My Top 10 Favourite Around the World Memoir Books – Education Series 4/4

There were so many Around the World Memoir books that I’ve loved which I couldn’t fit in the list, but I decided to stick to authors of colour in this blog post as they are generally underrepresented against white people, so a few books like Educated, Glass Castle, and War Doctor are not in this list, but are still eye-opening reads which I loved and recommend. I also tried to keep the list spread over the globe instead of all in one place, so you’ll find books here ranging from the Middle East and Africa to North Korea and Cambodia.

(Note: For those who struggle to read due to an illness such as M.E, I have added how many pages each book contains and I have rated all the books on how hard they are to read – from “Easy”, to “Moderate”, to “Hard”. The ones which I have labeled “Easy” are generally the shorter books that are concise and to the point, while those I have labeled “hard” are the longer books with often some research in them. If you do not suffer from ill health or have no problems reading, you can ignore this! This is simply for those who struggle to read so they can know which books are easiest.)

*Please also note that some of my reviews of the books use extracts and sentences from the book's synopsis on Goodreads*

1.“The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State” by Nadia Murad

In this intimate memoir of survival, a former captive of the Islamic State tells her harrowing and ultimately inspiring story. The story of an isis sex slave is never, ever going to be an easy one. But I always think that if they can go through it, then I can at least read it. Her voice needs to be heard, everything after thing she has been through, she deserves to be heard. She ends the book with, “I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine.” This book is a testament to the sheer will to survive and the human spirit. (Pages – 329. Reading difficulty – Moderate.) *trigger warning: rape, violence, abuse *Available as audiobook

2. “I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity” by Izzeldin Abuelaish

This is a memoir from a Palestinian doctor who, despite witnessing the death of 3 of his daughters in the Israeli incursion into Gaza in January 2009, continued his medical and humanitarian work aimed at bringing the people of the region together in peace. This book is so heart-warming, showing how much the “us vs you” concept is incredibly damaging and so false: there are nice people on the side of the people you are fighting, and there are not nice people on the side you are with. It makes you question everything about war and the sad, unbearable damages it puts all the innocent lives through - the ones who never chose the war in the first place always seem to be the ones who suffer the most. Please do read this if you can, it also educated me on the Palestine strip which I didn’t know enough about at all. (Pages – 239. Reading difficulty – Hard.)

3. “Rosewater: A Family's Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival” by Maziar Bahari

An absolutely brilliant story of an Iranian man who immigrated to Canada at a young age and subsequently settled in London, and who went to cover Iran’s presidential election in 2009, leaving behind his pregnant fiancee. Little did he know, as he kissed her good-bye, that he would spend the next three months in Iran’s most notorious prison, enduring brutal interrogation sessions at the hands of a man he knew only by his smell: Rosewater. This book shows the ridiculousness and paranoia surrounding Iran at the time (and still now) towards journalists and westerners, mistaking them for spies (thinking of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe). It has also been made into a film if you would rather watch that as the book is a hard read with a lot of history and politics.  (Pages – 400. Reading difficulty – Hard.)

4. “Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood” by Trevor Noah

The compelling, inspiring, (often comic) coming-of-age story of Trevor Noah, set during the twilight of apartheid in South Africa and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed. This book is so so brilliant, very funny, breezy, but also eye-opening and honest. One quote I’ve never forgotten from this book is -“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.” You’ll probably be surprised at how good this book is. (Pages – 304. Reading difficulty – Easy.)  *Available as audiobook

5. “In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom” by Yeonmi Park

I’ve read three books on North Korea, but this peaked just above the other two as my favourite (although this was my first North Korean book so that could be why). This book is the story of Park's struggle to survive in the darkest, most repressive country on earth; her harrowing escape through China's underworld of smugglers and human traffickers; and then her escape from China across the Gobi desert to Mongolia, with only the stars to guide her way, and from there to South Korea and at last to freedom; and finally her emergence as a leading human rights activist - all before her 21st birthday. The saddest thing for me about this book is how many people abuse and take advantage of vulnerable people in need. If you’d like to read the other two books too, I do also recommend them as they are all eye-opening by their own accounts: Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick, and River of Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa. (Pages – 273. Reading difficulty – Moderate.) *Available as audiobook

6. “First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers” by Loung Ung

A powerful, raw, heartbreaking story of the Cambodian killing fields and when Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge army stormed into Phnom Penh in April 1975. It is an unforgettable book told through the voice of the young and fearless Loung. I learned so much from this book, especially how quickly someone could go from being at the top to starving and at the bottom like every other person. I will definitely never forget this book. I know it has now also been made into a film available on Netflix, which I plan to watch soon. (Pages – 352. Reading difficulty – Moderate.) *trigger warning: starvation, violence *Available as audiobook

7. “We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria” by Wendy Pearlman

I absolutely LOVED this book. The situation in Syria is so complicated, and while we often like to believe we know what’s going on, I can admit I still struggle to understand. This book is laid out in a way where you get a little history lesson before each part, and then you will have testimonies from people who are living there, around there, or have lived there, relevant to that part of time. Some of these testimonies are several pages long, eloquent narratives that could stand alone as short stories; others are only a few sentences, poetic and aphoristic. It is one of the most beautiful books I have read and if I could send everyone I copy I would! (Pages – 352. Reading difficulty – Moderate.) *Available as audiobook

8. “The Complete Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi

I never normally read comics, but this book was amazing! Funny, insightful, candid, and sad. It is a coming of age novel of a young Iranian girl living in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, who then gets sent to live in Austria for 4 years for her safety. The thing I loved most about this book was just how human it is: the graphic depictions make you imagine yourself in her shoes, and how god damn hard and unfair it is. It also shows how incredibly hard it was for her family to send her away from them for her own safety, and the struggles she faced as an immigrant. Don’t read this on kindle as its a comic - I managed to get this out from my library so maybe see if you can get it out from there too as it’s such a brilliant book. (Pages – 341. Reading difficulty – Easy.) 

9. “The Raqqa Diaries: Escape from Islamic State” by Samer

The Raqqa Diaries is the product of contact between the BBC and a small activist group from Syria. The book tells the story of “Samer”, one of the members of the activist group. The diarist’s father is killed and mother badly injured during an airstrike, he is sentenced to 40 lashes for speaking out against a beheading, he sees a woman stoned to death. It shows how every aspect of life is impacted – from the spiralling costs of food to dictating the acceptable length of trousers. This is a raw and profoundly brutal book, but so so important to read - I think when you hear stories from Syria they’re often so unbelievable they’re hard to comprehend that they’re actually real and happening right now, but this book does make you face the reality of the situation a lot more starkly. (Pages – 108. Reading difficulty – Easy.) *trigger warning: abuse, violence

10.“The Shadow of The Sun: My African Life” by Ryszard Kapuściński

I’ve been so lucky to visit Africa quite a few times throughout my childhood, so I have a soft place in my heart for this continent and fond memories of the place and the people. This book is a brilliant memoir-type novel encompassing historical narratives and personal experience across a host of countries, including Ethiopia, Uganda, Nigeria, Sudan, and Liberia. Some of the stories made me laugh as it bought back memories (there is no such thing as on time in Africa), as well as some more serious and unbelievable situations the author found himself in. It is a brilliant resource of information to understand Africa in all its complexities, histories, and delights. (Pages – 323. Reading difficulty – Hard.)

There are also so many incredible fiction books based on places around the world which I would highly recommend, such as “The City of Brass” by S.A Chakraborty, an epic fantasy, Muslim represented book, based in the middle east. Or “A Woman is No Man” by Etaf Rum, a contemporary Palestine-American novel based around the Arab culture. Or “Lion” by Saroo Brierley, a memoir about how aged five, he was separated from his family in India after he boarded a train that took him 1500km away from home, and was eventually adopted by an Australian couple, but decades later, he tried to find his way home. There are so many incredible non-fiction and fiction books out there on stories from Around the World, too many to name here (written by authors who best represent that story.)

If you have any recommendations for me, please do let me know by leaving a comment below. You can also follow me on Goodreads where you can see all my book reviews and ratings, as well as explore my different shelves for the different types of books I read (all these books listed come under my non-fiction and/or memoir shelf).

Metta, E xx

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