a homophobic country, which is something that readers residing in relatively tolerant countries often forget.
In a larger sense, the book explores the challenges of being different, and operating in contrast to the country around you. Haddad’s international identity, with a Lebanese-Palestinian father and an Iraqi-German mother, gives the book a global relatability that both gay and straight readers around the world can resonate with. In a world that is experiencing rapid social and cultural change, Guapa tells the intimate story of the lives that are directly affected by that change, and his voice in the story is evidence of a widening openness to underrepresented stories.
A Thousand Splendid Suns
Writer: Khaled Hosseini (Afghanistan)
You’ve probably heard of The Kite Runner, Hosseini’s best-selling debut, but it’s companion, A Thousand Splendid Suns, offers a different perspective through the eyes of Afghan women. The story follows Mariam and Laila, two women suffering from the constraints of a patriarchal society, and how their lives become connected throughout the Afghan War. Hosseini exploits the dramatic wartime setting to comment on the connection between human identity and home. Despite death and destruction, Afghanistan is their home.
As an American, reading about how the war affected Afghans on a daily basis was an insightful look outside of mainstream American media. Behind news clips of rebel fighters and exploding bombs, there are civilians just trying to live simple lives.
Life of Pi
Writer: Yann Martel (Spain/Canada)
Life of Pi follows Piscine Patel, an Indian boy who is immigrating to Canada on a Japanese freighter with his family and the animals from their zoo. When the ship sinks, Pi is left to fend for himself with only a few supplies, a lifeboat, and several zoo animals. His ability to satisfy his basic needs while keeping the animals at bay leads to thrilling life-or-death decisions throughout. While survival is at the heart of the story, Pi’s exploration of religion and believability is the more compelling question that causes the reader to probe into their own sense of spirituality. Following the practices of Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism, Pi chooses to see the similarities instead of the differences in the way we practice religion. Insightful and exciting, Life of Pi touches the reader in unexpected ways and uses its austere setting to pinpoint internal and external struggles.
Writer: Paulo Coelho (Brazil)
The Alchemist is a fairy tale about Santiago, a young Spanish shepherd who goes on a quest to fulfil his personal legend after having recurring dreams about it and meeting the King of Salem who tells him that he should go. Santiago sells his sheep and buys a ticket to North Africa. Shortly after arriving, all his money is stolen, forcing him to stay in Tangier and find a job in order to survive. During that time he learns to speak Arabic.
After a year he resumes his journey towards the pyramids. He encounters a variety of people who all teach him lessons and help him better understand his surroundings. The two most important people he meets are Fatima, whom he falls in love with, and the Alchemist, who will teach Santiago the ways of alchemy.
I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai (Pakistan)
When Malala was shot by the Taliban in 2012, she suddenly got the attention of the entire world. Celebrities, politicians and millions of people began supporting her. When she recovered from the gunshot, she had to adjust to a new country where she had been transported to receive better medical treatment. If you have not heard her story before, you might wonder why the Taliban shot her and why millions felt concerned about what happened her.
Malala was born and raised in Pakistan. During her childhood, the Taliban took over the country and they began limiting women’s rights. As a teenager, Malala began publicly speaking out against the Taliban, and doing so on national television. She kept going despite death threats. She was only 15 years old when the Taliban shot her on a bus, returning home from school.
She has kept fighting after arriving in England and has since become the youngest nobel prize winner.