Lifestyle & Belief

What to read: think globally (VIDEO)


A woman looks at the contemporary Romanian literature bookshelf at a library in Bucharest.


Daniel Mihailescu

NEW YORK — If you’re reading this, chances are you have some interest in what’s going on in the world.

Why’s there so much pollution in Beijing? Who’s using chemical weapons in Syria? What does horsemeat taste like? Well, maybe less so the latter.

Journalists work at a frenetic pace to answer such questions a few paragraphs, or pictures, at a time. On Twitter they strain their thumbs tapping out their best 140-character play-by-play of countries’ bomb attacks or crucial elections.

So many words. So many photos and charts and videos and tweets. But it’s not enough.

To better understand why societies rise and fall and act strangely, it helps to spend time with a novel. In fiction, you learn not only how the writer’s world is, but also how he or she wishes it to be.

It’s not always easy to find contemporary international voices at the local bookstore. Only 3 percent of all books — and less than 1 percent of all fiction and poetry — published in the United States are works in translation. (Many international writers also write in English, in part to make their books more attractive to US and UK publishers.)

A good place to discover authors from countries that are sometimes in the headlines and often hard to point to on a map is the annual PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature in New York City, organized by the PEN American Center, the US branch of an international organization that promotes literary culture and freedom of expression.

At the most recent festival, GlobalPost asked writers from the UK and South Africa which books they would recommend to readers curious to learn more about their home countries.

Which novel best describes where you’re from? Tell us in the comments section.