Reading is a leisurely joy for many and, quite frankly, an adventure that leads us into a vicarious world of possibilities, plots, drama, twists, and perhaps eccentric but loveable characters. But there are many existing novels that will enlighten you with fresh cultural perspective. Below are a few bestselling novels with their synopses that will plant in you a seed of cultural knowledge and appreciation that will hopefully grow into further exploration!
- Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells the unique love story of Ifemelu, a young Nigerian woman, and Obinze, a young Nigerian man. Americanah is set in a time where military dictatorship breaks out in Nigeria and many citizens are seeking to leave the country. Ifemelu then leaves for the United States for university while Obinze, wanting to join Ifemelu, ends up in London. They both have struggles adapting to these new cultures as immigrants: Ifemelu becomes a victim of racism and depression while struggling to find a job and adapt to American culture. Meanwhile in London, Obinze’s visa expires and he ends up undocumented, seeking to live under a different name to remain in his new home. Later, amid Ifemelu’s blogging success in America and Obinze’s high-paying job as a property developer back in Nigeria, the two reunite in their native country in hopes of rekindling their relationship. Americanah tells a relatable story through the lens of immigrants who struggle to adapt to a new world but still find success while managing to stay rooted in their culture.
- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy is one of the greatest love stories in world literature! This dense, but equally intriguing, novel is set in imperial Russia. Anna Karenina, a married woman and mother, falls madly in love with a rich army officer named Count Vronsky. Anna’s passionate love and desire to find meaning in her life drives her to leave her husband and child to live with Vronsky. But she soon slips into a hopeless situation from which she cannot seem to escape. Anna Karenina is infused with history and Russian culture, and paints a picture of what 19th century Russia looked like. It also shows how Anna was ostracized and criticized by her peers for breaking Russian society norms.
- The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri is a vivid and comprehensive family saga that traces the life of an Indian family during times of brutal war. It marries Indian culture with its history. The family flees to America because of this war and the narrator follows how they adjust to American culture and customs, despite being haunted by their past.
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is steeped in culture as it takes place in 18th century Ghana. Homegoing follows two half sisters who were born in two different villages and brought up in polarizing situations, completely unaware of one another. One sister grows up marrying a wealthy Englishman and lives in a castle. The other sister ends up being captured, imprisoned in the same castle as her sister, and sold into slavery. This is also a family saga that follows the descendants to Mississippi, all the way to the Jazz Age.
- Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi is a graphic (comic) novel but a literary favorite that is set in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Satrapi gives us a true account of her childhood that is marred with war in her country. This poignant story is told through the eyes and voice of an intelligent, outspoken young girl and is soaked in the country’s history. It gives a vivid image on what the culture is like and teaches a great deal on how to positively respond to national chaos.
These are only a few novels that are steeped with culture and history. There are so many more gems to explore and gain a sharper perspective on different cultures – take a look through your local library to find some that open your eyes to something new!