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The Bestsellers that the Locals Read

Whether you buy books as gifts for other people, for yourself for your vacations, or as a way of educating or broadening your mind every day, books can tell us a lot about the context and culture of the country they were written in. History has established the types of literature we read and write, and we can learn a lot about different times and places from losing ourselves in them.

If you enjoy reading and are interested in different cultures, this article is for you! We asked individuals from all over the world to tell us about a famous book from their country that has been translated into English.

Here’s what they said:

1. Former Yugoslavia - The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andrić

This book was actually submitted by two of our friends abroad! As former parts of Yugoslavia, both Bosnia & Herzegovina and Serbia feel pride in this historical novel. This is not odd, because it earned Andrić the Nobel prize for Literature in 1961.

The book tells stories of Ottoman times, surrounding a beautiful bridge in Višegrad, Bosnia. Across three-and-a-half centuries we read about life, love and death, and safety and risks, all centered towards the countless lives revolving around the bridge.

We learn about a workman opposing the construction of the bridge, the woman trying to escape a loveless marriage and a gambler who risks everything in a last game on the bridge.

According to our friends, The Bridge on the Drina is a great example of Andrić’s profound knowledge of human nature and the timelessness of the issues he wrote about. Few people in the region have not read the book, and with all of it being interesting and well-written, its readers widely discus which part is the best.

2. Italy - My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

My Brilliant Friend is a New York Times bestseller that has even been adapted into an HBO series. It is considered a modern Italian literary masterpiece and is actually a tetralogy (4-part series).

We read about the lives of two friends, Elena and Lila, who grow up in a working class neighborhood near Naples in the postwar 1950s. The novel opens with the revelation that Lila has disappeared. Her childhood friend, Elena, decides to tell Lila’s story, and as a reader we are guided through their story of friendship and the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that clearly influence the lives of the two women.

“I highly recommend this book to explore human feelings, Italian history, and most of all, to get to know my hometown Naples a little bit better. It’s a true masterpiece!”. What a way to really dive into the Italian culture of that time.  

3. Morocco - For Bread Alone by Mohamed Choukri

Originally known as Al-khoubz Al-hafi, For Bread Alone is an autobiographical novel, that describes the excessive poverty Choukri has had to go through. While the author himself only learned to read and write at the age of twenty, his novel is described as being extremely real and pure, and even famous playwright Tennessee Williams (The Glass Menagerie) called his work a “A true document of human desperation, shattering in its impact”. Mohamed and his family are driven from their homes because of the famine. Eight of his siblings die of malnutrition and neglect, and Mohamed decides to go and look for his own fortune. But it is nowhere to be found, and we are confronted with the reality of the world of drugs and criminality.

“A naked text, in the truth of the lived, in the simplicity of the first emotions.”

4. Romania - Bengal Nights by Mircea Eliade

This magnificent story is set in Calcutta in the 1930’s. The novel is written by the Romanian Mircea Eliade and is based on her own experiences. The book tells the tale of a young and ambitious French engineer who moves to India. There he is confronted with the many differences between the French and Indian cultures. He is invited to the home of one of his Indian senior colleagues, and encounters his beautiful daughter, Maitreyi. He falls in love and they start a relationship that does not align with Indian society’s rules. The story of a romance that is not allowed to be. It is a work of great intellectual and emotional power. 

5. Australia - The happiest Refugee by Anh Do

Anh Do is a popular Australian comedian who also writes, acts, and paints (some people can really do it all!). His bestselling book The Happiest Refugee is extremely funny and heartfelt. It mainly talks about his family’s experiences when they moved to Australia as refugees from Vietnam. Georgie, from Australia, told us: “ I am proud of my multicultural country and that people from many different backgrounds have shaped our national character. This book is a great read and also helps people to understand the different experiences people from Australia have had, and what it means to be Australian”.

6. The Netherlands - The Vanishing by Tim Krabbé

The Vanishing is a very short thriller novel from the Dutch writer Tim Krabbé. The story is about a couple going on vacation. When they stop at a gas station in France, the woman goes to get something to drink. She never returns and nobody knows where she is. The man is completely broken and dedicates his life to looking for her. One day a chemistry teacher contacts him. Slowly the mystery of the vanishing is unraveled.

It’s a thrilling story with a bizarre ending: definitely a must-read.

7. Germany - Bad Karma by David Saffier

This book is truly humorous! The story is based around the ideas and theories concerning reincarnation: if you die, your soul will live on in the body of another human or animal. Which animal this is depends on the karma you have built up during your life. The ambitious and career obsessed television personality Kim chooses a celebrity party over her daughter’s birthday. Then she skips dinner because she is all too happy being seduced by a famous presenter and thereby cheats on her husband. You can guess it, this can not end well, with such bad karma. A fatal accident causes her to reincarnate as an ant. And what often happens to ants? They get crushed with ease. Can Kim build up enough good karma in her life as an ant to reincarnate as a more advanced animal?

Read this hilarious easy read with a happy ending: an international bestseller.  

8. Russia - Zuleikha by Guzel Yakhina

We have actually put this one on the list too early! It will only be published in English in February 2019. Our contact from Tatarstan, however, let us know that this was a definitive must-read. So notify your local bookstore to definitely pre-order this one! Just like Bengal Nights (number 4 on the list), this novel is set in the 1930’s. It is based on the experiences of the writer’s grandmother. In the 1930’s, Stalin forces a relocation of the people from Tatarstan into Siberia, and Yakhina’s grandmother was one of many sent into exile. However, out of necessity the group begins rebuilding their own lives, no matter how far removed they are from their home. It describes the adjustment of main character Zuleikha to a new reality, and discusses many issues about culture and religion at the time. The novel has been endorsed in praise and has captured the hearts of readers all over the world.