This month, our librarians reveal some of their favorite media set in countries outside the United States.
My favorite foreign TV show in 2017-2018 is definitely Dark. It started off as a German thriller web series and later on was streamed through Netflix. It appeared as a recommendation due to my undying devotion to Stranger Things. I will admit the beginning was really slow, but after giving it a second chance, I was hooked. The story starts as a missing person case, but little by little weirdness takes over. Eerie things are happening in the small town of Winden as children go missing, but finding a guilty culprit gets tricky when there are supernatural elements surrounding the disappearances.
I’ve always been a big fan of foreign horror movies. Some titles include: REC (Spain), A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Iran), Let the Right One In (Sweden), Audition (Japan), and The Orphanage (Spain).
There are many more foreign horror movies out there, but these truly left me #shook.
My first thought, which will no doubt be echoed by others, is the Great British Baking Show. Reality TV at its kindest and most heartfelt. Amateur bakers compete each weekend in a trio of challenges, showcasing their creativity, skill and technical know-how at a beautiful location in the British countryside (think the Downton Abbey estate). The hosts are hilarious, the judges critical yet encouraging, and the contenders, ranging in age from high school students to grandparents, are supportive of one another and incredibly talented. It is quite literally a feast for the eyes and a reminder to continue to do the things that bring you so much personal joy.
Inside the Walls of Troy by McLaren (Modern Turkey)
…This was one of the first “older” books I read as a child. I had just tackled The Hobbit and felt like I could read anything. I must’ve recently learned about the Trojan war, because I was quickly drawn to this title. I would recommend this to any strong, young reader.
The Chess Machine by Löhr (Vienna, Austria)
…I found this one while running a Half Price Books in Houston. This story was a speculative history of the first tour of the famous chess automaton “The Turk”. While many of the chess masters that later operated “The Turk” are now know, the original operator has never been discovered. This was Löhr’s fictional take on who could’ve operated “The Turk”.
Trollhunter (movie, 2010, Norway)
District 9 (movie, 2009, South Africa)
Fire (movie, 1996, India)
My outside-of-the-U.S. reading skews very much toward England/Scotland/Ireland, but to go a little farther afield, I’ll mention some books set in Asia: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, set in Korea and Japan; The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee, set in Hong Kong; and Honolulu by Alan Brennert, which starts in Korea but takes place largely in Hawaii. And if you haven’t already read it – it was very popular a few years ago – The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman, set in Australia, is also fantastic.
Here are a few adult novels that have a great sense of place:
The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey – India, 1920’s
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne – Ireland
Beloved Poison by E.S. Thomson – London, 18th century
The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan – Scotland, in the future
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson – England
Assassins of Athens by Jeffrey Siger – Athens
Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini – Afganistan
Kids’s novel that have a great sense of place:
Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed – Pakistan
Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar – India
The Dollmaker of Krakow by R.M. Romero – Poland
Manatee Rescue by Nicola Davies – the Amazon rainforest
Auma’s Long Run by Eucabeth Odhiambo – Kenya
Forest World by Margarita Engle – Cuba
Lion Island by Margarita Engle – Cuba
I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosín – Chile
Call the Midwife – London, 1960’s
The Durrells in Corfu – Corfu, 1930’s
I could write a whole list on British books and shows I love, but there are so many that I’m going to just set them aside and focus on places that are less represented. My list is pretty heavy on Russia and Hong Kong because they happen to be places I’ve visited and find fascinating!
- Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – historical fiction set in1960s Nigeria
- The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian – historical fiction set in Syria during the Armenian genocide
- The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee – historical fiction set in Hong Kong in the 1940s-50s
- The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee – contemporary fiction set in Hong Kong
- The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming – nonfiction for teens about Russia’s last royal family
- Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys – historical fiction set during World War II in East Prussia (now parts of Russia, Poland, and Lithuania)
- Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith – crime fiction set in the Soviet Union
- A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – historical fiction set entirely in a hotel in Moscow in the Soviet Union
- The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver – historical fiction about a family of missionaries in 1950s Belgian Congo
One of my very favorite movies is In the Mood for Love, a film by Wong Kar-Wai which is set in Hong Kong.
- Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (Korea)
- The Devourers by Indra Das (India)
- Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin (Taiwan)
- The Vegetarian by Han Kang (Korea & Japan)
- Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (Nigeria)
- The Handmaiden (Movie, set in Korea) (Based on Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, set in England)
- Battle Royale by Koushun Takami (Japan)
- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (Spain & Egypt)
- Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross (Italy)
- Parasite Eve by Hideaki Sena (Japan) (Was the inspiration for a series of video games for the Playstation.)
I think I would have to say Sound of Music! I just LOVE this movie. I just recently say a stage production of this also in Boston and it was Terrific also!
Tell us your favorite books & other media set outside the US in the comments!