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Mexico 2010 and Reading the World Challenges

January 16, 2010

Does it surprise anyone that I’ve come across two more challenges that I couldn’t resist? These are both geared towards reading internationally, which is one of my favourite things to do! And they both are open to nonfiction as well as fiction, which always makes me happy. :) I had great fun putting these reading lists together, and I’m sure I’ll have just as much fun actually reading the books. ;) I’m curious…are you guys limiting how many challenges you join? Why or why not?

To jump to a specific challenge:
Mexico 2010 Reading Challenge
Reading the World Challenge 2010

Mexico 2010 Reading Challenge
Sylvia is hosting another challenge I can’t resist: the Mexico 2010 Reading Challenge. Participants read at least three books (in honour of the tricolour Mexican flag) of Mexican literature, history, or art. As Sylvia points out, in 1810, Mexico became independent and in 1910, the Mexican Revolution began, so there’s not excuse for me not to learn more about my southern neighbour! Here’s my pool of possibilities, fist nonfiction then fiction:

Reading the World Challenge 2010
PaperTigers is hosting their 2nd round of the Reading the World Challenge. Participants read at least one book from/about/by someone from each of the seven continents over seven months. In a neat twist, you can choose your own starting month, any time between January and June, and then you have to be finished seven months later. I’m going to start in February. :) I’ve also decided that, instead of just one book, I’m going to pick a specific country from each continent, and then read at least three books relevent to it, including at least one nonfiction, one fiction, and one author native to the country. (However, I’ll only be reading one book about Antarctica, for what I hope are obvious reasons.)

For Africa, I’m going to focus on Ethiopia, with the following options:

  • Beneath the Lion’s Gaze by Maaza Mengiste: this is a just-released debut novel by an Ethiopian author set in Addis Ababa “on the eve of the revolution” that follows one family and their various reactions to the war.
  • Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese: I’ve seen several positive reviews of this one, also a debut novel by an Ethiopian author, in the blogosphere. And there are twins! And secrets! It sounds like an epic family saga, which tends to be right up my alley. :)
  • Held at a Distance by Rebecca Hails: this is an intriguing-sounding memoir (I loved the Ethiopian memoir I read last year, In the Hyena’s Belly). When Haile was a child in the 70s, her parents emmigrated to the US. She returned to Ethiopia in 2001, and this is an account of that trip, and I’m sure her family’s history.
  • Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb: Gibbs is Canadian, but much of the book takes place Harar, and then later among Ethiopian refugees in London. It’s the story of Lilly, who after an odd childhood, ends up being a white Muslim caught up in the Ethiopian revolution.
  • There is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene: another one I learned about thanks to book bloggers! Greene is a Western journalist with two adopted Ethiopian children, and in this book she profiles Haregewoin Tefarra, an Ethiopian woman who takes care of AIDS orphans. There are so many complexities surrounding international adoption, the AIDS epidemic, etc., that this sounds like it could be a really thought-provoking book.
  • The Hospital by the River by Catherine Hamlin: this is a memoir by an Australian gynecologist and her husband (also a gynecologist) who moved to Ethiopia and set up a hospital to help women suffering from fistulas. When I read Half the Sky last year, I was horrified to learn about how many women suffer from these horrific (sorry, I can’t think of another adjective) childbirth complications. I feel like I have a moral obligation to learn more about it.
  • In Search of King Solomon’s Mines by Tahir Shah: this is a travelogue by an Anglo-Afghan (according to Wikipedia) author who travels about Ethiopia looking for King Solomon’s mines (as is evident by the title!). He’s written lots of interesting-sounding travelogues, so if I enjoy this one, I have a whole backlist to explore!
  • The God Who Begat the Jackal by Nega Mezlekia: Mezlekia wrote that Ethiopian memoir I mentioned loving earlier, so I was delighted to discover that he now has a novel out! And it’s set in pre-colonial Abyssinia! I’m seriously so excited about this one. :)
  • The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu: this is another one that’s gotten a lot of blogger attention. Mengestu was born in Ethiopia, but he moved to the US when he was 2, and his debut novel looks at an Ethiopian immigrant in D.C. during the 70s.

For Antarctica, I’ve found a couple of nonfiction books that sound interesting (but if you’ve read and loved a book about the frozen continent, let me know in the comments!):

  • The Coolest Race on Earth by John Hanc: I’ve been trying to expand my awareness sports books, since I like to think I read widely in nonfiction, and this sounds really interesting! Apparently, there’s a marathon held annually on Antarctica, and this is a book about both the race in general (it began in 1995) and Hanc’s particular experience when he decided to his 50th birthday present would be participating in it.
  • Terra Incognita by Sara Wheeler: there are a lot of travelogues out there about Antarctica! But for some reason this one jumped out at me. Wheeler spent seven months down there, and in addition to writing about her experiences, she includes a look at the historical explorers.

For Asia, I can’t decide whether I want to focus on Thailand or Pakistan. So I’m including options for both! :)

  • The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang: this is a memoir/family history of a Hmong refugee who immigrated to America when she was 6.
  • Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap: this is a short story collection set in modern Thailand, with a focus on coming-of-age themes. Lapcharoensap is Thai-American.
  • Four Reigns by Kukrit Pramo: this is a historical epic (which really appeals to me) written by a Thai author that begins in the 1890s and goes through WWII, following one woman who’s connected to the royal courts.
  • Touch the Dragon by Karen Connelly: I guess this is out of print (since there’s no info available about it on either of the book seller sites I checked), but Connelly is a Canadian author (perhaps best known for her novel set in Burma, The Lizard Cage): this is a travelogue/memoir of her year living in Thailand as a teenage exchange student.
  • Letters From Thailand by Botan: this is apparently one of Thailand’s most popular ‘modern classics,’ and is about the life of a Chinese immigrant in Bangkok.


For Australiasia, I really wanted to focus on some of the island nations of the Pacific. But let me tell you, there’s not many books available here in the States written by people of those countries! In the end, I put together slim lists for Papua New Guinea and Tahiti.
Papua New Guinea:


  • Frangipani by Celestine Hitiura Vaite: the first novel by Tahitian Vaite to be published in the US, it focuses on a modern Tahitian woman. And if I enjoy it, my library has three other books by Vaite!
  • Aphrodite’s Island by Anne Salmond: this history book isn’t released until a bit later this year, but it sounds like a wonderful look at when Europeans arrived at Tahiti and what resulted.
  • Twenty Blue Devils by Aaron Elkins
  • : this is one of a mystery series that features an American anthropologist. It’s set amidst the coffee plantations of Tahiti, and since reading a travelogue focused on coffee and fair trade issues last year (Javatrekker), I’ve been curious about the topic.

For Europe, I’ve chosen Poland (there aren’t as many novels by Polish authors on this list as I would like, but most of my library’s holdings of Polish novelists are actually in Polish…frustrating!):

For North American, I’ve chosen Nicaragua (ok, so it’s technically Central America, but I’m doing a Canada Challenge and a Mexico Challenge, so just go with it, hehe):

For South America, I’ve chosen Brazil:

54 Comments leave one →
  1. January 16, 2010 3:59 pm

    These challenges look so great and wonderful…I am tempted. Ugh. I’ll have to think about and see if I can add in the Mexico one since I am already doing the Global Reading Challenge.

    • January 17, 2010 4:54 pm

      The Mexico Challenge is only 3 books-you know you want to do it. ;)

  2. January 16, 2010 4:10 pm

    I have read a resounding ONE of these books! That was Sweetness in the Belly which I thoroughly enjoyed and look forward to your thoughts.

    I’ll be interested also in hearing about Cutting for Stone as it’s been receiving a lot of press. In fact, depending what you say I may propose it to one of my book groups for reading; we discuss our choices over food inspired by the book and I do so love Ethiopian food!

    • January 17, 2010 4:55 pm

      I’ve never had Ethiopian food…got any recipes to share? :) And I’m glad you enjoyed Sweetness in the Belly!

  3. January 16, 2010 4:13 pm

    I think you’ll like Meet Me Under the Ceiba! I also know that A Brief History of the Dead has parts of it set in Antarctica.

    • January 17, 2010 4:56 pm

      I think I will too-one of the reviews that convinced me to put it on my list was yours! :) The idea of fiction set in Antarctica freaks me out. Which is kind of odd, thinking about it.

  4. January 16, 2010 4:19 pm

    Sweetness in the Belly was one of my favorite books the year I read it & after reading it I read everything by Gibb I could find, including all short stories available on-line. :) I’m really looking forward to her next book.
    Cutting for Stone is on my TBR list.
    For Poland I would highly recommend anything by Olga Tokarczuk. Maybe your library has either House of Day, House of Night and/or Primeval and Other Times?
    After seeing your lists I’m very, very tempted to join the Reading the World Challenge myself. :)


    • January 17, 2010 4:57 pm

      Ohh-good to know! My library only has Tokarczuk in Polisj, not English. :/ And I don’t think Polish is close enough to Russian for me to be able to puzzle it out, lol.

  5. January 16, 2010 4:24 pm

    Brazil is a fascinating country. I’ve been studying it all month in my Enchantment of the World Challenge. Jason’s made us some Brazilian food and I’ve been reading nonfiction and a photography book set in the rainforest. It’s been a lot of fun learning stuff. I even got to go to the zoo and study all the animals native to Brazil. :D

    I am limiting my challenges because they make me overwhelmed if go into too many. Plus this year I just made my own challenges up – the Enchantment one, one for short stories, one for poetry, and one for drama. I’m trying to concentrate more on my own goals in reading, if that makes sense.

    • January 17, 2010 4:58 pm

      Very fun! I agree-Brazil is definitely fascinating. It’s on my top ten list of countries to visit. ;)

      It makes sense that you would join fewer official challenges since you’re doing your personal ones. Plus, don’t you want to read less this year? Challenges would be counterproductive for that!

  6. January 16, 2010 4:40 pm

    I don’t know if you read my review of Terra Incognita this past year but I really liked the book and thought it did a great job opening Antarctica up to the armchair traveler.

    • January 17, 2010 4:59 pm

      I’m off to check out your review! I’m so glad you to hear you liked it. :)

  7. January 16, 2010 5:54 pm

    I’ll be interested to hear about your Brazil books–I’m daydreaming about my trip there at this time last year!

    I’m kind of fascinted with Antarctica, so have a few titles for you:

    This Wild Silence by Lucy Jane Bledsoe (fiction)
    Whiteout by Greg Rucka (graphic novel, fiction)
    On the Ice by Gretchen Legler (nonfiction, about life on McMurdo)
    Wondrous Cold, Joan Myers (nonfic, great pictures)
    No Horizon is So Far (nonfic about two women who skied arcross the continent)

    Enjoy the challenge, what a great way to see the world!

    • January 17, 2010 4:59 pm

      Colour me jealous! ;)

      Thanks for all of the Antarctica suggestions; I have like the opposite of fascination, lol. I don’t like penguins or the cold!

  8. January 16, 2010 6:16 pm

    I’ve never read Allende. Any recommendations where to start with her work?

    • January 17, 2010 5:02 pm

      Hmmm…a lot of times w/ a new author, I like to read them in published order. House of Spirits is her first published one. But if you’re not a huge fan of magical realism, you might go for Portrait in Sepia instead. :)

  9. January 16, 2010 6:34 pm

    Wow! I can just about imagine the amount of excitement you had putting that list together! Oh girl! That is one awesome list! have fun reading! :)

  10. January 16, 2010 7:27 pm

    There is No Me Without You is a phenomenal book, my 2nd favorite of the books I read in 2005 if I remember right. And it will be a good one for your challenge as the author does not focus on just her subject but spends some time describing Ethiopia’s unique history of resisting colonization as well as exploring the different theories on the origin of the AIDS epidemic. The book made me think (and it also made me cry).

    • January 17, 2010 5:20 pm

      Oh-good to know! I’m even more excited about reading it now. :)

  11. January 16, 2010 7:38 pm

    I’ve already got as many challenges as I can handle this year, but you’ve got so many great titles on those lists I’m tempted to add some to my TBR for someday-in-the-future reads…

    • January 17, 2010 5:21 pm

      I love my TBR pool! I swear I have books in there for every possible mood. :)

  12. January 16, 2010 10:04 pm

    More Challenges for Eva = more exciting & thorough booklists for the rest of us! ;)

    I really loved Karen Connolly’s Touch the Dragon. Let me know if you can’t find one, I might be able to locate one more easily here in Canada. I like her writing a lot, hope you’ll try this one.

    Also, for Polish reading, if you can find The Bronski House by Philip Marsden, it is an amazing read. Nonfic/memoir kind of tale. Excellent.

    • January 17, 2010 5:21 pm

      Aww-thanks! My library has a copy of Touch the Dragon, which makes me happy. :) And it has The Bronski House, so thanks for the rec!

  13. January 17, 2010 3:41 am

    I just finished reading a book (The Life You Can Save, by Peter Singer) in which he discusses how affordable it is for people in rich countries to donate to fix fistulas — it’s around 50 dollars per operation and restores these women, giving them a chance at a new life.

    • January 17, 2010 5:22 pm

      As soon as I’m working, I’ll be all about microloans and donations to women in lesser developed countries! That book sounds like a good one.

  14. January 17, 2010 9:05 am

    Wow – you are definitely Challenge Queen. You go girl! Good luck with these two wonderful challenges.

  15. January 17, 2010 9:43 am

    Wonderful reading list! I was hoping to see something about a Mexican ‘Western’ novel or something based on the life of Mexican leader Emiliano Zapata on your list :)

    It was also interesting to see your reading list on Ethiopia. ‘Cutting for stone’ is also there on my reading list and I am hoping to read ‘The Beautiful Things that Heaven’ Bears’ sometime, because one of my friends gave a glowing review about it. One of the adventure novels which I read many years back called ‘The Seventh Scroll’ by South African writer Wilbur Smith was set in Ethiopia. It was an interesting read, but I don’t know whether you like books like that.

    On books by Pakistani writers, I would recommend ‘Basti’ by Intizar Husain. It is a classic.

    It was interesting to see ‘Futebol’ and ‘Frangipani’ in your reading list. They are there in my ‘TBR’ list too :)

    All the best with your challenges!

    • January 17, 2010 5:24 pm

      I think Here’s to You, Jesusa! might qualify as Western-ish. :) I’m hesitant about historical fiction centered around real people; I’d rather read a biography.

      I’ve been meaning to read Wilbur Smith for awhile-his historical nautical books seem really interesting!

      Thanks for recommending Basti; I hope my library has it. :)

  16. January 17, 2010 1:12 pm

    I have limited in joining challenges to one at the moment as it is my first try ever and I would like to make sure I am up for this kind of adventures. It definitely motivates anyone to continue on even when half of our brain is ready to give up and I am sure as that in the the future I’ll have the guts to take on more reading challenges. And Eva – I admire your courage and determination and I look forward on your reviews and thoughts.

    • January 17, 2010 5:25 pm

      That makes sense; my first year of blogging, I didn’t join nearly as many challenges! :)

  17. January 17, 2010 2:22 pm

    Wow–that’s in impressive list!

    • January 17, 2010 5:25 pm

      Thanks! I had fun putting them all together. :)

  18. January 17, 2010 4:03 pm

    Eva, I’m super intrigued by the Reading the World Challenge, and had great fun looking at your choices. Did you ever post a recap of all the countries you visited through fiction last year? As you know, I want to read more internationally, but I always find it hard finding enough options for countries outside of my own reading safezone… I know you’re a huge literary jetsetter, so I really want to see where you’ve traveled through books to start getting some ideas!

    • January 17, 2010 5:26 pm

      I’m halfway done with that recap; I got lazy! But I’ll start working on it again, and I’ll publish it this week. Promise!

  19. January 17, 2010 4:22 pm

    Wow, Eva, what a fabulous reading list you’ve put together – I’m so glad you’re joining the Reading the World Challenge and am so impressed with how organised you are! Looking forward to hearing more about the books you choose to read.

    • January 17, 2010 5:26 pm

      Thanks! I’m excited that you’re hosting the challenge. :)

  20. January 17, 2010 10:52 pm

    I read Daughters of Juarez in 2007 while I was working on an original theatre piece about the women of Juarez. It was very well written, read pretty quickly for nonfiction along with being very informative. It is harrowing in parts, though. I will be interested to see what you think if you end up reading it.

    • August 2, 2010 9:26 am

      Really? I”m glad it’s well-written, but I’ll have to gear myself up for it…I’m not usually that good at handling true crime.

  21. Mome Rath permalink
    January 18, 2010 8:33 pm

    I like the thought you put into selecting options for books from each of the continents. A suggestion for Australasia would be to see if you can find anything by the author Albert Wendt — he’s a Samoan author who lives in the US now. I read his book Leaves of the Banyan Tree (also published as just The Banyan) last year, and it had a style that surprised me. I’m hoping to find something at the library by Machado de Assis for a Brazilian book this year — his Dom Casmurro is supposed to inspire great debate among readers, and is my first choice.
    Incidentally, I’m just starting Fingersmith this week, so I’ll have to check out your review once I finish it.

  22. January 20, 2010 7:21 am

    I do limit my challenges this year: simply because I get stressed out and “obligated” to read MORE and I already am VERY BUSY. But I love these lists and the Reading the World Challenge is particularly tempting. I’m going to be tempted to follow along!

    Wilkie Collins wrote a book about Antarctica: The Frozen Deep. But most of it takes place in England, so maybe that doesn’t count. I loved reading about Ernest Shakelton’s excursion to Antarctica. But I can’t remember the name of the great book I read so that doesn’t help.

    • August 2, 2010 9:28 am

      I lurve Collins, so I might read it anyway! :)

  23. January 23, 2010 3:54 pm

    I LOVED Sweetness in the Belly, I highly recommend it (that’s a link to my review, if you’re interested). So many great books here! I wish I could take you with me whenever I browse in Chapters :D

  24. February 19, 2010 6:18 pm

    About your Mexico 2010 challenge, I’ve already swept through The Labyrinth of Solitude and In Search for Klingsor. Both are great, but if you want to have a laugh while reading about Mexico’s culture I’d recommend Jorge Ibarguengoytia’s Instrucciones para vivir en Mexico (Instructions for Living in Mexico).

    Volpi’s novel is amazing. It’s setting is around this time (if I recall correctly), but it does refer to stuff in WWII. In Search for Klingsor was one of my favorite reads in 2008.

  25. August 2, 2010 2:37 am

    Hi Eva

    I have recently joined the book blogging community with my blog: The Literary Nomad at

    I am chronicling a challenge I have set myself to read my way through every country in the world.

    I have just discovered your blog and I love it! It is so great to find other people who share my passion for books and for world literature. As I am looking for recommendations/reviews of books for the countries I am visiting, I will be keenly reading your reviews of the books you are reading for the Reading The World challenge as well as other books you read of the world literature genre. If you find the time, I’d love it if you could suggest any titles to me of books you have absolutely adored that have been really reflective of the countries in which they are set.

    I’ll also continue to keep visiting your blog to see what you are reading and enjoying, what your readers are also commenting on and to share my comments if that is okay too!

    • August 2, 2010 9:33 am

      Hi! Welcome to book blogging; it’s a fun place to be. :) Your challenge sounds like fun-I love international reading too. And of course visiting and commenting on my blog is lovely!

      I wrapped up my international reading from last year in a post here:

      It might be useful to you as a start. :) I’ve also done quite a few booklists with various international themes over the years. I”m working on compiling a directory of the lists, but until then you can see them all by clicking on the ‘Categories’ sidebar and then selecting ‘Book Lists.’


  1. Reading the World Challenge « Olduvai Reads
  2. Reading the World Challenge – Update #1
  3. Cutting For Stone – Abraham Verghese « A Book Sanctuary
  4. Mperience!

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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