The language-learning app Babbel has asked several ambassadors to the U.S. to recommend a book they feel best represents the culture and history of their respective countries. The following books span languages, continents, and genres, but they do have one thing in common: authentic and extensive educational and emotional value. Let’s fly away, shall we?
- Azerbaijan recommends: Ali and Nino by Kurban Said
Ambassador Suleymanov recommends this historical romance following the relationship between a Muslim Azerbaijani boy and Christian Georgian girl in early twentieth century Baku, the nation’s capital.
- Bhutan recommends: Treasures of the Thunder Dragon: A Portrait of Bhutan by Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck
Bhutan’s very own Queen Mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, combined personal memoir with native folklore to paint a portrait of her little country in the Himalayan mountains.
- Chile recommends: The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Allende is one of the most revered writers in Chile, if not the whole world. This 1982 novel explores the enormous impact of Chile’s malevolent dictatorship from the perspective of a landowner and his daughter.
- Denmark recommends: Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg
Crack open this mystery exploring societal issues stemming from Denmark’s colonization of Greenland, in which author Høeg hones in on the significance of language and identity itself.
- Estonia recommends: The Man Who Spoke Snakish by Andrus Kvirähk
Kvirähk, greatly esteemed in his homeland, has crafted an enchanting tale of a fantastical medieval Estonia in which a young boy struggles to keep an ancient language alive amid caddish bears, flying frogs, and one enchanting viper.
Though they were written for children, Ambassador Kauppi insists that the classic Moomin books lessons on life philosophy and being kind appeal to everyone, not just kids.
- Greece recommends: Freedom and Death by Nikos Kazantzakis
Kazantzakis, well-known for his novel Zorba the Greek, penned this 1953 epic about the explosive violence between a community of Greek islanders and their Turkish colonizers, in the process unpacking religious tensions and generational traumas that continue to reverberate.
- India recommends: Freedom at Midnight by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins
Ambassador Sarna chooses this account of the formation of modern India, which covers everything from the 1947 appointment of Lord Mountbatten as India’s last viceroy to the murder and funeral of independence icon Mahatma Gandhi in 1948.
- Jamaica recommends: Selected Poems by Louise Bennett
11 years after her death, poet, folklorist and educator Louise Bennett remains revered by Jamaicans for her efforts to spread and preserve the legends of the island nation. Bennett’s poems take a humorous bent on Jamaica’s culture, getting to the heart of what it means to be a Jamaican.
- Malta recommends: In the Name of the Father (And of the Son) by Immanuel Mifsud
This 2011 European Union Prize for Literature winner is the emotional story of a son reading his late father’s diary of his time as a World War II soldier, forcing him to make sense of their complicated relationship.
- New Zealand recommends: The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera
Adapted into a film noted for earning 13-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes an Oscar nomination, Ihimaera tells the tale of a young girl named Kanu gifted with the prized ability to communicate with whales.
- Slovenia recommends: I Saw Her That Night by Drago Jančar
Like other books on this list, I Saw Her That Night grapples directly with the traumatic legacy of World War II and its effect on a nation’s psyche. Veronika, a wealthy young woman residing in the capital Ljubljana, wants only to survive the turmoil surrounding her—but monumental violence has a way of sucking in even the most innocent of individuals.
- The United Kingdom recommends: Atonement by Ian McEwan
This novel, both epic in scope and achingly personal, explores the fallout of one fateful lie and the pain and sorrow it causes for a young British aristocrat, her working-class lover, and her regretful little sister.