My favorite books that combine international political intrigue, romance, and family drama

Why am I passionate about this?

I began my career as a journalist, including working as a reporter on an international newspaper. I left full-time journalism to write fiction where I can combine an interest in international affairs with stories of characters and issues of the heart which drive individuals and often shape events. Over the years I’ve worked and traveled with international organizations, serving as Vice President of PEN International, and on the boards and in other roles focusing on human rights, education, and refugees. I’ve been able to travel widely and witness events up close, walking along the edge of worlds and discovering the bonds that keep us from falling off.


I wrote...

The Far Side of the Desert

By Joanne Leedom-Ackerman,

Book cover of The Far Side of the Desert

What is my book about?

My most recent novel is the story of a diplomatic family, including two sisters and a brother, pulled into the nexus of a global plot when one of the sisters is kidnapped at a festival. No one asks for ransom or contacts the family about her whereabouts or why she was taken.

Moving from Spain to Cairo to Washington to London to Morocco to Gibraltar, The Far Side of the Desert is a family drama and a political thriller that explores the links of terrorism, crime and financial manipulation, and the grace that ultimately foils destruction.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Poisonwood Bible

Joanne Leedom-Ackerman Why did I love this book?

When I read Poisonwood Bible, I was instantly with the characters, especially the children as they boarded the plane for the Congo dressed in layers of clothing because they could only bring a limited amount. The story of the evangelical preacher Nathan Price and his family who arrive in the Belgian Congo in 1959 completely unprepared for what they will see and experience does what great fiction can do. It dramatizes the intimate at the same time illumining the larger story and forces at play.

Barbara weaves history, politics, and family drama masterfully with the compelling narrative voices of the wife and children. The story includes the political intrigue of the Congo’s fight for independence from Belgium, murder, and CIA intrigue.

I was in Africa when I read the novel, and I remember the pilot of the airplane announcing that we were flying over where the Blue and the White Nile merged just as I was reading the climax of the book.

By Barbara Kingsolver,

Why should I read it?

18 authors picked The Poisonwood Bible as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

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An international bestseller and a modern classic, this suspenseful epic of one family's tragic undoing and their remarkable reconstruction has been read, adored and shared by millions around the world.

'Breathtaking.' Sunday Times
'Exquisite.' The Times
'Beautiful.' Independent
'Powerful.' New York Times

This story is told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959.

They carry with them everything they believe they will…


Book cover of Things Fall Apart

Joanne Leedom-Ackerman Why did I love this book?

This was one of the first novels I read in the late sixties as I began reading African writers and studying the novel form and possibilities. Chinua Achebe tells the story of Okonkwo, a warrior in the late 1800s as he tries to resist the British political and religious powers encroaching on his home. Okonkwo is in conflict with his community as they allow the intrusion and succumb to the British.

Through his proverbs, rhythmic prose, and poignant storytelling, Chinua Achebe brings to life this story without polemics and the drier narrative of history books but instead through the passion of a man and his world. As I studied how novels could affect this empathetic magic, I looked to books like Things Fall Apart.

By Chinua Achebe,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Things Fall Apart as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of International Man Booker Prize 2007.


Book cover of Acts of Faith

Joanne Leedom-Ackerman Why did I love this book?

This story is set in Sudan among rebel leaders in a war-torn country with hardened guerillas, idealistic aid workers, evangelical young women, and a pilot responsible for bringing aid and people in and out of the area. I was quickly drawn into this complex world through the varied voices and life experiences of the characters, especially as an unlikely and tragic romance emerges.

History, politics, and the human heart are all in play. As a reader I struggled along with the characters as the narrative took on fraught moments of international intrigue and probed the hearts and emotions of the characters, suggesting that in the end, politics is an extension of the human heart in conflict, often in conflict with itself. 

By Philip Caputo,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Acts of Faith as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Philip Caputo’s tragic and epically ambitious new novel is set in Sudan, where war is a permanent condition. Into this desolate theater come aid workers, missionaries, and mercenaries of conscience whose courage and idealism sometimes coexist with treacherous moral blindness. There’s the entrepreneurial American pilot who goes from flying food and medicine to smuggling arms, the Kenyan aid worker who can’t help seeing the tawdry underside of his enterprise, and the evangelical Christian who comes to Sudan to redeem slaves and falls in love with a charismatic rebel commander.

As their fates intersect and our understanding of their characters deepens,…


Book cover of Prayers for the Stolen

Joanne Leedom-Ackerman Why did I love this book?

This book revealed a threat new to me and to many readers in a culture where mothers had to hide their daughters in shallow graves in Guerrero, Mexico, adjacent to the drug cartels in order to avoid their abduction. They often masqueraded their daughters as boys or tried to make them ugly by chopping off their hair and blackening their teeth.

I was riveted by the story of Ladydi and her friends as they sought a larger world and future they instinctively knew existed. They supported each other but were constantly at risk and challenged by the dangerous drug culture and misogynistic environment they were born into.

Prayers for the Stolen is filled with vignettes and images that stayed with me, written in Jennifer’s poetic prose—she is also a poet. With imagination, narrative drive, and suspense, it explores the struggle and limited triumph of some of the women and reflects the intrepid imagination of its author.

By Jennifer Clement,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Prayers for the Stolen as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Now we make you ugly,' my mother said. 'The best thing you can be in Mexico is an ugly girl.'

The Narcos only had to hear there was a pretty girl around and they'd sweep onto our lands in black SUVs and carry the girl off. Not one of the stolen girls had ever come back, except for Paula.

She came back a year after she'd been kidnapped. She held a baby bottle in one hand. She wore seven earrings that climbed the cupped edge of her left ear in a line of blue, yellow and green studs and a…


Book cover of The Comedians

Joanne Leedom-Ackerman Why did I love this book?

For me Graham Greene is the master of the literary novel of political intrigue, the literary political thriller writer who spans the globe in his narrative reach. It is difficult to focus on only one of his novels, all have influenced, moved, and taught me, but for the purposes of this list I chose The Comedians.

When I discovered Graham Greene decades ago, I started reading his many novels and then rereading them, immersed in his worlds, trying to learn how he did what he did, but of course, what he did was unique to his perspective, experience, and talent.

The Comedians spins out its story in the dangerous landscape of Haiti under the regime of Papa Doc and the Tontons Macoute secret police. I still remember the sinister tone and compelling narrative drive of the book on my first reading as the innocent American, the sophisticated returning hotel owner, and the colonial conman arrived on the same boat.

The atmosphere is part of the story in this drama which I consider Graham Greene’s best. I have reread this book many times to revisit the soulful people of Haiti and Brown, Smith, and Jones—the comedians—who are doomed in the beautiful but tragic landscape. How prescient Greene proved to be.

By Graham Greene,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Comedians as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Three men meet on a ship bound for Haiti, a world in the grip of the corrupt "Papa Doc" and the Tontons Macoute, his sinister secret police. Brown the hotelier, Smith the innocent American and Jones the confidence man are the "Comedians" of Graham Greene's title.


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Kanazawa

By David Joiner,

Book cover of Kanazawa

David Joiner Author Of Kanazawa

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

My book recommendations reflect an abiding passion for Japanese literature, which has unquestionably influenced my own writing. My latest literary interest involves Japanese poetry—I’ve recently started a project that combines haiku and prose narration to describe my experiences as a part-time resident in a 1300-year-old Japanese hot spring town that Bashō helped make famous in The Narrow Road to the Deep North. But as a writer, my main focus remains novels. In late 2023 the second in a planned series of novels set in Ishikawa prefecture will be published. I currently live in Kanazawa, but have also been lucky to call Sapporo, Akita, Tokyo, and Fukui home at different times.

David's book list on Japanese settings not named Tokyo or Kyoto

What is my book about?

Emmitt’s plans collapse when his wife, Mirai, suddenly backs out of purchasing their dream home. Disappointed, he’s surprised to discover her subtle pursuit of a life and career in Tokyo.

In his search for a meaningful life in Japan, and after quitting his job, he finds himself helping his mother-in-law translate Kanazawa’s most famous author, Izumi Kyoka, into English. He becomes drawn into the mysterious death of a friend of Mirai’s parents, leading him and his father-in-law to climb the mountain where the man died. There, he learns the somber truth and discovers what the future holds for him and his wife.

Packed with subtle literary allusion and closely observed nuance, Kanazawa reflects the mood of Japanese fiction in a fresh, modern incarnation.

Kanazawa

By David Joiner,

What is this book about?

In Kanazawa, the first literary novel in English to be set in this storied Japanese city, Emmitt's future plans collapse when his wife, Mirai, suddenly backs out of negotiations to purchase their dream home. Disappointed, he's surprised to discover Mirai's subtle pursuit of a life and career in Tokyo, a city he dislikes.

Harmony is further disrupted when Emmitt's search for a more meaningful life in Japan leads him to quit an unsatisfying job at a local university. In the fallout, he finds himself helping his mother-in-law translate Kanazawa's most famous author, Izumi Kyoka, into English.

While continually resisting Mirai's…


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