No one can survive on international relations theory alone. A depressing number of students, scholars, journalists, and practitioners who I’ve met in the foreign-policy world never read fiction. A good novel or short story isn’t just a pleasant diversion, it can give you a new perspective on the world, bring you vividly into a new region or time period, and even help make you a stronger writer. Here are a few recent works of fiction, in no particular order, that may appeal the globally-minded:
The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud (2015): An Algerian author’s modern remix of Albert Camus’s The Stranger, told from the point of view of the brother of the unnamed Arab shot on a beach by antihero Meursault in the original existentialist classic. The book may be a critique of how non-white characters are used as disposable background in European literature, but Daoud’s statements about religion have also made him a figure of major controversy in Algeria.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013): Thankfully, Nigerian author Adichie’s surprise appearance on the Beyonce ‘sFlawless, boosted the profile of Americanah, both a gripping intercontinental love story and a wry observation of race in America from an African perspective.
Every Day Is For the Thief by Teju Cole (2007/2014): Republished after the runaway success of Cole’s second novel Open City, the short and loose Every Day Is For the Thief follows an unnamed narrator returning to Nigeria after 15 years of living in the United States and his observations on the struggles and absurdities of daily life there.
Submergence by J.M. Ledgard (2013): Written by a former East Africa correspondent for the Economist, Submergence drifts in and out of the thoughts of two former lovers, one in a deep-sea submersible near Greenland, the other held hostage by jihadists on the coast of Somalia.
The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami (2014): Three civilizations collide in a tale of the first age of globalization. The partly true story of a Moroccan slave who survived a doomed Spanish expedition to Florida in 1527 and began the first African explorer of America has a lot to say about greed, cultural hubris, and historical memory.
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (2014): This sprawling Booker Prize-winning Jamaican epic is a crime thriller, immigrant story, lurid music industry tale, and dub side history of the Cold War or rolled into one.
The Sympathizer by Viet Tianh Nguyen (2016): A perfect companion piece to Seven Killings is a story of divided loyalties, betrayal, and the bitter aftermath of the Vietnam War in two countries.
Redeployment by Phil Klay (2014): In these short stories, Klay, a former marine, offers up precisely drawn observations on military and post-military life and an indictment of the ever-growing gulf between the military and civilian worlds in America.
In The Light of What We Know by Zia Haider Rahman (2014): A difficult to describe book by a Bangladeshi-born British investment banker-turned-lawyer-turned-novelist that addresses the global financial crisis, the war in Afghanistan, Islam and the English class system before it gets to its unexpected and disturbing conclusion.
Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (2009 and 2012): Nobody today, in fiction or non-fiction, is writing about politics and power as well as Mantel is her rightly-lauded series about Thomas Cromwell’s machinations in the court of Henry VIII. These have recently also been adapted for TV and theater. If only she’d finally get around to writing the third one.
Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate Magazine focusing on international affairs.
Cover Image: Calbosvertimas.lt/Wikipedia
How literature and novels affect our worldviews? Have you read any of these ten books, and what other contemporary literature you would add to this list? Join the discussion and leave your comments below.