Monday, 5 November 2012

Books about Reunion & worldwide literature

[Updated January 2019]

A recent exchange with Ann Morgan, who's currently reading her way round the world, got me thinking about Reunion Island books in English. As far as I'm aware, with the exception of 'Bourbon Island 1730', the list I came up with contains only books that I have been written directly in English and not translated. In fact as far as I know there are no English translations of books by well-known Reunionese authors like Daniel Vaxelaire or Axel Gauvin, although the latter's books have been translated into German.

Books about Reunion I haven't read myself (but which are all on my Bookmooch wish list!):
  • Reunion: An Island in Search of an Identity by Laurent Medea
  • Monsters and Revolutionaries: Colonial Family Romance and Metissage by Françoise Verges
  • Island Born Of Fire: Volcano Piton de la Fournaise by Dr Robert B. Trembly

Books I've read myself:
I've written reviews of all of the above books.

Also: Bonnes Vacances!: A Crazy Family Adventure in the French Territories by Rosie Millard is about a 4 month tour of the DOM-TOMs Rosie made with her husband and four young children to make a documentary series for the Travel Channel ("Croissants in the Jungle"). Its final chapter covers Réunion (briefly); see my review of the book here.

In the introduction I mentioned Ann Morgan who is currently reading her way around as many of the globe’s 196 independent countries as she can, sampling one book from every nation. (She's also recently included a Rest of The World wildcard section, hence our exchange about Reunion Island). However as she asked herself: what counts as a story? Is it by a person born in that place? Is it written in the country? Can it be about another nation state? While in some respects she's still answering that question she had to lay down her terms and so decided to limit herself to all narratives that could be read to full effect by one reader on their own e.g. memoirs, novels, short stories, novellas, biographies, narrative poems and reportage, but not non-narrative poetry and plays.

It got me wondering about which countries I'd already read literature from, and after a quick tour of my bookshelves (and my memory!) this is the (non-exhaustive) list I came up with, in English and French:

  • Brazil - Rouge Brésil [Brazil Red] - Jean-Christophe Rufin [Setting; Author is French]
  • Burma - The Piano Tuner - Daniel Mason [Setting; Author is British]
  • Cameroon - La saison de l'ombre - Léonora Miano [Author/Setting] (added November 2013)
  • Canada - Where White Horses Gallop - Beatrice McNeil [Author/Setting]
  • Central African Republic - Princesse aux Pieds Nu - Evelyne Durieux [Author/Setting]
  • Chile - Ten Women by Marcela Serrano (translated by Beth Fowler) [Author/Setting]

  • China - Leaving Mother Lake: A Childhood at the Edge of the World - Yang Erche Namu [Author/Setting]
  • Czech Republic - L'Insoutenable légèreté de l'être [The Unbearable Lightness of Being] - Milan Kundera [Author/Setting]
  • Cuba - Our Man In Havana - Graham Greene [Setting; Author was British]
  • Democratic Republic of Congo - The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver [Setting; Author is American]
  • Denmark (& Greenland) - Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow - Peter Høeg [Author/Setting]
  • Egypt - Woman at Point Zero - Nawal El Saadawi (translated by Sherif Hetata) [Author/Setting]
  • French Polynesia (Tahiti) - Breadfruit: A Novel - Célestine Hitiura Vaite [Author/Setting] [August 2014 - I read the French translation L'Arbre à Pain by Henri Theureau]
  • Germany - The Book Thief - Markus Zusak [Setting; Author is Australian]
  • Haiti - Island Beneath the Sea - Isabel Allende (translated by Margaret Sayers Peden) [Setting; Author is Chilean American]

  • Hawaii - Comfort Woman - Nora Okja Keller [Author/Setting]
  • Hungary - The White King - György Dragomán (translated by Paul Olchváry) [Author/Setting]
  • Iceland - L'homme du Lac [The Draining Lake] - Arnaldur Indridason (translated by Eric Boury) [Author/Setting]
  • India - A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry [Author/Setting]
  • Indonesia - Krakatoa - Simon Winchester [Setting; Author is British]
  • (Inner) Mongolia - Wolf Totem - Jiang Rong (translated by Howard Goldblatt) [Author/Setting]
  • Iran - Jamais Sans Ma Fille [Not Without My Daughter] - Betty Mahmoody [Author/Setting]
  • Ireland - Angela's Ashes - Franck McCourt [Author/Setting]
  • Israel - The Red Tent - Anita Diamant [Setting; Author is American]
  • Italy - The Baron in the Trees - Italo Calvino (translated by Archibald Colquhoun) [Author/Setting]
  • Jamaica (& Dominica) - Wide Sargasso Sea - Jean Rhys [Author/Setting]
  • Japan - Out - Natsuo Kirino [Author/Setting]
  • Kiribati - Paradis [avant liquidation] - Julien Blanc-Gras [Setting; Author is French] (June 2014)

  • Lebanon - The Fifth Mountain - Paulo Coelho [Setting; Author is Brazilian]
  • Madagascar - Muddling Through In Madagascar - Dervla Murphy [Setting; Author is Irish]
  • Malaysia (Borneo) - My Life in Sarawak - Margaret Brooke [Author/Setting]
  • Mauritania - Le Tambour des Larmes - Beyrouk [Author/Setting] [added January 2019]
  • Mauritius - Paul & Virginie - Bernardin de St Pierre [Setting; Author was French]
  • Mayotte - Mon Mari Est Plus Qu'un Fou : C'est Un Homme - Nassur Attoumani [Author/Setting] 
  • Mexico - Like Water for Chocolate - Laura Esquivel (translated by Carol and Thomas Christensen) [Author/Setting] [added January 2019]
  • Netherlands - Girl with a Pearl Earring - Tracy Chevalier [Setting; Author is American]
  • New Zealand - Behind Closed Doors - Ngaire Thomas [Author/Setting]
  • Nigeria - Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe [Author/Setting]
  • North Korea - The Aquariums of Pyongyang - Kang Chol-Hwan [Author/Setting]
  • Norway - Sophie's World - Jostein Gaarder (translated by Paulette Møller) [Author/Setting]
  • Pakistan - The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Hamid [Author/Setting]
  • Peru - The Bad Girl - Mario Vargas Llosa (translated by Edith Grossman) [Author/Setting (two out of seven chapters take place in Peru)] [added January 2018]
  • Rodrigues - Voyage à Rodrigues - JMG Le Clezio [Setting; Author is French]
  • Russia - Dans Les Forets de Sibérie - Sylvain Tesson [Setting; Author is French]
  • Seychelles - Travelling Hopefully - Maggie Makepeace [Setting; Author is British]
  • Sierra Leone - A Long Way GoneIshmael Beah [Author/Setting]
  • South Africa - Disgrace - JM Coetzee [Author/Setting]
  • South Korea - Who Ate Up All The Shinga? - Park Wan-Suh (translated by Yu Young-nan) [Author/Setting]
  • Spain - The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafón [Author/Setting]
  • Sweden - Millennium Trilogy - Steig Larsson (translated by 'Reg Kreeland') [Author/Setting]
  • Tibet - Voyage d'une Parisienne à Lhassa [My Journey to Lhasa] - Alexandra David-Néel [Setting; Author was French]
  • Trinidad  - A House for Mr Biswas by V.S. Naipaul [Author/Setting]
  • Tromelin - Les Naufrages de l'ïle Tromelin - Irène Frain [Setting; Author is French]
  • Turkey - My Name Is Red - Orhan Pamuk (translated by Erdağ Göknar) [Author/Setting]
  • United Arab Emirates - The Wink of the Mona Lisa and other stories from the Gulf - Mohammad Al Murr (translated from the Arabic by Jack Briggs) [Author/Setting] [October 2015]
  • Uzbekistan (& Iran) - Samarcande [Samarkand] - Amin Maalouf [Setting; Author is from Lebanon]
  • Vietnam - L'Amant [The Lover] - Marguerite Duras [Author/Setting]
  • Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia) - The Grass is Singing - Doris Lessing [Author/Setting]  [August 2014]


  • I've arbitrarily excluded the UK, France and the USA as I've read so many books from these countries I'd have trouble choosing just one!
  • If I've read several books from a country I've generally just listed my favourite.
  • I've also taken liberties by listing some non-independent regions (e.g. Rodrigues, Hawaii, Tibet, Tromelin).
  • I excluded some books (such as Ann Patchett's Bel Canto, or William Boyd's African novels) that take place in unidentified countries.
  • I also excluded books (such as Elie Wiesel's Night) whose action takes place in several countries.
  • If I've read a book in French but an English translation exists I've added the English title in brackets [].
  • I've included books not written by natives of the country in question.

My conclusions:

I have vast swathes of the planet where I haven't read any literature from, for example South America or the Pacific! Places like South East Asia or Central Asia are patchy too. Although I list Paul Coelho and Isabel Allende the books of theirs that I read were not set in their native countries. And despite living and travelling for three years in Asia I've mainly read Korean books (North and South) but very little from the many other countries we travelled to in the region. I need to broaden my horizons even more.

What about you? Do you enjoy reading books from other countries? Do you have any books to recommend? Is literature from your native (or adopted) country easy to find in English?

P.S. Here's the link to Ann Morgan's site: A Year Of Reading The World. Other reading around the world blogs I've come across are: Reading the WorldThe Rushlight List and World Lit Up.

This post originally appeared on A Smart Translator's Reunion.

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