All Over the World

This week's meme for book geeks is to figure out where in the world I've been in terms of the places in books I've read. I'm going to leave out imaginary and extra-terrestrial places and also limit to fiction. LibraryThing really helps out here. They have a page for your library showing places identified in your books. The data is only as complete as whatever's entered so far, but it's a nice start.

create your own visited country map or check our Venice travel guide

Funny, this mapping page considers Puerto Rico its own country, but not Scotland. I'm going to list Scotland separately.

It is obvious from the map that I'm very skewed toward reading stories set in the West, but the map makes it look as if I'm even more broad than I really am. The number of books in my library that were available to represent Canada, the US and the UK is overwhelmingly larger than all of the rest of the places combined. You'll also see below that many of the exotic places are represented in my reading by non-natives. Granted, there's going to be some slant because I read in English and we are not a large translation market here in the US.

Also, I found that many of my books are set enough in the past that national nomenclature has changed. So even though Croatia did not exist in Tesla's time, I credited it for The Theory of Everything Else.

We have a lot of South American novels sitting around the house, so to catch up I'll start with Allende.

Here are details. The links are to book tales I've written after reading these books. If I had this coverage at the beginning of a game of Risk, I guess I wouldn't be unhappy.

North America

Missing: Greenland

  • Canada - The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields). I like anything by Carol Shields. She writes quiet stories.
  • Mexico - Like Water for Chocolate (Laura Esquivel). This one is famous enough that I don't feel the need to elaborate.
  • US - Parable of the Talents (Octavia Butler). So many books from the US to pick from, I'm glad this one popped up first. It's the SFnal story of a girl with extra empathy powers who is living through the collapse of the US.
Central America and the Caribbean

Missing: Anguilla, Barbados, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Monserrat, Panama, Saint Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, Cuba, El Salvador, Grenada, Jamaica, Netherlands Antilles, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Virgin Islands, Aruba, Belize, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, Nicaragua, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Turks and Caicos Islands

  • Bermuda - Breakfast of Champions (Kurt Vonnegut). I love the way this story is told; it's all shattered and brought together slowly, with humor. To be honest, I don't remember Bermuda, but LibraryThing says it's so.
  • Puerto Rico - The Sparrow (Mary Doria Russell). This is an SF story with heavy spiritual overtones. This is a great example of someone losing faith.
  • Guatemala - (updated 2009): The Long Night of the White Chickens (Francisco Goldman)
  • Panama - (updated 2009): The Tailor of Panama (John le Carre)
  • Dominican Republic - (updated 2010): The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Díaz)

South America

Missing: Argentina, Chile, Falkland Islands, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia, Colombia, French Guiana, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Guyana, Suriname

  • Brazil - A Samba for Sherlock (Jose Eugenio Soares). This was an interesting story imagining that Sherlock Holmes visited Brazil.
  • Chile - (Updated 2009): Bad Vibes (Alberto Fuguet)


Missing: Angola, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo Brazzaville, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Guinee Conalkry, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Reunion, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Western Sahara, Zambia, Zimbabwe

  • Algeria - Loving Graham Greene (Gloria Emerson). This is the strange tale of a woman obsessed with Graham Greene and is an excellent example of westerners walking around completely clueless.
  • Botswana - The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (Alexander McCall Smith). This is a very short book about a detective who also tries to pick up her van mechanic.
  • Congo (Kinshasa) - The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver). Another example of westerners wandering around clueless in Africa. This one I don't actually recommend.
  • Rhodesia/Zimbabwe - The Grass is Singing (Doris Lessing). A direct examination of racism from a white Rhodesian woman.
  • South Africa - Disgrace (JM Coetzee). I don't remember this book.
  • Ethiopia - Updated 2010: Cutting for Stone (Abraham Verghese)


Missing: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Finland, Georgia, Gibraltar, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Poland, Romania, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Vatican City

  • The Channel Islands - The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer). This is a funny book set (in flashback) during World War II.
  • Netherlands - Amsterdam (Ian McEwan). This should have been a grim book, but was entertaining.
  • UK - Whose Body? (Dorothy L. Sayers). Another country with a lot of stories. I definitely recommend Sayers' series of detective novels. They're very light but with a little undercurrent of concern about mental health, at least early on before you get caught up in the awkward romance.
  • Greece - Soldier of Arete (Gene Wolfe). This one is set in ancient Greece. The protagonist cannot remember the day before, so he has to wake up every morning and re-read his journals to know what's going on.
  • Italy - I, Claudius (Robert Graves). An interesting fake memoir of the Roman emperor.
  • Belgium - Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (Gregory Maguire). One Gregory Maguire book is as good as another. Might as well try this one.
  • Austria - The Wall (Marlen Haushofer). This is a weird SF story about a woman who finds herself alone in a valley that has been separated from the rest of the world by an invisible wall. Good thing, too, because it looksl ike everybody else outside the wall is dead.
  • France - Possession (AS Byatt). I liked this, but I don't know why.
  • Denmark - The Quiet Girl (Peter Hoeg). This is the most recent book. It reads just like you'd imagine a Danish movie to read.
  • Germany - The Book Thief (Markus Zusak). This is a must-read.
  • Ireland - I Sing the Body Electric (Ray Bradbury). This is here because of one story: "The Terrible Conflagration up at the Place". This is a less-obvious example of a non-native writing about a place.
  • Switzerland - Frankenstein (Mary Shelley). You've heard of this book, right?
  • Scotland - Poor Things (Alasdair Gray). This is a weird and wonderful book that takes place in Glasgow, which is a weird and wonderful place.
  • Wales - A Morbid Taste for Bones (Ellis Peters). I know this is light reading, but I like the cadence of the narrator.
  • Portugal - The History of the Siege of Lisbon (Jose Saramago). All of Jose Saramago's books are great. I think this is my favorite.
  • Spain - The Club Dumas (Arturo Pérez-Reverte). Much better than the movie.
  • Ukraine - Everything Is Illuminated (Jonathan Safran Foer). I don't know if I recommend this or not. It was a little self-important.
  • Czech Republic - (Prague, anyway) The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Michael Chabon). Another strong recommendation. The story of comic book writers in the golden age.
  • Russia - Dead Souls (Nikolai Gogol). A story about selling dead people.
  • Croatia - The Invention of Everything Else (Samantha Hunt). This was a sweet but open-ended story.
  • Lithuania - The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen). I thought this got to be a little too much by the end.
  • Bosnia - How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone (Sasa Stanisic). Interesting from the standpoint of reading about another culture.
  • Norway - Kristin Lavransdatter: The Wife (Sigrid Undset). Incredible downer. Incredible, but a downer.
  • Sweden - Updated 2010: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson)
  • Poland - Updated 2010: Scum (Isaac Bashevis Singer)

The Middle East

Missing: Bahrain, Cyprus, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, UAE, Ylien


Missing: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Kazakhstan, Krygyzstan, Laos, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, North Korea, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam

  • Afghanistan - The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini). This might have been a great book, but I don't recommend it. It is much too horrible to take.
  • China - The Crazed (Ha Jin). A story about a man helping his decaying professor.
  • India - River of Gods (Ian McDonald) / Death of Vishnu (Manil Suri)
  • Japan - Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
  • Malaysia - My Life as a Fake (Peter Carey). Not my favorite Peter Carey, but an interesting investigation into "reality".
  • Myanmar - The Piano Tuner (Daniel Mason)
  • Sri Lanka - Free at Last in Paradise: A Historical Novel on Sri Lanka (Ananda W. P. Guruge). This one, at least, is written by a native. It's a very long book written by an ambassador and concerns the evolution of a religious man as his country also evolves in the early 20th century.

Australia and Pacific

Missing: American Samoa, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, kribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, New Caledonia, Niue, Norfolk Island, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Pitcairn Islands, Rarotonga and the Cook Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanautu, Western Samoa, New Zealand

  • Australia - Oscar and Lucinda (Peter Carey)
  • Solomon Islands - The Island of the Day Before (Umberto Eco). My least-favorite Eco.
  • Indonesia - When the World was Steady (Claire Messud). One of the sisters spends her time in Bali. I like Claire Messud's books. I think they're of the same cloth as Carol Shields' stories.


  • Antarctica (Kim Stanley Robinson)

Update: As I read more novels from the "missing" countries, I'll add them (and cross out) here.

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