A valuable part of travelling is the bits in between the museum, the hotel, your meal in a new part of town. It is during these transits that a good book can be invaluable.

Not just to pass the time from A to B, but be absorbing and learning a new aspect of your destination. Reading is to get a deeper understanding of a place and see it through the eyes of those who really know it.

But which book to read?

The language learning app Babel has rounded up a whole case of cultural ambassadors in Washington DC to ask them what visitors should be reading on a visit to their country.

Advertisement

Here are 21 books from cultural ambassadors to persuade you to put down that pool-side paperback and trade it for a work of their literary homeland that tells it like it is.

Prepare to add to your reading list and holiday plans.

Austria: The Tobacconist
Austria: The Tobacconist

(The Tobacconist by Robet Seethaler, as translated into English by Charlotte Collins)

Austria

"The Tobacconist is set in 1937 just before the German occupation. It follows 17-year-old Franz, who moves to Vienna to become the apprentice in a tobacco shop. Its quiet wisdom and sincerity resonated with me very deeply." —H.E. Wolfgang A. Waldner

Azerbaijan: Ali and Nino
Azerbaijan: Ali and Nino

Azerbaijan

H.E. Elin Suleymanov recommends Ali and Nino, written in 1937 by Kurban Said, which tells the love story of a Muslim Azerbaijani boy and Christian Georgian girl in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku from 1918 to 1920.

Belgium: War & Turpentine
Belgium: War & Turpentine

Belgium

"War and Turpentine is a book about three generations of Belgians, focusing on the legacy of WWI and Belgium's exceptional painters. Long-listed for the 2017 Man Booker Prize, War and Turpentine is the absolute companion book for any art and history lover traveling to Belgium." —H.E. Dirk Wouters

Bhutan: Treasures of the Thunder Dragon
Bhutan: Treasures of the Thunder Dragon

Bhutan

H.E. Kunzang C. Namgyel recommends Treasures of the Thunder Dragon: A Portrait of Bhutan, which was written by Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck and is a personal memoir combined with folklore, creating a portrait of the Himalayan kingdom.

Chile: La Casa de Los Espíritus
Chile: La Casa de Los Espíritus

Chile

"La Casa de Los Espíritus depicts the recent past and memories from a landowner's point of view, and his daughter's, mingled with social and political issues of the 1970s." —H.E. Juan Gabriel Valdés

Advertisement
Colombia: One Hundred Years of Solitude
Colombia: One Hundred Years of Solitude

Colombia

H.E. Juan Carlos Pinzón recommends 1967's One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, which tells the multi-generational story of the Buendía family.

Denmark: Smilla's Sense of Snow
Denmark: Smilla's Sense of Snow

Denmark

"Smilla's Sense of Snow is a fictional mystery set in Copenhagen. It is a book that touches on issues such as Danish culture versus Greenlandic and the related issues of language and identity." —H.E. Lars Gert Lose

Estonia: The Man Who Spoke Snakish
Estonia: The Man Who Spoke Snakish

Estonia

"The Man Who Spoke Snakish is an exploration of alternative history by a well-loved contemporary author." —H.E. Eerik Marmei

Finland: The Moomins
Finland: The Moomins

Finland

"The Moomins books were originally written as fairy tales for children. Their philosophic nature is universal and makes the books enjoyable for people of all ages and from all backgrounds. The carefree and friendly Moomins provide a warm-hearted reading experience, and are also an essential part of the childhood of every Finnish kid." —H.E. Kirsti Kauppi

Germany: Tschick
Germany: Tschick

Germany

"Tschick is about two 14-year-old boys, both social outcasts, one from a bourgeois background, the other a Russian returnee, who "borrow" a car, take a road trip, and develop an unusual friendship." —H.E. Peter Wittig

Greece: Freedom or Death
Greece: Freedom or Death

Greece

The Greek Embassy in Washington, headed by H.E. Haris Lalacos, recommends Nikos Kazantzakis's Freedom or Death. Published in 1953, the novel is about the rebellion of the Cretans against the Ottoman Empire in 1889.

Iceland: Independent People
Iceland: Independent People

Iceland

H.E. Geir H. Haarde recommends Independent People, which tells the story of sheep farmer Guðbjartur Jónsson and his struggle for independence.

India: Freedom at Midnight
India: Freedom at Midnight

India

H.E. Navtej Sarna recommends the book Freedom at Midnight (1975), which was written by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins. The book describes events around Indian independence and partition in 1947-48, beginning with the appointment of Lord Mountbatten of Burma and ending with the death (and funeral) of Mahatma Gandhi.

Ireland: Transatlantic
Ireland: Transatlantic

Ireland

H.E. Anne Anderson recommends Colum McCann's TransAtlantic, which tells the intertwined stories of the first non-stop transatlantic fliers in 1919; the visit of Frederick Douglass to Ireland in 1845/46; and the story of the 1998 Irish peace process.

Jamaica: The Selected Poems of Louise Bennett
Jamaica: The Selected Poems of Louise Bennett

Jamaica

"Selected Poems[ by Louise Bennett ] captures the Jamaican dialect in a humorous and compelling way, providing unique and invaluable insights into the Jamaican culture and what it means to be [Jamaican]." —H.E. Audrey Patrice Marks

Malta: In the Name of the Father
Malta: In the Name of the Father

Malta

H.E. Pierre Clive Agius recommends Immanuel Mifsud's In the Name of the Father (And of the Son), which won the 2011 European Union Prize for Literature and tells the story of a man reading a diary his father kept during his days as a soldier in World War II, which subsequently pushes him to re-examine the personal relationship he had with his father.

Norway: The Harry Hole series
Norway: The Harry Hole series

Norway

"The Harry Hole series is about the "anti-hero" Harry Hole, a dedicated but disillusioned police detective." —H.E. Kåre R. Aas

Slovenia: I Saw Her That Night
Slovenia: I Saw Her That Night

Slovenia

H.E. Božo Cerar recommends Drago Jančar's 2010 book I Saw Her That Night, which explores the disappearance of a young bourgeois woman from Ljubljana during a turbulent period in history.

Sweden: Nordic Ways
Sweden: Nordic Ways

Sweden

"Nordic Ways is a new anthology of essays, edited by Debra Cagan. It came out last fall and is representative of all five Nordic countries. It describes life in the North from different perspectives." —H.E. Björn Lyrvall

The UK: Atonement
The UK: Atonement

United Kingdom

The UK embassy to Washington recommended Atonement by Ian McEwan.
"Published in 2001, this is a literary tour de force, set in three time periods: 1935 England, the Second World War, and the turn of the millennium. The story is constructed around a half-innocent lie, told by a 13-year-old girl, that destroys lives and shatters a family. It addresses momentous themes—love, war, the hold of the past over the present—while capturing to perfection moments from Britain's recent past, whether an English country house summer between the wars, or the horrors of the retreat from Dunkirk." —H.E. Kim Darroch

What New Zealand wants the world to read

The New Zealand Ambassador to the United States, Tim Groser had a couple of reccomendations that visitors should read before coming to Aotearoa. The old Wellingtonian reccomended Witi Ihimaera's The Whale Rider as a mystical story based in Māori culture as the must-read to carry on a trip around New Zealand.
However, he also advised visitors to pick up a copy of Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crup, or better yet watch the Taika Waititi movie adaptation Hunt for the Wilderpeople for a real taste of Kiwiana.