Top 5 Wednesday: Books Outside the Western World




This week’s topic is “Books That Aren’t Set In/Inspired By The Western World“. Hmmmmm. I had to really do some thinking, but found a few really good ones!



I am a royal-watcher. Royalty IS my celebrity crush, my soap opera, my reality tv show fix. This novel is outstanding. It is a fictionalized account of the current Japanese Empress Michiko, and her courtship by the then Prince, now Emperor Akihito, who is currently in the news for wanting to for officially retire. The Commoner: A Novel by John Burnham Schwartz.



Best-selling travel writer Paul Theroux and I have something in common: We both served in the Peace Corps in Malawi. Theroux famously wrote a short story for Esquire called the Killing of Hastings Banda (the one-time Life President of Malawi) and lives on in Peace Corps history as solely responsible for getting Peace Corps kicked out of that country for many years.

In The Lower River, he tells the story of a Peace Corps volunteer who returns to his PC service “home” and sees all the wrongs that have struck the place. It was very hard to read this. I had to put it away from time to time and go back to it weeks later in order to finish. Why was it so hard? It’s so typical of what happens after foreign aid runs out or the program founders move on. Its why development projects are rarely sustained unless they are started by the citizens themselves–not by folks dropping in as volunteers or missionaries or foreign aid workers. The Lower River by Paul Theroux.





Noor is estranged from her doctor-husband and decides to take their all-American daughter, Lily, back to Tehran to be with her dying father. Culture clashes, sweet family times, coming of age moments, and a frightening look at life in a religious police state make this a very compelling story. The Last Days of Cafe Leila by Donia Bijan (see my full review here).




Dating and texting in Saudi Arabia? Kind of like the Duggar girls doing a wet t-shirt contest at Spring Break in Cancun! This book is written as a series of exchanges posted to friends in an internet chat room (anyone still use those?). This is a fascinating and not too overly fictionalized account of young adult life for upper class Saudi girls. It was written in Arabic and banned in Saudi Arabia. I enjoyed every minute of it. Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsnea.


factory girls


Ever wonder who the people are making all that stuff we buy from China? Here’s your answer. Factory Girls is the only nonfiction entry this week. It tells the story of girls from rural homes coming into the new manufacturing cities to get factory jobs and have freedom the likes of which Chinese women have never enjoyed before. Very interesting book and it has been it has even been assigned as that “one book” all students are supposed to read before entering some college (sorry, I can’t recall which college or colleges0. It is very interesting reading. Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie T. Chang. [To check out more assigned pre-college reading, see this post on What the Class of 2020 Was Assigned).




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