19 International books you really must read in International City Week

As part of International City Week we asked Library Staff for their favourite books written by international authors or with an international theme. Check out their recommendations below.

Tove Jannsson, Moomins series*

“Moomins are adorable, and very gentle, and mostly kind”.


Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges

“One of my favourites would definitely be the blind Argentinian librarian Jorge Luis Borges. It’s hard to select one specific book by him; I’ll go with Ficciones, which is a selection of stories. Borges’s oeuvre is a world of its own: a mesmerising rumination on life and the limits of our thought and logical reasoning; plays with permutations and time; human life viewed from above like in the paintings of Bruegel the Elder or Hieronymus Bosch. It’s literature that demands intellectual involvement – which certainly pays off.

For anyone interested in getting more insight in the thought and (sometimes humorous!) personality of Borges, I would also recommend reading his conversations with Richard Burgin in the “Last Interview” series published by Melville House ” says Dita.


Elsa Morante’s House of Liars†

“A very unknown book, written by one of the best Italian authors of the 20th century. It’s a family history, taking place in Southern Italy. All the characters are vivid and full of flaws, an aspect that makes them very relatable (if not always likeable)”, says Martina.


Salman Rushdie’s Midnights Children or Ben Okri’s The Famished Road

Both books taught me much about the countries in which they are set. They actually create language”, says Jonathan Winter.


Haruki Murakami

“Set in Japan all of his books have great characters and his love of music, cooking and cats are always involved. I always look forward to his new books coming out. Some of short stories were adapted to the theatre by Theatre de Complicite and shown at the Barbican. I would thoroughly recommend giving his books a go” says Lisa


Maria Turtschaninoff’s Maresi                  

“A dark, feminist fantasy with fairy tale elements that is an engrossing read.”


Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard*

“Favourite book ever.  This is a real masterpiece and Lampedusa’s only novel. I have only read the translation. It is set in Sicily, the closing chapters are very moving and I’ve not read many other novels which give the same feels. I don’t think we have it in the Library but the book is quite famous for it’s evocation of sumptuous food.

I also recommend Carluccio and the Leopard,  where Carluccio – the gorgeous giant of Italian cooking – recreates some of those recipes in the book”.


W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz

“This book tells the story of a young man who fled Czech in 1930s on kindertransport. It’s very sad in a quiet devastating way. I read this on the way to work. The same train route is mentioned in the novel. I am not sure what the translation is like, but if it’s like the original it will be very good.”


Elif Şafak’s The Architect’s Apprentice*

“A gorgeous, rich novel which instantly transports you to 16th century Ottoman Istanbul.   “But Istanbul is a city of easy forgettings. Things are written in water over there, except the works of my master, which are written in stone” says Hannah.


Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski

“What a charming book. Packs a punch and you learn something.”


Marina Lewycka’s A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian         

“I have happy memories of being sat reading this on the bus, laughing out loud so much my sides hurt and being stared at by other passengers wishing they were having as much fun as I was.”


Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes (AKA The Lost Estate or The Lost Domain or Der große Meaulnes)* 

“Written in France just before the First World War, it is a poignant coming of age novel that I first read in my late teens and it has stayed with me ever since.  John Fowles described as “the greatest novel of adolescence in European literature”, which I agree with.  I may have been a teen 86 years after it was written, but it still struck home, representing the emotions of adolescence and what you lose when you grow up.  Tragically, it was Fournier’s only book as he was killed in the first few weeks of the First World War a year after its publication”, says Rachel.


John Dos Passos*

“Not read much these days, he sums up Paris and New York for me in a way no other author does”.


Leo Tolstoi’s Anna Karenina  

“Tolstoi definitely knew what passions and love were about. I read this book in about two weeks. I was literally flying through it every time Anna was on the scene. I’m not sure whether Tolstoi wanted to show her as a sinner or a heroine, but for me she is definitely the latter.” says Martina.


Karl Ove Knausgard* or Dostoyevski

“Karl Ove Knausgard – at the moment. One of my whole time favourite is Dostoyevski.  Knausgard’s writing is not literary but his story telling is very engaging and his descriptions are amazing. The subject matter, describing his family history is also fascinating. Dostoyvski’s writing is simply amazing. In Crime and Punishment he describes brilliantly the mind of the criminal and the suspense is intense.” says Lenka.


Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

“It opened my eyes to serious issues at an early age, much to the embarrassment of my parents.” says Lynn.


Eli Goldstone’s Strange Heart Beating*

“Seb’s wife beautiful Latvian wife Leda is killed by a swan and Seb ends up searching more to find out about her background. A very moving examination of longing, grief, love and international themes. I highly recommend it”.



* Held by Islington Libraries
† Held at Senate House Library


What’s your favourite international book or author? Tell us in the comments below:


Library staff’s favourite summer reads

Summer’s all about finding a good book, a nice patch of sun, and relaxing. Well that and a few other things, but either way the library loves curling up with a good book.

Here’s a list of the favourite books of members of library staff including some great beach reads and airport novels. Enjoy.

Ice cone magnifier




Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy  by Douglas Adams
“I loved a bit of this. Adam’s world is total escapism, very readable on grass, sand or airport lounge.”


Strange Heart Beating by Eli Goldstone
“A brilliant book that explores so much of what makes us what we are. A revelation.”


In Parenthesis by David Jones
“One of the greatest works to come out of the twentieth century. A densely wrought masterpiece that rewards several re-readings. :)”


Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
“What’s not to like about Jane? She gets stuff done and she does not let herself be cowed: “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me. I am a free human being with an independent will.””


Life on air: Memoir’s of a broadcaster by David Attenborough
Catherine says, “I am engrossed in this. I’m listening to it as an audio book and just lurvve his voice, but his journey is so engaging and so much more than the animal documentaries we all know and love.”


On The Beach by Nevil Shute
Lynn is a big fan of this. She says “More of a nuclear summer? I read this at a young age. Characters carried on regardless in the sweltering heat as I realised, to my horror, they were all doomed.  Scarier than any Pan Book of Horror!”


Puberty Blues by Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey
“It’s set in Sydney in Australia in the late 70’s and is about a group of teenagers ‘coming of age’. It’s not really my favourite book, but it and the movie always give me a good laugh for being so cheesy and kitsch.”


A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
“Entertaining but informs the reader of the culture of the times and the history of partition.”


The Bible
Catherine says this “is my handbook for life. It gives me wisdom, encouragement, inspiration and words of love that lift my spirit. It is always in my mind and heart and never far from my hand.”


The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
Alex loves this book. He says it’s “a great mystery with some wonderful characters. Engrossing.”


The Neapolitan by Elena Ferrante
Catie recommends reading these books this summer. She says “they don’t all take place in the summertime, but in Book 2, most of it takes place on a beach in Italy. It’s scandalous, salacious and influences all subsequent books.”


The portrait of the Artist as a young man by James Joyce
“Portrait was challenging conventional ways of writing and long held beliefs and traditions. As an aspiring artist in those days, that’s what I wanted to do as well.  “


The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
“It’s about the love and friendship between a girl and her artist grandmother while they spend the summer together on the Swedish archipelago. It’s about freedom, nature and death and is beautifully written.”


I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
This book sums up summer reading for Samantha. “A beautiful coming of age story about a literary young woman in privileged yet difficult circumstances falling in love, and choosing not to lose her head. It’s wonderfully written, the characters are captivating, and you get a lovely sense of endless English summer.

“I confess it also reminds me of my teenage summers in the countryside, especially as a friend had a very similar house. We had cars though, which did make the meeting of suitable and unsuitable boys much easier!  (Dodie Smith also wrote another much more famous work: 101 Dalmations.)”


The Waste Land  by TS Eliot
“It’s got so many literary illusions – you could DEDICATE your whole life to studying it.”


To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
“The atmosphere of a sleepy Southern town; you just get so sucked in. Kids looking for an adventure over the summer. Compelling, moving and very easy to read.”


VALIS by Philip K Dick
“PKD at his best. It got everything: libraries, mind expansion and the grail myth. A real stonker of a book”.


Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Fanfic before there was even an internet to be a fanperson on? This book “expands and presents a very different view of Jane Eyre, illuminating it with the dark side of the British Empire”.


Anything by MJ Arlidge
One member of staff said he got into these books after they were recommended to him by Director of Library Services.


Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan
Chosen twice.  One member of staff said he likes it because it reminds him of a year spent in Paris and the South of France which he described as “smashing”. Another member of staff said “I just remember a lot of it being on a beach and it was quite evocative”.


Eleanor of Aquitaine
“Eleanor of Aquitaine was the baddasserest queen to ever badass. She married two kings and birthed two more, and outlived all but one, always making sure to run her own Aquitinian estates perfectly whilst fighting off all sorts of ne’erdo wells and having five equally badass daughters. She shaped the 12th century, and with it, western Europe.”



What do you think of our recommendations? Have we missed anything? Tell us in the comments below.