I recently came across a challenge to read a book from every country in the world. I thought it was an amazing idea! I love travelling and finding out about different cultures.
I wanted to do something slightly different, though. Instead of the books being written by someone from each country, I wanted to read a book set in each country.
I thought about how many countries I had literarily travelled to. It was subjective, because some stories are set in more than one place. I can think of at least one I read where a main character was backpacking around South Asia/ Oceania. Also, should I count Jack Reacher’s flashbacks to his time in the army? What about overnight stops in a country en route to somewhere else?
Looking at my ‘have read’ list, I’m not expecting to tick off many countries. Towards the end of my teenage years, I realised I prefer sci-fi and fantasy, which is often set in fictional worlds. And even if the story was set in Spain, would a 25th century imagining of the country count towards the challenge?
I used Britannica’s list of countries, but that threw up issues, too. The United Kingdom was on there, but England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales all have distinct geography and history. If the whole point of this is to explore the world, surely I should break the UK down into its constituent parts? Then what about overseas territories, like Jersey and the Falkland Islands. I googled how many countries have overseas territories, and actually there are loads. What about disputed territories like Palestine and Western Sahara. If I read a book set on a research station in the British Antarctic Territory, do I then have to find one set in the Australian Antarctic Territory? Is one part of Antarctica that different from any other part?
If I break the UK down into individual countries, what about places that are considerably bigger than the UK? Should I break America down into the 50 states? What about Australia and Russia? Where does it end?
What about novels set in the past, particularly ones set in countries that don’t exist anymore? Can I count a story set in Prussia to be a story set in Germany instead?
I already feel like I’m in a never-ending spiral, so I’m getting off this metaphorical helter-skelter and taking a look at the books I have read to see where they fit on the list I’ve already created.
The Story So Far
Airs Above the Ground – Mary Stewart – This story is about the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.
The Call of the Wild – Jack London – The story is partly set in Canada during the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush.
The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway – A story about a man fishing off the coast of Cuba.
Death on the Nile – Agatha Christie – Someone is murdered on a river cruise down the Nile.
Atonement – Ian McEwan – Part of the novel is set in France in WWII, just before the Dunkirk evacuation.
The Searcher – Chris Morgan Jones – Hammer goes to Georgia to find a friend who went missing in Tbilisi.
The October Man – Ben Aaronovitch – A novella in the Rivers of London series that introduces the German police officer who deals with magical crimes.
The Moonspinners – Mary Stewart – The main character works for the British embassy on the Greek island, Crete.
The Jungle Book – Rudyard Kipling – Mowgli lives in a jungle in India.
PS I Love You – Cecelia Ahern – The characters are living in Dublin when tragedy strikes.
Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys – Written as a prequel to Jane Eyre, this novel begins in Jamaica just after the abolition of slavery.
The Lost Future of Pepperharrow – Natasha Pulley – Keita Mori returns to Japan.
Appointment with Death – Agatha Christie – A character is found dead in Petra.
The Clouds Beneath the Sun – Mackenzie Ford – A novel set on an archaeological dig in Kenya in the 1960s.
The Gabriel Hounds – Mary Stewart – The story is set in Adonis Valley in Lebanon.
The Miniaturist- Jessie Burton – A story set in Amsterdam in the 17th century.
The Bedlam Stacks – Natasha Pulley – Most of the story takes place in a magical village in Peru.
Dracula – Bram Stoker – The story starts and ends in Transylvania, a region now in Romania.
An Agent of Deceit – Chris Morgan Jones – The novel is about a British investigator trying to uncover a money-laundering operation in Russia.
Diamonds Are Forever – Ian Fleming – James Bond tracks down a diamond smuggling ring in Sierra Leone.
The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway – The characters go to Spain for a fiesta and the running of the bulls.
The Tea Planter’s Wife – Dinah Jeffries – A story about a woman who marries a tea plantation owner in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in the 1920s.
Oroonoko – Aphra Behn – A 17th century novel about an African prince who is tricked into slavery in Suriname.
The Green Hills of Africa – Ernest Hemingway – A nonfiction book about hunting on safari in the area now known as Tanzania.
Sheer Abandon – Penny Vincenzi – Three characters begin their backpacking adventures in Thailand.
Rivers of London – Ben Aaronovitch – Peter Grant is a police officer in London when he discovers the city is more magical than he thought.
Blood Queen – Joanna Courtney – The ‘true’ story of Lady Macbeth.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs – The peculiar children live on a fictional island off the coast of Wales.
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee – A story exploring race in a fictional town in Alabama during the Great Depression.
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck – Lennie and George are migrant ranch workers in California during the Great Depression.
The Shining – Stephen King – The Overlook Hotel is in Colorado.
Anansi Boys – Neil Gaiman – Parts of the novel are set in Florida.
High Noon – Nora Roberts – The main character works for a police force in Georgia.
Storm Front – Jim Butcher – The first in a series about a magical detective in Chicago.
One Shot – Lee Child – The Jack Reacher film was set in Pittsburgh, but the novel is actually set in a city in Indiana.
In Cold Blood – Truman Capote – A novelisation of a crime that happened in Kansas in 1966.
The Awakening – Kate Chopin – The novel is set in Grand Isle and New Orleans at the turn of the 20th century.
Persuader – Lee Child – This story is set in a fictional town in Maine.
Where Rainbows End – Cecelia Ahern – One of the characters moves to Boston.
The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger – The characters meet in a meadow in South Haven, Michigan.
Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn – On their fifth anniversary, Nick’s wife disappears from the fictional town of North Carthage in Missouri.
The Princess Diaries – Meg Cabot – Mia lives in New York City. (I was young once…)
The Enemy – Lee Child – The first murder takes place in a motel in North Carolina.
Winesburg, Ohio – Sherwood Anderson – A collection of short stories about small-town America set in – you guessed it – Ohio.
If I Stay – Gayle Foreman – The characters live in snowy Portland, Oregon.
The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold – The characters live in a town in Pennsylvania in the 1970s.
11/22/63 – Stephen King – This story is all about the Kennedy assassination, so naturally some of it is set in Texas.
Jar of Hearts – Jennifer Hillier – A teenager’s body is found in the Seattle area of Washington State.
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley – The characters do a lot of hopping around Europe, but the novel starts and ends in the North Pole.
As I went through the list of books I’ve read, I made some ‘rules’:
- If a book was set in more than one location, I decided to only tick off one destination on my list. I can explore the other places in another story.
- A significant part of the story had to take place in the location. It couldn’t be a short hop before they moved on to somewhere else (sorry Jules Verne, Around the World in Eighty Days didn’t make the cut). There are a few books I’ll replace with better candidates when I get round to it.
- The setting had to be relevant. I read Hamlet at university, which takes place in Denmark. I chose not to include it here because (from what I remember) the setting has almost no impact on the story – it could happen in any European monarchy of the time. And, as it’s a play, there isn’t much in the way of setting description to really make you feel like you’re there.
Writing the World
While looking at these books, I had another idea: I could work on a similar challenge to write a story set in each country in the world. I haven’t travelled much, but I don’t need too much first-hand experience to write flash fiction. Google Maps and Google Earth are great resources – you can travel the world and see what it looks like. In many countries, you can even move down the streets as though you’re really there. There are also so many vlogs online, I’d only need to do a little research to write some short fiction about a place.
I’ve created a separate page on my blog site to keep track of the books. I’ll also post links to the stories I write that are set in each location. Happy travelling!