1. Sekret by Lindsay Smith. RUSSIA (USSR)
I just finished this psychic-spy story, set in 1963 Moscow. Teen psychics are forcibly recruited by the KGB to prevent the Americans from stealing plans for a moon rocket. I enjoyed the crazy premise and the horribly realistic setting equally.
2. When My Name was Keoko by Linda Sue Park KOREA
Set in WWII Korea, this story is a fictionalized biography of the author's mother, who lived through the Japanese occupation of Korea.
n the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
I've long considered this one a favorite. You know from the first pages that the Mirabel sisters are doomed, but you still get invested in finding out how they got there. Any little bit I know about the Dominican Republic and the dictatorship of Trujillo, I've learned from Alvarez's work. This is the only one I've read that's actually 100% set there, instead of tracing the immigrant/refugee experience.
4. Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi GERMANY
This book hardly needs introduction. I refused to read it for a few years, thinking of it as "The German Dwarf book" and figuring that Hitler and dwarfs were bound to be an upsetting combination. When my sister finally persuaded me to pick it up, I was absolutely enchanted. Sometimes everyone is talking about a book for good reason!
5. Touch by Claire North EUROPE
This book's locale varies widely, but mostly across Europe, as I recall, and the author is British, so I'm counting it. A wildly inventive POV and approach to ghosts make this a clever, fun read.
6. Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston CANADA
Not to be crass, but this is one of the best books dealing with rape that I've read in a long time. Unlike All the Rage, which is also set in Canada, this one features a protagonist who has support and understanding from her friends, family, and local law enforcement after getting roofied and raped at a cheer camp. It also got me to get over my dated prejudice against cheerleaders. Hermione is as tough and focused as her namesake.
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah SIERRA LEONE
Pretty much what it says. Not an easy read, but very compelling, and hey, it's a memoir, so you know he survived.
8. The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell LATVIA and SWEDEN
I'm a big fan of Nordic detective stories. This one is set in Latvia less than a year before I moved there for most of four years. And, it's set in the neighborhood I lived in when my husband and I spent another year there in the 21st century. So I am completely unable to judge it objectively. I just adore it.
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald ENGLAND and WALES
Another one that doesn't really need me championing it. I just finished it a week or so ago, though, and I found it fascinating. Falconry and grief and T. S. White, and all of it so extremely British.
10. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer FUTURE MEXICO/US BORDER
This is fudging a little bit, because it's set in the future in a land called Opium, which appears to be a new country located between the US and Mexico. But the language and history are more Mexican that American, so I'm claiming it. This hefty but engaging piece of sci fi begins the story of Mateo, a clone created to supply healthy young body parts for El Patron, an evil druglord.
This was an interesting list to make. I was trying to get beyond the obvious (English classics) and also to push myself to not just make a list of books set in Europe as my next-level default. I know I've read more books set in the Middle East and even in the Arctic and Antarctic, but I wasn't thinking of titles quickly enough to be useful. I admit that Africa is a huge gap in my reading, and much of what I have read from that continent is by whites, from natives such as Alan Paton and Nadine Gordimer to colonizers and travelers from E. M. Forster to Agatha Christie to Barbara Kingsolver to Karen Blixen.
I really do believe that reading helps us understand other countries, cultures, histories, and human experiences. It's the closest thing to walking a mile in someone else's shoes that most of us can achieve. So get out there and read books set far from your home!