About seven years ago, during my exchange in Barcelona, I started setting goals. I was away from friends and family, everything around me was new, and I had an opportunity to reinvent myself. One of my goals was to read more.
I loved reading as a kid, but with my studies, friends, sports, and Netflix, reading hadn’t been much of a habit anymore.
Initially, I started with a goal of 12 books per year. This goal gradually increased over time, I eventually settled on around 25 books per year.
Because I enjoy learning, the majority of books were non-fiction. Throughout the years, this shifted to a 50/50 split between fiction and non-fiction. Where non-fiction teaches about specific topics, novels tend to teach more about life in general.
As I love traveling and learning, novels have been a great way to study life from people who grew up in different environments than myself. Getting a better understanding of the world and others is one of the reasons most of these works belong to international authors.
For 2021, my top 5 international books were:
As the story draws her in, she becomes more and more curious about its author. When she decides to reach out to him, an intimate relationship soon develops, drastically changing the way she’s been living her life.
The book alternates between Ella’s novel and her real life. Although her life story is not the most intriguing, the one about Rumi is. I didn’t know much about the 13th-century poet, but Shafak’s novel felt like a great introduction. The visual account of Rumi’s life led me to buy the actual poems. Moreover, the historical context made it much easier to grasp the message.
Circles in a Forest is a high school mandatory read in South Africa, so a guaranteed way to connect to people. I loved the historical aspect, the mystical forest, and the coming of age story of someone trying to succeed despite not being understood and respected. Thanks to my South African colleague, Melissa, for the tip!
During his childhood, a Peruvian translator living in Paris falls madly in love with Lily. Lily is mainly unavailable to him but keeps reappearing in his life for short periods of intense passion, followed by heartbreak and misery. The Dutch title, “The Unattainable Girl,” does a better job of honoring the story: an uncommon, almost impossible, but beautiful love story.
Already as a child, she opposed a male-dominated society. That resistance only grew when she saw the destructive effects of oppressive and patriarchal practices as a doctor.
In 1981, Saadawi co-published a feminist magazine called Confrontation, which led to her arrest by President Sadat. She later encountered more hostility and had to flee Egypt in 1993.
“Woman at Point Zero,” tells the life story of Firdaus, a strong woman facing the injustices of society reigned by patriarchal oppression. Although it’s a short read, only 128 pages, it’s a heartfelt and inspiring story that cannot leave you unmoved.
The novel tells the story of Juan Guillermo, a young kid growing up in a tough neighborhood in Mexico City. His brother, who runs a couple of businesses (including a drug one), gets killed by a group of religious fanatics. Not much later, his parents die in a car crash. Now an orphan, Juan wants revenge against the people who took his family away from him.
The Untamable is an excellent piece by Guillermo Arriaga, author of the famous book Amores Perros (and accompanying movie by Mexican director Alejandro Iñárritu). The story seems almost biographical and contains too much truth to be fictional, which is not surprising. Arriaga grew up in Mexico City and lost his sense of smell at 13 during a street fight. He knows what he’s talking about, and as a reader, you feel that throughout the book.
Some international books I read that didn’t make it to the top 5, but might be worth checking out anyway are: