The best books that capture the unusual charm of other countries

Cynthia Watson Author Of Wind
By Cynthia Watson

Who am I?

I love books that take the reader to another country. Travel (even vicariously in a book) takes us out of our comfort zones and inspires us to open our minds to other cultures, ways of life and thought. These books constantly challenge us, not only to understand different surroundings, but also to understand unique people, to embrace adventures, glamour and romance and to share these new and meaningful thoughts and ideas with others.

I wrote...


By Cynthia Watson,

Book cover of Wind

What is my book about?

Eighteen-year-old Flynn Flood is a Boston college student whose world falls apart when her beloved father dies of the "Irish Cancer"—alcoholism—and her once-vibrant mother, descends into a paralyzing depression. After a seemingly accidental encounter, help arrives in the form of earthy-looking Dante, an international student from Italy.  Dante seems perfect, but when Flynn finds herself descending into a rabbit hole of frightening, mystical occurrences, she quickly deduces that Dante is no ordinary boyfriend.

A coming-of-age tale with humor, and unexpected violence, Wind explores the complex bonds of sisterhood, romantic longing, and the possibility of the existence of a divine, unseen world around us. Wind , Book One of The Eternal Symmetry Saga, advanced to the second round in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award!

The books I picked & why

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A Theatre for Dreamers

By Polly Samson,

Book cover of A Theatre for Dreamers

Why this book?

A Theatre for Dreamers captures the halcyon days of the 60s artistic community on the Greek Island of Hydra. It focuses on the international bohemian set, including the authors Charmian Clift and George Johnston. Among the artists, poets and hangers-on are a Norwegian couple—Axel Jensen and Marianne Ihlen—and a young, charismatic Canadian by the name of Leonard Cohen. It is narrated by the likable ingenue Erica, a novitiate novelist in her late teens whose mother’s dying wish was for her daughter to go off on an adventure. Erica is like Nick Carraway, mainly on the periphery of events, observing and learning from the more experienced, glamorous people she has fallen in with. Interesting fact: author, Polly Samson, is married to David Gilmour of Pink Floyd.

The Light in the Piazza and Other Italian Tales

By Elizabeth Spencer,

Book cover of The Light in the Piazza and Other Italian Tales

Why this book?

Elizabeth Spencer was an American writer who loved Italy and once lived there. This collection in one volume contains Spencer's six Italian tales.

In “The Light in the Piazza” a wealthy American woman and her beautiful but mentally disabled daughter meet a young Italian man in Florence who will have a profound impact on their lives.

In “Knights and Dragons” an American woman in Rome and Venice struggles for release from her husband's disturbing control over her. In “The Cousins,” “The Pincian Gate,” “The White Azalea,” and “The Visit,” Spencer shows the unique craft that has earned her acclaim as one of America's top writers of short stories.

Elizabeth Spencer died in 2019 at the age of 98. Interesting fact: She was a cousin of United States senator John McCain.

The Comedians

By Graham Greene,

Book cover of The Comedians

Why this book?

Set in Haiti under the rule of François "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his secret police, the Tontons Macoutes, this novel explores political repression and terrorism through the figure Mr. Brown. Brown, a British ne’er-do-well who has inherited a failing hotel near the capital, Port-au-Prince, narrates.

The Comedians is a novel of character. Each of the leading characters reveals an unforeseen facet of personality: a naive fool who was once a candidate for U.S. president proves to be compassionate and courageous; a lying, cowardly gunrunner dies a hero; and a former Freedom Rider rises above her simple liberalism to unwittingly save Brown’s life.

I loved the cast of characters and was fascinated by the brutal regime of Haiti in the mid-60s. Like witnessing an accident, it’s hard to look away.

A Gentleman in Moscow

By Amor Towles,

Book cover of A Gentleman in Moscow

Why this book?

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully written scene after another, A Gentleman in Moscow is the story of handsome Count Alexander Rostov, who, after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, is sentenced to lifelong imprisonment in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel. The Count must adjust not only to a small room in the hotel’s belfry, but also to the knowledge that his way of life is disappearing.

Count Rostov has “opted for the life of the purposefully unrushed.” He was raised to appreciate the conveniences of life, such as keeping “a carriage waiting at the door of one party, so that on a moment’s notice it can whisk you away to another.” When asked by the Bolsheviks to state his occupation, he replies, “It is not the business of a gentleman to have occupations.” Charming!!

Interesting fact, this is set to be made into a movie starring fabulous Scottish actor Ewan McGregor!

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

By Erik Larson,

Book cover of In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

Why this book?

In the Garden of Beasts follows the story of William E. Dodd, who was sent to Hitler’s Nazi Germany in 1933 as an American ambassador.

The Dodds move into a mansion across the street from Berlin’s public park called the “Tiergarten,” which means “the garden of beasts.” The mansion’s owner, a Jewish banker who lives upstairs, hopes that the American ambassador’s presence will dissuade authorities from breaking in and arresting him.

Along with his family, Dodd experiences the glamour and romance of Germany—until he becomes disturbingly aware of the Third Reich’s oppressive practices and terrifying plans.

It’s fascinating and horrifying to see Germany of 1933 through the eyes of this uniquely well-positioned American family (which included Dodd’s 24-year-old daughter, an adventurous young woman who joins Berlin’s social whirl).

5 book lists we think you will like!

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