The best multicultural novels set in exotic lands

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in Latin America (& briefly in Europe) and my connections and regard for the people, culture, and natural setting resulted in my novel, A Place in the World. I have lived in six countries and appreciate the experiences. I love languages and history and like to travel, at least vicariously with a good book. I hope you enjoy my book picks as much as I have! I am a writer, former university lecturer, and environmental scientist, with an MS in geology and a passion for botany. This background enabled me to weave aspects of natural science, as well as Latino culture, into my writing.


I wrote...

A Place in the World

By Cinda Crabbe MacKinnon,

Book cover of A Place in the World

What is my book about?

Set in an emerald cloud forest in the final decades of 1900's this poignant, passionate novel reads like a South American Out of Africa. The award-winning romantic-adventure story tells of a young biologist and a multicultural cast of characters. Alicia struggles to run a family coffee plantation in the Andes Mountains of Colombia, even as guerrilla uprisings begin to threaten the area and a nearby volcano rumbles to life.

The meditative narrative shows genuine perception and sensitivity into another culture. It “unexpectedly ramps up the tension in the thrilling climax. The author created a realistic world that pulsates with authenticity…in the setting, the characters, animals, the rebels, the indigenous tribesmen...a sign of a genuine five-star story.”

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Poisonwood Bible

Cinda Crabbe MacKinnon Why did I love this book?

The Poisonwood Bible is Barbara Kingsolver's best! An evangelical missionary moves his family to a remote village in the Congo during a stormy time in history. The Americans are unprepared not just for throngs of ants & parasites, but predators “red of tooth & claw.” There is no toilet nor running water and his wife Orleanna must fetch and boil water for food and hygiene. The perils and privation are amplified by the husband’s insensitivity to his family’s welfare and to the villagers he has come “to save.” His coldhearted, obsessive nature escalates as political and racial tensions mount in a climax I must not give away! 

(I lived in the tropics and witnessed naïve foreigners try to live off the land and succumb to disease and hardship with their young children.)

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?

**NOW INCLUDING THE FIRST CHAPTER OF DEMON COPPERHEAD: THE NEW BARBARA KINGSOLVER NOVEL**

**DEMON COPPERHEAD IS AVAILABLE NOW FOR PRE-ORDER**

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 Moloka'i

Cinda Crabbe MacKinnon Why did I love this book?

I met Alan Brennert at a book reading and have been a fan ever since. Molokai is the Hawaiian island where lepers were isolated below towering cliffs. The saga of the colony, Kalaupapa, is revealed by Rachel Kalama, a little Hawaiian girl diagnosed with leprosy in 1892. Wrenched from her home, she is quarantined on Kalaupapa. In spite of this tragic life Rachel survives and forms friendships among the memorable, ostracized characters. She grows up and even marries; in 1940 a cure is found.

Ohana, family, is a recurring theme as the residents make their own connections. As a frequent visitor to Hawaii, I’ve come to love not just the setting but respect the culture. I found this to be a beautifully written, engrossing story.

By Alan Brennert,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Moloka'i as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Young Rachel Kalama, growing up in idyllic Honolulu in the 1890s, dreams of seeing far-off lands, but at the age of seven Rachel's dreams are shattered by the discovery that she has leprosy. Forcibly removed from the family, she's sent to an isolated leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka'i. In exile Rachel finds a family of friends to replace the family she's lot - but loss remains a constant shadow as Rachel watches those she loves succumb to the ravages of leprosy. Moloka'i is a story of hope, dignity, and the strength of the human spirit.


Book cover of A Long Petal of the Sea

Cinda Crabbe MacKinnon Why did I love this book?

This story starts in Spain’s Civil War but immigrates to Chile. I have two reasons to be attracted to this book. First I grew up in South America and so am drawn to this setting, but second I had a writing mentor who was a small boy during the Franco regime. (I published his story in my blog.)

An exodus of thousands of Spaniards escaped into France and Cristian Zozaya was separated from his parents for years until they were able to immigrate to South America. His story echoes the beginning of Allende’s, except hers is about adult refugees in a marriage of convenience. The protagonists face trials in Chile with yet another dictatorship, but the ending is pleasing.

By Isabel Allende, Nick Caistor (translator), Amanda Hopkinson (translator)

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Long Petal of the Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

_______________ THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER _______________ 'A powerful love story spanning generations... Full of ambition and humanity' - Sunday Times 'One of the strongest and most affecting works in Allende's long career' - New York Times Book Review _______________ On September 3, 1939, the day of the Spanish exiles' splendid arrival in Chile, the Second World War broke out in Europe. Victor Dalmau is a young doctor when he is caught up in the Spanish Civil War, a tragedy that leaves his life - and the fate of his country - forever changed. Together with…


Book cover of Zorba the Greek

Cinda Crabbe MacKinnon Why did I love this book?

I love this tale narrated by a young academic who teams up with an exuberant, older working man named Zorba, “a passionate lover of wine, women and song” ...and dance. The younger man is more of a staid introvert. They are in a village in Crete to develop a mine. Their interactions are both amusing and philosophical. This contrasts with one horrific event where the appalled narrator struggles to understand the village’s moral codes which conflict with his own. In the final scene as he comes out of his shell, he asks Zorba to teach him to dance.

This is one of my favorite all-time novels. Kazantzakis words are to be savored.

By Nikos Kazantzakis,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Zorba the Greek as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This moving fable sees a young Greek writer set out to Crete to claim a small inheritance. But when he arrives, he meets Alexis Zorba, a middle-aged Greek man with a zest for life. Zorba has had a family and many lovers, has fought in the Balkan wars, has lived and loved - he is a simple but deep man who lives every moment fully and without shame. As their friendship develops, he is gradually won over, transformed and inspired along with the reader.

Zorba the Greek, Nikos Kazantzakis' most popular and enduring novel, has its origins in the author's…


Book cover of The Coconut Latitudes: Secrets, Storms, and Survival in the Caribbean

Cinda Crabbe MacKinnon Why did I love this book?

After a blogger in Thailand interviewed me, he told me I should meet the author Rita Gardner, “Her memoir is about growing up in a Latin culture like yourself.” Rita and I exchanged books and personal stories, but her upbringing was darker than mine.

The young family moves to a remote village on a beach in the Dominican Republic in the 1950s. The two daughters are not only isolated, but their alcoholic father rants and makes irrational demands while the mother does nothing to protect them. During the light of day the dad proclaims them a “happy family, living in Paradise.” The writing is honest and captivatingYou will root for Rita and be flabbergasted at what a young girl accomplishes on her own.

By Rita M. Gardner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Coconut Latitudes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Gold Medal Winner, Autobiography/Memoir, 2015 IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards.

Rita is an infant when her father leaves a successful career in the US to live in "paradise"-a seaside village in the Dominican Republic. The Coconut Latitudes is her haunting, lyrical memoir of surviving a reality far from the envisioned Eden-and of the terrible cost of keeping secrets.


You might also like...

The Emerald Necklace

By Linda Rosen,

Book cover of The Emerald Necklace

Linda Rosen Author Of The Emerald Necklace

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Novelist Swimmer Public Speaker Reader Lover of gardens

Linda's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

It’s 1969. Women are fighting for equality. Rosalee, an insecure sculptor, and Fran, a best-selling novelist, have their issues. Will their bitter envy of each other and long-held secrets destroy their tenuous friendship? Or will Jill, Rosalee’s granddaughter, and the story behind her emerald necklace bind them together?

A multi-generational novel of friendship and frenemies, envy, and long-held secrets that explores current issues through a historical lens. The Emerald Necklace sheds light on that inevitable time when lovers, family, friends, and circumstances change and force you to reinvent yourself whether you want to or not.

The Emerald Necklace

By Linda Rosen,

What is this book about?

"Engaging and mysterious, The Emerald Necklace sheds light on that inevitable time when lovers, family, friends and circumstances change and force you to reinvent yourself whether you want to or not." –Rebecca Rosenberg, award-winning Champagne Widows series

Three months after her husband's death in 1969, Rosalee Linoff is determined to jump back into life.

For her, that means returning to her art. She desperately wants to be accepted as a talented sculptor, but that requires she dig up the courage to submit her work again - and be judged. Her paralyzing insecurity mounts when she meets her new neighbor, best-selling…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Spanish Civil War, missionary, and Greece?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Spanish Civil War, missionary, and Greece.

The Spanish Civil War Explore 48 books about the Spanish Civil War
Missionary Explore 30 books about missionary
Greece Explore 158 books about Greece