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Reading around the world

Authors worth getting to know for international settings

By Denise Doucette Friday


The Light in the Ruins Set in 1943 war-torn Tuscany, the Rosati family believes they are safe from the war hiding in their grand villa in the hills south of Florence. Yet when Nazis soldiers take over the estate for lodging, their beautiful home becomes their prison. Jump forward to 1955, and the Florence police are investigating a killer who is targeting the remaining members of the Rosati family. In World War II, Italy was an ally to Germany as much as it was occupied by them, and author Chris Bohjalian portrays the hostile relationship between the German soldiers and the Italian citizens, as well as the impossible choices people had to make to survive. Part murder mystery and part historical fiction, a great read portraying the horrors of war set against the beauty of the Italian countryside. Bohjalian lives in Vermont and has published 20 novels.


A Man Called Ove Ove is an elderly man who has lost the love of his life, been forced into retirement and would like to quietly take his own life without any interruptions, thank you very much. Yet there are lightbulbs to change, notices to give out to those who park in the wrong spots, a stray cat that needs tending to, and a pesky pregnant neighbor who insists on being kind to him. You will fall in love with this curmudgeon who each day finds more and more reasons to live. Fredrik Backman has fantastic character development, even in animals. Backman lives in Sweden and has written seven books.


Shanghai Girls Lisa See is a brilliant writer of past and modern Chinese-American cultures. This historical fiction follows two sisters, May and Pearl, who live a glamorous and carefree life in Shanghai. It comes to an abrupt end when their father sells them into arranged marriages to pay off a debt. Days later, Japan invades China. Their journey of escape eventually leads them to a life in Los Angeles Chinatown, where they experience hardship and poverty, discrimination and threat of deportation during the Confession Program that searched out Communists. Yet throughout it all, the sisters have each other. See lives in California and has written 10 books.


A Change in Altitude When a newly married American couple moves to Nairobi for a yearlong assignment, they begin to adapt to their surroundings in Africa. He works at a hospital and she is a freelance photographer for a newspaper. Another couple invites them to climb Mount Kenya, and they eagerly agree. A tragedy unfolds, and the couple must attempt to navigate the foreign culture as well as their marriage. Anita Shreve cleverly conveys the uncertainties of relationships via a misconstrued gesture, a suspicious glance, an overheard partial conversation. Her characters are real and vulnerable. Shreve has published 18 novels. She died in 2018 at home in New Hampshire after a battle with cancer.


Esperanza Rising (for ages 8-13) It’s 1924 and 6-year-old Esperanza lives a charmed life as the only daughter of a wealthy vineyard owner in beautiful Aguascalientes. Her family has servants and horses and big fiestas after the grape harvest. She is happy and loved. As she is about to turn 13, tragedy strikes, and she and her mom have to migrate to California and work in farm labor camps to survive. In this new life, she must traverse the complexity of work strikes, replacement workers and deportation. It is the Grapes of Wrath from the Mexican migrant workers’ point of view. A poignant story for kids about overcoming adversity and starting over. Pam Muñoz Ryan has written over 30 children and young adult books. She lives in California.