September 8, 2022

To celebrate International Literacy Day, we asked World Learning global education experts and staff to tell us about their favorite fiction book that best captures another culture or country.

September 8 marks International Literacy Day, a UNESCO annual observance day dedicated to the importance of literacy as a matter of human rights and dignity. Literacy is fundamental to global education, enabling readers globally to connect to other cultures and experiences. Every day, the power of literacy inspires many to envision and create a better world — on the page and in real life.

When World Learning’s extraordinary global education experts and staff aren’t delivering cutting-edge education programming, they’re nose-deep in their favorite books. Here are some of their favorite fiction books that they believe best capture another culture or country.

Dr. Mohamed Abdelaziz, director, STEAM Discovery Center, Saudi Arabia

“The Alchemist” by Paolo Coelho

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

That’s my favorite fiction book that, for me, captures cultures from Andalusia, North Africa (from Morocco to Egypt through the vast Sahara).

The story is about an Andalusian shepherd who sets out in search of a treasure at the feet of the Pyramids in Egypt. In the process, he ends up discovering himself and his potential while swinging between the excitement of the endeavor at times and the overwhelming feelings of despair at others.

After reading it eight times between French and English, I still enjoy “The Alchemist.” With every reading, the inspiring story of self-discovery becomes my own. While having new experiences in life, encountering new people and cultures, and acquiring new learnings, reading the Alchemist endows every cycle of my self-discovery with a purifying effect the same way the Philosopher’s Stone and the Elixir of Long Life have on copper as it turns into gold.

Dr. Radmila Popovic, advisor, TESOL and Online Learning

The “Neapolitan”novels (“My Brilliant Friend,” “The Story of a New Name,” “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay”, and “The Story of the Lost Child”) by Elena Ferrante

“My Brilliant Friend,” the first of the “Neapolitan” novels by Elena Ferrante

These novels tell the story of two friends from Naples, Elena, and Lila, and how their characters, lives, and friendship are shaped by influences and experiences that are both local and international.

The writer brings Naples and Italy very much alive; it’s palpably evident they are so much part of her. Her vivid and (at times unpleasantly) honest descriptions of what it takes for these women to break free of real and figurative poverty are uniquely feminine.

Dr. Kara McBride, senior education specialist, Global Education and TESOL

“Nervous Conditions” by Tsitsi Dangarembga

“Nervous Conditions” by Tsitsi Dangarembga

The summary on the back of the book is better than I could do, so I’m quoting: “Set in colonial Rhodesia in the 1960s, this brilliant debut novel …is an evocative story of a girl’s coming of age and a compelling portrayal of the devastating human loss involved in the colonization of one culture by another.”

Although my life has little in common with the main character’s life, the way Dangarembga narrates the story felt like reading my own thought process — she is that brilliant of a writer. That made the book one of the most relatable books I’ve ever read.

Lois Scott-Conley, advisor, Curriculum and Training

“The Kite Runner” by Khaled Husseini

“The Kite Runner” by Khaled Husseini

Two boys from different ethnic and status groups in Afghanistan are friends as children. The wealthy boy betrays his friend and years later tries to make things better.

The book communicates feelings and we can understand them even though it is in a very different culture. I cared a lot about the characters in the book and their story has stayed with me. I learned about Afghanistan and the discrimination of Hazara people there.