Sunday, May 4, 2014

[OM] 5 Best Global/International Novels

If anyone of you has read some of my fiction, you will have noticed that at times I attempt to write as globally as possible. In other words, I try to include multiple world views. To understand a lot in the world today, I find this necessary. Of course, this post is about other books that are global in their purview. I'm talking, of course, about books that cover multiple perspectives and do so in a manner that shines light on the human condition. In other words, this list doesn't include the great novels that are more entertainment than prose for the soul (so the likes of Da Silva and others yet can't be included). Even if some of them are cerebral. I understand that this is a loose definition, so fire away any complaints below.

This was not as easy as I first anticipated. I wanted to lay down the basic rule that these books should at the least speak to three different continents (or cultures). Nothing doing. Two continents (or cultures) had to be the minimum as it would be impossible to fill this list with more than a handful if the definition was too tough. To that end, it's very interesting that not too many books—of the serious/introspective kind—have a global scope. You may be asking for a better definition of global. After all, many books do indeed include two continents/cultures (even the 'serious' ones); most war books in the US definitely include a couple countries. 

But in the case of such books, where a character interacts but doesn't truly dive into the culture, won't be considered for this list. This isn't an easy thing to judge, either. It puts books like No Longer at Ease, and even Heart of Darkness either on the border of being rejected or outright rejected. The former, though an amazing book, treats England as a distant place and doesn't have enough interaction with it (though there is some), and the same could go for the latter. Much like the war stories, a lot of books will have the aspect of one culture clashing with another. Should these be considered international? Well, how far do they go to represent both the views? At least this is needed. Barring that, then perhaps a deep look at the 'other side' (because that's what inevitably comes out of these interactions).

And something I should also mention is that fantasy is not included (actually many of the more complete worlds I've read have been in fantasy).

I also made sure that these are all novels. I can think of a handful of short story collections that would fit the bill of having several cultures, but they won't be included here. Nevertheless, with the world changing as it is, I'm sure that this list will have to be expanded as it becomes a bigger topic. I also understand that I haven't read enough to be able to consider all books possible, so feel free to add some in the comments. I do expect to change this list as it's my thought that as time passes, international novels will become a very important way to write.

I should mention one more thing: the fact that some associated with the Nobel Prize said that American literature was insular can't help but ring in the background of this conversation. I would dare say that few novels aren't insular in style, and in fact a handful of prizes awarded by the Nobel Prize seem to point this way anyways.


Might be the best book on this list. Easily the first one to take a deep look at the New World Order that exists today. From the US, to Europe to Mexico, this novel takes an unflinching look at the darker sides (as well as lighter, for Bolano does not miss out on talking about literature) of life. In many ways he manages this, and the multiple cultures, with relative ease, but it's also the subjects which he chooses to look at that matter.

Cloud Atlas

Spanning genres, continents, centuries, Cloud Atlas is a book about many things. Somewhat a collection of novellas, the book is about rebellion, memes and traits that carry the spirit of humans forward (as well as those which bring us back down).

Mother Night

Vonnegut's other great work (IMO). About a Nazi double agent, and with minor characters from around the world, this is a great story about the many masks we all wear. About one man, Vonnegut's style allows him to bring out so much depth in the supporting cast, that it had to be included in this list.

Dream of the Celt

Written recently about a man who died about a 100 years ago. This book helps to perfectly frame issues we deal with today: such as Empires that try to do good but by the size of their weight don't always do so, powerful and ill-acting corporations, and nationalism in the form of Empire or an Irishman rebelling against that Empire.

White Teeth

A story about London and its immigrants. But to achieve this, this novel reaches out across several continents. It tells each story, then it shows the clash and the mixing and the imbroglio of humanity. Beautiful.

Also rans:
Waiting for the Barbarians (about a generic Empire and Barbarians, this story could be about almost any nation/empire. But I'm not certain that applicability allows it on this list)
What is the What (About an refugee from Sudan, this book, great as it is, might be too focused on a single man, without enough insight to the nations/peoples he comes in contact with)
WWZ (Easily the most international book I've ever read, this journalistic-esque masterpiece is a riveting read. I'm not sure it plumbs deep enough into the depths of humanity to warrant a place on this list, though I might be wrong)
Heart of Darkness (again, a classic, but more so about one person. His interaction with the two worlds aren't given enough for it to make this list)
Shorts not included: Interpreter of Maladies, History of Iniquity, Iraqi Christ...

Update 01JUN2015: I've been reading a little more about the novel and how, to some level, it attempts to define at least some aspect of nationhood while also speaking to humanity. Now I wonder if my point on a new era of the international novel is indeed something new, or something which will matter.

At first glance, this may seem a little of a privileged view. After all, the cosmopolitan tribe is a small one, and at any rate, has the nation truly been replaced? With regard to the former matter, I would say a move to some "internationalism", if any, is going to prove to be short term. And the move away from the nation state, though slightly unnerving [1], isn't necessarily upon us.

But one cannot avoid the fact that corporations have a great amount of power right now. But no single corporation has proved to be long lasting enough to evoke tradition or a sense of loyalty from the people. So what will happen to the future narrative vehicles? I sense that the novel (or some future narrative) will require a mix of the hyper-local, as well as the international.

[1] And let's never forget the inherent fallacy in assuming trends will continue increasing/decreasing in a linear or exponential manner in the current direction, simply because that's all we're aware of a certain direction. The train of history tends to throw off the intellectuals when it hits a curve... to paraphrase Marx

Thanks for reading. As always, you can contact me at if you have any questions or wish to discuss something or just to say hi. Look forward to hearing from you. 

Some other articles that might pique your interest (ostensibly on all matters global or books):
#This one is on the global conflict of the West and Islam as seen through the lens of the Rushdie affair.
#This one is a list of the five best science fiction novels out there.
#This one is an article about drone warfare and its effects on the world.
# This one is about reading news in today's world. The solution is that global is better.
# This one is a list of the best books of the 21st century
# This one is a list of the best books of the 20th century
#This on is an article with links to matters of the Iraq war and players not commonly known.

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Perhaps one day one of my books will make this list. I am proud to say that Ministry of Bombs meets the specifications for this list, but isn't quite there yet. 


  1. Though I personally think that books that talk about the world seem to be the most interesting, trends (outside of logistical trends for markets) seem to point towards something like a localization of books. Even the books which are popular around the world tend to be about something focused on a locale. In other words, people like to hear about people with similarities to themselves, but from exotic locales. Give them someone too different and they won't like it.

    That being said, I think 2666 is the only book worth being on this list. And you should be that careful. Think about it. Even Dream of a Celt, though about an Irishman, is about one nationality as it touches others. Even Cloud Atlas is basically Western. Some of us expect better than this. Hopefully other books come out that fit this criteria, but I doubt it.

  2. I'm not going to lie. Looking at this list from the view of 2019 and it seems to lack so much imagination. Almost all the books are from my milieu of being a man who learned literature from NYC (and a specific class in NYC, mind you) circles that I can only now consider status quo maintainers (in the Army we would have called them tired old badge protectors, which is also true in some way, while ancien regime seems valid as well).

    Thing is, I've come a long way since then and though I know I haven't read enough to make such a definitive list. My current list would basically be completely different.


    So here we are , with me peering back at younger me and thinking, what a tool.

    Well, I'm trying, dear reader, I'm trying real hard to be better.

    A current list would be:

    Vonnegut would make it. 2666 would not. Cloud Atlas sure as fuck wouldn't. Llosa and Zadie would not. Abyssinian Chronicles probably would. So would... well I can't think about it, tell you the truth. Secret Agent would make it, even though it's from a different time. But it's valid.

    If I'm looking at this century, though, I'm not sure much makes the cut. That's some sad shit. Let me read some more and I'll get to it.


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