While your dream vacation or travel plans may have been disrupted by COVID-19, reading is a great way to jet across the globe! These books are set in countries outside of the United States. Choose a book based on a country you’d like to visit, or one that you don’t know much about. The possibilities are endless!

Here are our recommendations for the Waterloo 2021 Reading Challenge prompt: read a book set in a country different than your own.

The Mermaid from Jeju by Sumi Hahn

Takes place in: Korea

In the aftermath of WWII, Junja is a girl just is the latest successful deep sea diver in a family of strong haenyeo. The political climate is perilous. Still reeling from Japan’s forced withdrawal from the peninsula, Korea is forced to accommodate the rapid establishment of US troops, and Junja’s grandmother, who lived through the Japanese invasion that led to Korea’s occupation understands the signs of danger all too well. Spiraling in grief, Junja sees her younger siblings sent to live with their estranged father, the ghost of her mother haunts their home. She has only her grandmother and herself.

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The Sacrament by Olaf Olafsson

Takes place in: Iceland & France

A young nun is sent by the Vatican to investigate allegations of misconduct at a Catholic school in Iceland. During her time there, on a gray winter’s day, a young student at the school watches the school’s headmaster, Father August Franz, fall to his death from the church tower. Two decades later, the child—now a grown man, haunted by the past—calls the nun back to the scene of the crime. Seeking peace and calm in her twilight years at a convent in France, she has no choice to make a trip to Iceland again, a trip that brings her former visit, as well as her years as a young woman in Paris, powerfully and sometimes painfully to life.

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The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré

Takes place in: Nigeria

The unforgettable, inspiring story of a teenage girl growing up in a rural Nigerian village who longs to get an education so that she can find her “louding voice” and speak up for herself, The Girl with the Louding Voice is a simultaneously heartbreaking and triumphant tale about the power of fighting for your dreams. Despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in her path, Adunni never loses sight of her goal of escaping the life of poverty she was born into so that she can build the future she chooses for herself – and help other girls like her do the same.

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Blood on Snow by Jo Nesbø

Takes place in: Norway

This is the story of Olav: an extremely talented “fixer” for one of Oslo’s most powerful crime bosses. But Olav is also an unusually complicated fixer. He has a capacity for love that is as far-reaching as is his gift for murder. He is our straightforward, calm-in-the-face-of-crisis narrator with a storyteller’s hypnotic knack for fantasy. He has an “innate talent for subordination” but running through his veins is a “virus” born of the power over life and death. And while his latest job puts him at the pinnacle of his trade, it may be mutating into his greatest mistake…

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Letters from Cuba by Ruth Behar

Takes place in: Poland & Cuba

The situation is getting dire for Jews in Poland on the eve of World War II. Esther’s father has fled to Cuba, and she is the first one to join him. It’s heartbreaking to be separated from her beloved sister, so Esther promises to write down everything that happens until they’re reunited. And she does, recording both the good–the kindness of the Cuban people and her discovery of a valuable hidden talent–and the bad: the fact that Nazism has found a foothold even in Cuba. Esther’s evocative letters are full of her appreciation for life and reveal a resourceful, determined girl with a rare ability to bring people together, all the while striving to get the rest of their family out of Poland before it’s too late.

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When All is Said by Anne Griffin

Takes place in: Ireland

If you had to pick five people to sum up your life, who would they be? If you were to raise a glass to each of them, what would you say? And what would you learn about yourself, when all is said and done? This is the story of Maurice Hannigan, who, over the course of a Saturday night in June, orders five different drinks at the Rainford House Hotel. With each he toasts a person vital to him: his doomed older brother, his troubled sister-in-law, his daughter of fifteen minutes, his son far off in America, and his late, lamented wife. And through these people, the ones who left him behind, he tells the story of his own life, with all its regrets and feuds, loves and triumphs.

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Run Me to Earth by Paul Yoon

Takes place in: Laos

Alisak, Prany, and Noi—three orphans united by devastating loss—must do what is necessary to survive the perilous landscape of 1960s Laos. When they take shelter in a bombed out field hospital, they meet Vang, a doctor dedicated to helping the wounded at all costs. Soon the teens are serving as motorcycle couriers, delicately navigating their bikes across the fields filled with unexploded bombs, beneath the indiscriminate barrage from the sky. In a world where the landscape and the roads have turned into an ocean of bombs, we follow their grueling days of rescuing civilians and searching for medical supplies, until Vang secures their evacuation on the last helicopters leaving the country. It’s a move with irrevocable consequences—and sets them on disparate and treacherous paths across the world.

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The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

Takes place in: England

This is the story of the making of England in the 9th and 10th centuries, the years in which King Alfred the Great, his son and grandson defeated the Danish Vikings who had invaded and occupied three of England’s four kingdoms. The story is seen through the eyes of Uhtred, a dispossessed nobleman, who is captured as a child by the Danes and then raised by them so that, by the time the Northmen begin their assault on Wessex (Alfred’s kingdom and the last territory in English hands) Uhtred almost thinks of himself as a Dane. He certainly has no love for Alfred, whom he considers a pious weakling and no match for Viking savagery, yet when Alfred unexpectedly defeats the Danes and the Danes themselves turn on Uhtred, he is finally forced to choose sides.

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Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Takes place in: Mexico

After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region. Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid.

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A Place for us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

Takes place in: India

As an Indian wedding gathers a family back together, parents Rafiq and Layla must reckon with the choices their children have made. There is Hadia: their headstrong, eldest daughter, whose marriage is a match of love and not tradition. Huda, the middle child, determined to follow in her sister’s footsteps. And their estranged son, Amar, returns to the family for the first time in three years to take his place as brother of the bride. What secrets and betrayals have caused this close-knit family to fracture?

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The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Takes place in: Vietnam

It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. The general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that one among their number, the captain, is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong. The Sympathizer is the story of this captain: a man brought up by an absent French father and a poor Vietnamese mother, a man who went to university in America, but returned to Vietnam to fight for the Communist cause.

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Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

Takes place in: Russia

One August afternoon, on the shoreline of the north-eastern edge of Russia, two sisters are abducted. In the ensuing weeks, then months, the police investigation turns up nothing. Echoes of the disappearance reverberate across a tightly woven community, with the fear and loss felt most deeply among its women. Set on the remote Siberian peninsula of Kamchatka, Disappearing Earth draws us into the world of an astonishing cast of characters, all connected by an unfathomable crime.

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The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

Takes place in: Syria & Great Britain

Nuri is a beekeeper; his wife, Afra, an artist. They live a simple life, rich in family and friends, in the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo–until the unthinkable happens. When all they care for is destroyed by war, they are forced to escape. But what Afra has seen is so terrible she has gone blind, and so they must embark on a perilous journey through Turkey and Greece towards an uncertain future in Britain. On the way, Nuri is sustained by the knowledge that waiting for them is Mustafa, his cousin and business partner, who has started an apiary and is teaching fellow refugees in Yorkshire to keep bees.

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The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante

Takes place in: Italy

Giovanna’s pretty face is changing, turning ugly, at least so her father thinks. Giovanna, he says, looks more like her Aunt Vittoria every day. But can it be true? Is she really changing? Is she turning into her Aunt Vittoria, a woman she hardly knows but whom her mother and father clearly despise? Surely there is a mirror somewhere in which she can see herself as she truly is. Giovanna is searching for her reflection in two kindred cities that fear and detest one another: Naples of the heights, which assumes a mask of refinement, and Naples of the depths, a place of excess and vulgarity. She moves from one to the other in search of the truth, but neither city seems to offer answers or escape.

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All book descriptions were borrowed from Goodreads.com.

Learn more about the 2021 Reading Challenge here.

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