The Favorite Literary Work of Every Country Visualized on a World Map

Begun by user “BackForward24” and crowd­sourced through Red­dit, this map of the world illus­trates the most beloved/popular book of each coun­try by past­ing a scan of the book cov­er over its space on the world map. For book lovers who want to read them­selves around the world, it will prove invalu­able. (And if you can’t read the map, no wor­ries, there is a text ver­sion avail­able.)

But let’s unpack the larg­er (and yes, first world) coun­tries first. The Unit­ed States is rep­re­sent­ed by To Kill a Mock­ing­bird, which ticks off a lot of the marks that make it quin­tes­sen­tial­ly Amer­i­can: most high school­ers have read it, and it deals with both racism and our shame­ful his­to­ry and the faith that the law can even­tu­al­ly right wrongs. Cana­da has Anne of Green Gables. Great Britain has Charles Dick­ens’ Great Expec­ta­tions, and Ire­land Ulysses (no sur­prise there.)

Our Aus­tralian read­ers might want to weigh in on Tom Winton’s Cloud­street (a quite recent nov­el), and New Zealan­ders please tell us about The Bone Peo­ple by Keri Hulme.

My take­away and pos­si­bly yours from the map is how many titles are new to the West­ern­er. Europe has some famil­iar titles: Spain gets Cer­vantes’ Don Quixote (of course), Italy gets Dante’s The Divine Com­e­dy, and France gets Les Mis­érables by Hugo. And while Rus­sia is rep­re­sent­ed by Tolstoy’s War and Peace, East­ern Europe is rather unfa­mil­iar, at least com­pared to South Amer­i­ca, where Argenti­na has Borges’ Fic­tions, Chile has Isabel Allende’s The House of Spir­its, and Colom­bia has Marquez’s One Hun­dred Years of Soli­tude, all well known from decades of prizes, book club atten­tion, and film adap­ta­tions.

This Red­dit thread con­tains much crit­i­cism and debate, so please check it out. Some good points are raised: if the Ili­ad rep­re­sents Greece, why not the Mahabharata/Ramayan for India? “Hon­est­ly there is work to do (in) the Africa part,” says anoth­er (very polite­ly). There’s also debate over coun­tries not being rep­re­sent­ed at all, such as Tibet (under Chi­nese occu­pa­tion), along with West­ern Sahara, Soma­liland, Kash­mir, Balochis­tan, and Kur­dis­tan. Frankly, if you start try­ing to talk about the cul­ture of nations, there will be debate over what con­sti­tutes a nation. (I’m not sure if Pales­tine is cov­ered, but some Red­di­tors are vot­ing for Susan Abulhawa’s Morn­ings in Jenin.)

Anoth­er thing to keep in mind: the nov­el is very much a West­ern genre. For many coun­tries, that might not be the case. How­ev­er, I sense that that debate (and future map) will be anoth­er Red­dit thread, some­where, some­time.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Map Show­ing How Much Time It Takes to Learn For­eign Lan­guages: From Eas­i­est to Hard­est

Down­load 67,000 His­toric Maps (in High Res­o­lu­tion) from the Won­der­ful David Rum­sey Map Col­lec­tion

An Inter­ac­tive Map of Every Record Shop in the World

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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Comments (7)
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  • MMG says:

    The idea is a cool one, and I hope the cre­ator con­tin­ues to devel­op it. The method­ol­o­gy, how­ev­er, is unclear and should thus be viewed with cau­tion. It seems that many of the books are writ­ten about a place for a West­ern (Amer­i­can?) audi­ence. The books for India and Cuba, for exam­ple, are most­ly unknown with­in those coun­tries. That is a shame, as those two coun­tries have a pletho­ra of rich and famous lit­er­a­ture, e.g., Tagore, Car­pen­tier. I can only guess that many of the oth­er coun­tries are the same. My guess is sup­port­ed by the com­ments on the Red­dit page.

    To answer one of your points, The Bone Peo­ple is a fan­tas­tic book. It was NZ’s first Book­er Prize and, sim­i­lar to Huck Finn, tries to address the ques­tion of how the coun­try moves for­ward with the com­pli­cat­ed rela­tion­ships between the Maori (native peo­ple of NZ) and Pake­ha (Euro­peans).

    As always, thanks for post­ing this and all the stuff you do at OC.

  • Krunal Panchal says:

    This is the superb for lit­er­a­ture stu­dent.
    I know this that I will enjoy with this idea…

  • Shay says:

    Morn­ing in Jenin cov­er­ing Israel instead of Pales­tine is pret­ty lame. Would be nice to see an Amos Oz or maybe Nobel lit­er­a­ture lau­re­ate Shai Agnon book there.

  • Patrice Smith says:

    Ire­land — Gul­liv­er’s Trav­els

  • Leif says:

    A short note — The Aus­tralian author of Cloud­street is Tim Win­ton (not Tom).

  • Bill from PA says:

    The arti­cle says Spain->Don Quixote and Italy->The Divine Com­e­dy, but on the map I see The Shad­ow of the Wind and My Bril­liant Friend, respec­tive­ly.

  • J says:

    Bill, check the link to the orig­i­nal map — Quixote, Divine Com­e­dy, and oth­ers are dif­fer­ent over there. Not sure what hap­pened, maybe the one post­ed above is just pop­u­lar books of the 20th cen­tu­ry or the last 20 years or some­thing.

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