One of the best things about traveling is discovering the voices and perspectives of people from different countries and cultures. If you’re in an extroverted mood and are fortunate enough to meet some locals, this can happen over drinks and a funny ESL conversation. If you’re on the introverted side, there’s nothing better than finding a foreign author you love. It feels good when you’ve dug into a foreign bookstore and found a new author or an English translation that’s not in the US. ‘Bookstores? Seriously?’ -you might ask. Even if your Kindle allows you to never set foot in any bookstore again, being in a foreign country allows you to come across books and authors that Amazon or Goodreads would probably never recommend.
I will skip some big names because, I assume, they are popular enough to have crossed your radar before. Authors such as Japan’s Haruki Murakami, or Nigerian born Chimamanda N. Adichie come to mind. There are many other seemingly foreign authors, like Jhumpa Lahiri, who are American yet have roots elsewhere. (They belong in an esteemed category of their own.)
The following are a few foreign authors I recommend checking out:
1. Erri de Luca
I came across his novel 'Me, You' in a bookstore in Trapani, Italy. The owner recommended this and 'Three Horses'. I enjoyed both of them so much that I’ll be searching for others the next time I’m in Italy. His simple, clear, honest style reminded me of Hemingway. His stories are timeless, and his themes are subtle yet strong.
He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988, but few Americans have heard of this famous Egyptian writer. I happened to be in the American University bookstore in Cairo and, again, an employee recommended 'The Journey of Ibn Fattouma' and likened it to 'The Alchemist'. Honestly, I thought it was better than Coelho’s classic. I have since read 'The Search' and 'Miramar' and look forward to the next one.
This author was bartending in San Diego, California while his book was a bestseller in Bulgaria. I found it in a bookstore in Sofia. I may be a bit biased because '18% Grey' begins in San Diego, my hometown, and from there takes the reader on an 'Easy Rider'-like journey across America—through the unique, insightful eyes of a Bulgarian.
Of the authors mentioned here, Kadare is perhaps my least favorite because he leans toward the magical realism (or literary surrealism) that tends to lose me. The thing is, there’s something about his style—his poetic use of language—and odd, original story lines that keep me interested in reading another one of this famous Albanian’s novels.