The best books that bring other cultures to life while showing the resilience of their people

Who am I?

I am at heart a storyteller, with a special interest in archiving and weaving the tales of my people to give you insight into a culture that is quite different from yours. Like an archaeologist digging a forgotten world, I want to bring these stories to life in the form of words. After a long day of animal herding and chores, my family and I would sit by the fire in a vast, open desert covered in blackness, and share century-old stories. My big ears consumed these stories like a thirsty desert after a long drought, so I could one day share this library of wisdom with others.


I wrote...

The Last Nomad: Coming of Age in the Somali Desert

By Shugri Said Salh,

Book cover of The Last Nomad: Coming of Age in the Somali Desert

What is my book about?

Born in Somalia, Shugri Said Salh was sent at age six to live with her nomadic grandmother in the desert. Salh found herself chasing warthogs, climbing termite hills, herding goats, and moving constantly in search of water and grazing lands with her nomadic family. Salh grew to love the freedom of roaming with her animals and the community found in nomadic rituals and the oral storytelling of her ancestors.

As she came of age, both she and her beloved Somalia were forced to confront change, violence, and instability. Taken from the desert by her strict father and then displaced along with millions of others by the Somali Civil War, Salh fled first to a refugee camp on the Kenyan border and ultimately to North America to learn yet another way of life.

The books I picked & why

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The Mountains Sing

By Mai Phan Que Nguyen,

Book cover of The Mountains Sing

Why this book?

Nguyễn is a gorgeous writer who keeps the reader at the edge of their seat with every word she writes. This historical fiction throws you into the Vietnam War and shows you an angle that is rarely seen by the west: that of the Vietnamese people. Nguyễn shows us the cost of human lives through the eyes of ordinary people while introducing us to a beautiful, resilient culture. While the reader sees a lot of tragedy, the way this story is woven is captivating and enlightening. I love this book. 

The Mountains Sing

By Mai Phan Que Nguyen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Years later in Ha Noi, her young granddaughter, Huong, comes of age as her parents and uncles head off down the Ho Chi Minh Trail to fight in a conflict that tore not just her beloved country, but her family apart.

Vivid, gripping, and steeped in the language and traditions of Viet Nam, The Mountains Sing brings to life the human costs of this conflict from the point of view of the Vietnamese people themselves, while showing us the true power of kindness and hope.

The Mountains Sing is celebrated Vietnamese poet Nguyen Phan Que Mai's first novel in English.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

By Trevor Noah,

Book cover of Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

Why this book?

I am a sucker for learning about other cultures and Trevor Noah did a brilliant job of infusing stark reality with humor. I believe he and I have that in common. I wish you could have seen my face when I was reading this book: my wide smile would change into echoing laughter, and just when I was on the verge of tears, Noah would make me smile again. When I was a young girl living in an orphanage in Somalia, we used to sing songs to wish for freedom for South Africa. I didn’t know the word apartheid then, but we knew that something was amiss in their country. Born a Crime is a brilliant book about a hard subject. I also love the audiobook—Trevor Noah and brings the story to life.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

By Trevor Noah,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Born a Crime as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE THURBER PRIZE

The compelling, inspiring, (often comic) coming-of-age story of Trevor Noah, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.

One of the comedy world's brightest new voices, Trevor Noah is a light-footed but sharp-minded observer of the absurdities of politics, race and identity, sharing jokes and insights drawn from the wealth of experience acquired in his relatively young life. As host of the US hit show The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, he provides viewers around the globe with their nightly dose of biting satire, but here Noah turns his…


A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

By Ishmael Beah,

Book cover of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

Why this book?

This memoir captures the journey of child soldiers during the civil war in Sierra Leone, and shows how once-innocent children with ordinary lives became killing machines in the hands of a ruthless rebel leader. Beah doesn't shy away from the gruesomeness of civil war, but there is beauty in how he weaves this memoir that reads like a novel. Though I am not usually a fan of books with a lot of violence, I was drawn to this one and could not put it down. I believe history is best learned from those who have first-hand experience. This is a one-of-a-kind book and to Beah’s credit, well-written as well. 

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

By Ishmael Beah,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked A Long Way Gone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is how wars are fought now: by children, hopped-up on drugs and wielding AK-47s. Children have become soldiers of choice. In the more than fifty conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers. Ishmael Beah used to be one of them. What is war like through the eyes of a child soldier? How does one become a killer? How does one stop? Child soldiers have been profiled by journalists, and novelists have struggled to imagine their lives. But until now, there has not been a first-person account from someone who came through this…

The Kite Runner

By Khaled Hosseini,

Book cover of The Kite Runner

Why this book?

It has been a long time since I first read this book, but at its core this story is about friendship between a wealthy Pashtun boy and a poor Hazara boy, Hassan. Love, betrayal, hate, and a whole spectrum of emotions play out under the cruel regime of the Taliban. Like the kites the two friends fly so cleverly, your heart will leap with hope and break with its descent. The inferior way the Hazara clan is treated by Afghan society is forever tattooed in my mind, but the book is filled with history and deep insight into its culture. Khalid is a delicious writer and I love how he puts his words poetically together. 

The Kite Runner

By Khaled Hosseini,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Afghanistan, 1975: Twelve-year-old Amir is desperate to win the local kite-fighting tournament and his loyal friend Hassan promises to help him. But neither of the boys can foresee what will happen to Hassan that afternoon, an event that is to shatter their lives. After the Russians invade and the family is forced to flee to America, Amir realises that one day he must return to Afghanistan under Taliban rule to find the one thing that his new world cannot grant him: redemption.

Call Me American: A Memoir

By Abdi Nor Iftin,

Book cover of Call Me American: A Memoir

Why this book?

Iftin survived against incredible odds on his journey to America. His book picks up where mine left off and gives me insight into what happened after I fled Mogadishu with my family. Iftin describes in such vivid images the struggles he went through at the peak of the Somali civil war. Many of the places I roamed in Mogadishu as a teen were either dilapidated or turned into makeshift prison cells by Islamists. Iftin described an incident where he and a girl he loved were flogged for daring to show love outwardly. My home, where beautiful Somali women wearing colorful garments swung their hips with complete freedom as they walked to market, turned into a place and a people I no longer recognize.

Call Me American: A Memoir

By Abdi Nor Iftin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Call Me American as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in immigrants, comedians, and family?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about immigrants, comedians, and family.

Immigrants Explore 94 books about immigrants
Comedians Explore 19 books about comedians
Family Explore 425 books about family

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Crime and Punishment, Pachinko, and The Sorrow of War if you like this list.