What Are Some Good Books From A Different Cultural Perspective?
Posted on 9th of December, 2018


If you want to read books from different cultural perspectives, it would make sense to seek out foreign authors. In case you need somewhere to get started, here are what I suggest:

1. The White Tiger (Aravind Adiga - 2008). Aravind Adiga is an Indian author and The White Tiger is his debut novel. The premise of the book focuses around a man named Balram Halwai who manages to escape a life of poverty in India. As a very successful businessman he explains how he went from being a servant as a young boy to the "entrepreneur" that he as become. If you have ever been curious about the social castes in India, then this critical analysis by Adiga will be an eye-opener.

2. Mornings In Jenin (Susan Abulhawa - 2006) Mornings in Jenin is something that you don't see very often, a book about Palestine that is set after 1948. Fear and poverty play large roles in this book, not surprising considering the setting, but the author also manages to weave a captivating tale throughout. This story is set in a world that I think very few of us can truly imagine and while it can be hard to read depending on your political stance, I think it is a very powerful and very thought provoking story that deserves to be read.

3. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich ( Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 1963) This is an old book, but a very good one. What makes it unique is that the entire novel takes place in just a single day and the protagonist is just an ordinary person. So far that doesn't sound all that interesting, but it is the setting that makes all the difference. You see, the book takes place in the 1950s and the protagonist, Ivan, is a prisoner in a Soviet labor camp. The conditions are harrowing and the primary focus of all the prisoners is simply that of survival. Chillingly, the author had firsthand experience in the Gulag system after criticizing Stalin.
I have been seeing a lot of children's books becoming much more diverse, but it is still an issue in the world of adult books and even young adults. Things are certainly looking a lot better than they did a few years ago, but there is still some ways to go before we get where we need to be. One thing I think people should not be misled by is books that appear to be culturally diverse, but are actually filled with stereotypes. I have read a couple of good books in this category myself, so allow me to suggest the following ones;

1. American Panda by Gloria Chao. This is one funny and charming book about a Taiwanese-American girl who has to choose between living up to the expectations of her parents and following her own heart. The problem is that her parents have set their hopes on her becoming a doctor and marrying a well-off Taiwanese guy. This all sounds great, but poor Mei is not a big fan of germs, which could put a damper on the whole doctor thing. Then there is Takahashi, her Japanese classmate who manages to get her heart racing. Mei knows exactly what will happen if she disobeyed her parents as her brother already became estranged from them when he decided to date a girl who they did not approve of. The representation in this book is on point and you won't find any lazy stereotypes or cliched characters here. Highly recommended!

2. The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon. Not only is The Sun Is Also A Star very culturally diverse, but it is also very socially relevant and touches upon a lot of topics that are important at the moment. It is about a Jamaican girl named Natasha who just happens to be an undocumented immigrant in America. Unfortunately for Natasha, she along with her whole family is about to deported. As fate would have it, Natasha then meets a Korean-American boy named Daniel just before this happens. Falling in love should be the last thing on their minds, but somehow fate has other plans. This is a great book and I'll admit to shedding a few tears while reading it.

3. The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. I adored this book and I think if you are a fan of Harry Potter, then you will too. Instead of witches and wizards it's got zombies and ghosts, but the lead character Mikey is in no way special or "chosen." Instead, he is just an ordinary teen who would like to get on with is life and try and avoid all the insanity around him. What I like about his book is the diverse cast of characters. Ness has done a good job of including characters of different sexual orientations as well as races and cultures. I also love how he opens each chapter by explaining what the "chosen" ones, who are not the focus of the story, are doing before moving on to the "ordinary" characters. If you are tired of reading about "special" characters, then this book about ordinary people trying to navigate challenging situations is great.

4. Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham. Deramland Burning is such a great book and it is not just because the lead is female and biracial. Her name is Rowan Chase and she accidentally uncovers a whole can of worms when stumbling across an old skeleton on her parent's property. It is clearly the victim of a murder and Rowan becomes determined to solve the mystery, but in the process learn some startling truths about her family. The heart of the mystery is the race riot that took place in Tulsa during the 1920's and the book switches to this time period occasionally to follow an ancestor of Rowan who experienced it firsthand. The story is compelling and the portrayel of biracial characters are handled well.

5. The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Portrayal of Native American people have come a long way since the era of western movies, but the media is still rife with problematic and stereotypical characters. If you yearn for something better, then The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a good place to start. It is about Arnold Spirit Jr, a Native American teen who grows up on an Indian Reservation, but decides to attend a school off the reservation that is all-white. The whole story unfolds from the viewpoint of the protagonist and because he dreams of becoming a cartoonist, it is also filled with illustrations. The great thing about this book is that Junior isn't just a token Native American character. The author depicts him as a fully fledged character with flaws such as stuttering and poor eyesight, which causes him to get bullied even by his own peers on the reservation. This book is not just a great insight in Junior's culture, but also how he views the culture of the white people who go to school with him.
If you have any sort of interest in this type of thing, then you have probably read this book already, but just in case you haven't, don't miss out on Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. The book was published in the late fifties already by a Nigerian author named Chinua Achebe. What makes it so compelling from a cultural perspective is that it centers around Nigeria in pre-colonial days as well as what happened in the country after the Europeans started to make their appearance. The protagonist of the tale is Okonkwo and the novel explores a lot of his life and customs as part of a clan. It also explores the impact that Christian missionaries and the spreading colonialism had on Okonwo. It is a great book and also had a couple of sequels (some direct, some spiritual) that are worth tracking down as well.
A "different cultural perspective" is obviously going to depend on where you are from, but since I am from the United States, I found Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt to be a fascinating book. It is a memoir by the author, so don't go expecting a novel, but honestly I laughed and cried just as much reading this book as I did with some of the best fictional stories. It is about the author's family who move to America from Ireland and have to deal with poverty as well as various social issues. They end up having to move back to Ireland after a few years, which results in the children being bullied due to their American accents. The family have to deal with a LOT of personal tragedies, including multiple deaths of children, and these parts of the story affected me the most. They also experienced poverty on a level that many of us today couldn't even begin to imagine. There is some humor in the book two and it is very uplifting to see what the author made of himself after having to deal with such harsh conditions, so don't let the depressing tone at the start put you off from finishing the story.
It looks like you are in search of books with cultural diversity, which is not only a good thing, but also something that you are bound to find more of these days, which is also a good thing! One of my all time favorites is The Kite Runner (2003) by Khaled Hosseini. Husseini is an Afghan-American and he uses a backdrop to his story that will be familiar to anyone who were glued to their televisions during the crisis in Afghanistan. The protagonist of this novel is a young boy named Amir and the title is based on the fact that the flying of kites was actually banned in Afghanistan by the Taliban. Although the story is fictional, it features a lot of things that really happened, which makes it a very gripping book. If you enjoy The Kite Runner, then you really should also read A Thousand Splendid Suns as well as And The Mountains Echoed from the same author. They all explore themes that we can relate to, such as family, but wrapped in a cultural diverse blank that is extremely refreshing if all you are used to reading are typical American authors.

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