Ten Books Set Outside the USA (and Canada and the UK)

I love this week’s topic for Top Ten Tuesdays! As a South African, I’m acutely aware of the importance of reading local and international books, but our market is mostly saturated by books from the USA and the UK (I love you guys, but representation matters!)

I have two prior lists with more or less the same topic (links provided at the end), so I will mention different books here. And also, I’m not selecting any South African books because I have a whole list of them here!

1. Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine (YA, sci-fi)

Setting: Egypt (mostly)

A book set in an alternate reality where the Great Library was never destroyed. I felt the book had some problems with character development, but I did enjoy it – especially the setting, and the fact that it was ABOUT BOOKS!!!

library collage

2. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (saga, historical fiction)

Setting: Ethiopia (mostly)

Touted as a must-read for medics, I enjoyed this epic saga. The author mentioned in an interview that Ethiopia was as much a character in the book as any other person, and I completely agree.

ethiopia collage

3. Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa (historical fiction, politics, war)

Setting: Palestine/Israel (mostly)

Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year; a wonderful book about friendship, perseverance, war, belonging, and land.

jenin collage

4. Kalyana by Rajni Mala Khelawan (historical fiction, abuse)

Setting: Fiji (mostly)

Themes of belonging, disenfranchisement, abuse (CW), and family.

fiji collage

5. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (historical fiction, WWII)

Setting: East Prussia (then)

WWII books seem to be saturating the market, but I enjoyed this for its different setting and also the different plot, namely of inhabitants of East Prussia fleeing towards the many ships that hope to carry them to safety.

salt to the sea collage

6. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (historical fiction, disability, WWII)

Setting: France

The best thing about this novel for me was the young blind protagonist and her adventures.

france collage

7. The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell (YA, contemporary)

Setting: Japan

This YA book deals with a pretty heavy issue, as the main character struggles with his newly diagnosed ALS.

japan collage

8. The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson (contemporary, coming-of-age)

Setting: Barbados

I knew close to nothing of Barbados so this was a great experience.

barbados collage

9. As Red As Blood by Sala Simmuka (YA, sleuth)

Setting: Finland

I felt like the forests and landscape really contributed to the thrill of this book.

finland collage

10. Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat (short stories, feminist lit)

Setting: Haiti

Reading this made me research Haiti because I clearly understood so little about its history. Danticat has a knack for relatable writing, even though her experiences are so different to mine. She finds common ground in our humanity, but illuminates her culture and history with wit and candour.


* * *

For more international books, try these lists:

Ten Books for Readers Who Like the World

Books for the Traveler



  1. meganm922 says:

    I’ve read a few of those. It’s much harder to compile a list if I remove UK and Canada lol! You have some great choices on your list.

    1. barefootmegz says:

      Thanks! I felt the need to include Canada and the UK because they are also so common – at least in South Africa! But, yeah, it did make it a bit harder. 😛

  2. Suzanne says:

    What a great list! Ink and Bone is already on my TBR, but I’m definitely adding Mornings in Jenin and a couple of the others to my list as well.

  3. I wish I could just hole up in my apartment for a year and read. There are so many good books out there, and every list you post just adds more to my list of books to read!

    1. barefootmegz says:

      Now THAT would be living the dream, wouldn’t it!! Have you tried audiobooks (I’m not sure if I’ve asked you this before)? Ever since I started them I find that I don’t feel so miserable when I’m really busy, because at least I can listen to audiobooks on the way to and from work.

  4. lailaarch says:

    The Star Side of Bird Hill is on my list, and I need to read Cutting for Stone. I think I’m the last person who hasn’t read it!

    1. barefootmegz says:

      Oh, I wouldn’t worry – I just finished it last month! It’s a good book. I feel like it was a bit overhyped in the medical context – kind of a “you have to read this because you’re in medicine” kind of thing, whereas I think the beauty of this book really has nothing to with its medical aspect. I hope you’ll enjoy it!

  5. Annemieke says:

    Quite curious about Ink and Bone. It is about books. 😀

  6. Great list. I really need to read a book by Ruta Sepetys. All The Light We Cannot See made my list, too. I love that book.

  7. Ed Hoornaert says:

    As Red as Blood is only the second book set in Finland I’ve seen this week. And none about Belgium … amongst other omissions. My TTT.

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