Around the world in literature

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Stylist Team
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For some great written works, setting is everything. Places a reader has never seen in real life and worlds that exist only in the imagination of the author can become an integral part of the literary experience and define the success of memoirs, historical fiction and modern day tales.

Take a look at 25 novels set around the world that truly evoke a sense of the time and place they depict and let us know your favourite settings on Twitter or in the comments section, below.

Words: Anna Pollitt

Picture Credit: Rex Images

  • Florence: A Room With A View

    by E. M. Forster, Penguin Classics

    What better place than Italy for an uptight, sexually repressed Englishwoman to experience a rich new culture, shed her inhibitions, and fall in love?

    Set in a period when women's suffrage was steadily gaining ground, E. M. Forster's A Room With A View uses the beauty and history of Florence to help coax out Lucy Honeychurch's true identity and help her break free from societal constraints.

  • Greece: Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

    by Louis de Bernieres, Vintage

    Kefalonia's beauty and rich history, so precious to its inhabitants, provides the perfect backdrop to this passionate, multilayered novel, set during the Italian and German occupation of World War II.

    Tourists flooded the tiny island after the movie adaption of the book featured on the big screen.

  • Paris: Paris Peasant

    by Louis Aragon, Exact Change

    The surrealist author's stimulating part-fiction, part memoir explores the working class side of the city in the 20s, with its "mobile human tapestry" and the romantic Buttes-Chaumont park, which leaves Aragon "quite drunk with open-mindedness."

  • China: Wild Swans

    by Jung Chang, Harper Perennial

    "It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this book" Mary Wesley, novelist

    Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China is an unapologetically frank account of life in the country under Mao, told through the eyes of three generations of women, the youngest being its author, Jung Chang.

    The 702-page tome has been translated into more than 30 languages and has sold over 10 million copies since its release in 1991, but is still banned in the author's native China.

  • Turkey: My Name Is Red

    by Orhan Pamuk, Faber and Faber

    An intricate tale of of murder, love, art and religion set in 16th century Istanbul, this 1998 novel that contributed to Pamuk winning the Nobel prize is packed with sensory delights that effortlessly transport the reader to the rich landscape of the author's imagination.

  • Ireland: Angela's Ashes

    by Frank McCourt, Harper Perennial

    A gritty vision of Ireland is brought to life in McCourt's exquisite memoir of his early, impoverished life in Limerick in the 30s and 40s.

  • South Africa: The Conservationist

    by Nadine Gordimer, Bloomsbury

    Sprawling passages dedicated to rural South Africa's intoxicating beauty are woven seamlessly through Gordimer's joint Man Booker prize-winning novel about black and white people co-existing under apartheid in the early 70s.

  • Nigeria: Things Fall Apart

    by Chinua Achebe, Penguin Classics

    Achebe's classic tale is played out across a set of tiny Nigerian villages at the turn of the century, when Britain's growing colonisation of the area threatens the customs, traditions, culture and religion of the people.

  • London: Brick Lane

    by Monica Ali, Black Swan

    Ali's invigorating debut novel about the lives of Bangladeshi women living in Tower Hamlets, East London, portrays a truly believable multicultural and modern Britain.

  • Japan: Memoirs Of A Geisha

    by Arthur Golden, Vintage

    The mysterious and exotic geisha culture in pre-war Japan is spectacularly unveiled - by a modern male American author. Golden's debut novel is impeccably researched and truly entertaining, especially to Western audiences.

  • Japan: The Tale of Genji

    by Shikibu Murasaki

    Also known as the "world's first novel," this classic work of Japanese literature was written by a Japanese noblewoman in the 11th century, and is still considered a masterpiece. It centres on the adventures of an emperor's handsome son, who is relegated to commoner status among the aristocrats of the Heian period.

  • Colombia: Love in the Time of Cholera

    by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    Love blossoms among the "steamy and sleepy streets, rat-infested sewers" of turn-of-the-century Colombia and lasts for unnourished for decades as the country battles civil unrest. While the bodies of victims of the civil war float in the Magdalena River and the exploited lands are bare and desolate, Marquez depicts love becoming "greater and nobler in calamity.”

  • Spain: The Sun Also Rises

    by Ernest Hemingway

    Fiery Pamplona, with its masculine bullfighters and care-free parties, provides the backdrop to some of the most fraught scenes in Hemingway's impressive first novel about a "lost generation" of bitter young Englishmen recovering from the trauma of World War I.

  • Sweden: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

    by Stieg Larsson, Quercus

    The most famous of all "Scandi-crime" novels, it is in the foggy towns and sparse summer cabins of the late author's homeland that the reserved and resilient heroine Lisbeth Salander comes alive.

  • Afghanistan: The Bookseller Of Kabul

    by Asne Seierstad, Virago

    Norwegian journalist Seierstad lifts the lid on the day-to-day lives of Afghan women in her account of the three months she spent living undercover with a family in Kabul.

  • America: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

    by Hunter S. Thompson, Harper Perennial

    "I hate to say this ... but this place is getting to me. I think I'm getting the Fear"

    Thompson captures his drug-addled sojourn to Sin City in a surreal novel-come-memoir seen as the quintessential work of Gonzo journalism.

  • India: A Suitable Boy

    by Vikram Seth, Phoenix

    Set in Brahmpur, an imaginary Northern Indian city, in the 1950's, Seth's vast work seamlessly spans more than 1,300 pages as it follows the story of four families as a mother attempts to find the "perfect" husband for her daughter.

  • Australia: The Harp In The South

    by Ruth Park, Penguin Books Australia

    The slums of Sydney in the 1940s as seen through the eyes of a poor Catholic Irish Australian family. Park does not pull any punches in her feisty and humorous account of the Darcy family's dirt-poor life.

  • Russia: Fathers And Sons

    'by Ivan Turgenev, Penguin Classics

    Turgenev's tale of young radical nihilist Bazarov and his break away from the traditional Russian Orhtodox mould was ridiculed in Russia on publication in 1862, yet it went on to become a hit outside the country and one of the most widely read novels of the century.

  • Greece: My Family And Other Animals

    by Gerald Durrell

    "The mist lifted in quick, lithe ribbons, and before us lay the island, the mountains as though sleeping beneath a crumpled blanket of brown, the folds stained with the green of olive-groves. Along the shore curved beaches as white as tusks among tottering cities of brilliant gold, red, and white rocks"

    Corfu sparkles with almost magical beauty in Durrell's descriptive memoir about his life growing up on the island.

  • Thailand: The Beach

    by Alex Garland

    Garland's debut novel responds to 90s phenomenon of the hedonistic backpacker, Thailand being the mecca for young tourists who view their trips as "travelling" rather than tourism.

    A curious young Englishman travels to Bangkok and Koh Samui before reaching an untouched island that he and the other Westerners claim as their paradise - before a Lord of the Flies mentality kicks in.

  • Morocco: Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits

    by Laila Lalami

    “Fourteen kilometres. Murad has pondered that number hundreds of times in the last year, trying to decide whether the risk was worth it."

    Lalami's debut novel confronts the issues facing modern Morocco in a deftly written and complex tale of four Moroccans making a desperate attempt to escape the poverty of their homeland for a better life in Spain.

  • Germany: The Reader

    by Bernhard Schlink

    Set in post World War II Germany, Schlink's award-winning novel deals with a difficult love affair between a 15-year-old boy and a 36-year-old woman who is later accused of Nazi war crimes.

  • America: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

    by Rebecca Wells

    The cotton fields of Louisiana serve as the homely background to a rocky mother and daughter relationship that worsens with the publication of a New York reporter's lies. The reparation of the women's bond lies in a scrapbook of secrets, revealed by the fierce, southern Ya-Ya sisterhood.

  • Canada: Crow Lake

    by Mary Lawson

    Lawson's gripping debut novel shows how an orphaned farming family struggles to cope with love and death in the wilderness of Northern Ontario.

  • Paris: The Paris Wife

    by Paula Mclain, Virago

    Before he was a great writer he was a struggling one. Paula McLaine’s novel The Paris Wife gives a new perspective on Ernest Hemingway – told from the point of view of his first wife, Hadley Richardson, who finds herself increasingly relegated as Ernest falls in love with the charms of pre-WWII Paris.

  • Siberia: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

    by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Penguin Classics

    If you ever feel a bit chilly, read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's account of a single day in the life of an inmate in a Siberian prison camp and you'll understand what it's like to be really cold, right to your very bones, with no hope of ever warming up. This powerful account of life in Stalinist Russia evokes a particular time and a place like nothing we've ever read.

  • The Cotswolds: Love in a Cold Climate

    by Nancy Mitford, Penguin Classics

    Nobody can conjure up the world of the Bright Young Things quite like Nancy Mitford - not even her best pal and literary heavyweight Evelyn Waugh. Love in a Cold Climate is one of her best novels, bringing alive the draughty ancestral piles of the British aristocracy and the beautiful English countryside in which they are located.

  • North Korea: Nothing to Envy

    by Barbara Demick, Granta Books

    We know almost nothing about every day life in the secretive state of North Korea which is why Barbara Demick's brilliant book is such an essential read. Telling the story of the North Korea's evolution from the '70s to present day through the accounts of a group of North Koreans who managed to escape their country's regime, it's a powerful and moving account that weaves in history with personal stories of love and loss.

  • Saudi Arabia: Girls of Riyadh

    by Rajaa Alsanea, Fig Tree

    This book was initially deemed so controversial in Saudi Arabia that it was banned, but it became a bestseller anyway. In Girls of Riyadh, Rajaa Alsanea gives us a fascinating glimpse of a world that is largely hidden - that of young, middle class women living in Saudi. Their hopes, dreams and frustrations are depicted in detail against a claustrophobic background of shopping malls, mansions and chauffer-driven cars, which at times feel like luxurious prisons.

  • Sarajevo: The Cellist of Sarajevo

    by Steven Galloway, Riverhead

    This wonderfully evocative book focuses on war-time Sarajevo it all its terrifying reality. The reader is hit by the impact of what life was like for ordinary people living in a siege-ridden city where they couldn’t even cross a street without risking life and limb – and what happens when a vibrant, cultured community is reduced to rubble, both literally and figuratively.

  • East Berlin: Stasiland

    by Anna Funder, Granta Books

    Anna Funder spent years researching the lives of people who had lived in East Berlin for her book Stasiland which is at turns shocking and moving as it tells of the personal tragedies that lay on the other side of the Berlin Wall for almost thirty years.

  • Yorkshire: Wuthering Heights

    by Emily Bronte

    You can practically smell the dark and damp moors of Yorkshire when reading Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. While Kate Bush might spring to mind for some, there’s no denying that the love affair played out between Cathy and Heathcliff is made all the more intense by its northern setting.

  • Vietnam: The Quiet American

    by Graham Greene

    Graham Greene’s anti-war classic captures 1950s Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in all its fragile beauty. The pondering text weaves together the city’s delicate balance of East versus West amid a threatening, sinister backdrop of international politicking. Its characters – the beautiful girl, the cynical journo – come to life in a place which will soon be changed forever.

  • Morocco: Hideous Kinky

    by Esther Freud

    A sad but beautiful account written from the perspective of a small girl, growing up on the Moroccan hippy trail of the Sixties.

  • Florida: Swamplandia

    by Karen Russell

    Karen Russell’s magical-realist debut novel is set in the Florida Everglades. It’s a vivid depiction of the Bigtree family and their failing alligator theme park Swamplandia.

  • Finland: The Summer Book

    by Tove Jansson

    An adult novel from the author of the Moomin stories, The Summer Book follows a child and her grandmother as they explore their small island in the Finnish archipelago.

  • India: The God of Small Things

    by Arundhati Roy

    This story of fraternal twins growing up in the beautiful southern Indian state of Kerala won the Booker prize in 1997. The book’s sweep takes in communism and the caste system as well as family secrets.

  • Newfoundland: The Shipping News

    by Annie Proulx

    Annie Proulx won both the Booker and Pulitzer prizes for this engaging story of making a new life on the stormy and remote coast of eastern Canada. Ice bergs, high winds and the ferocious sea are key parts of the book.

  • New York: Marjorie Morningstar

    by Herman Wouk

    There are countless New York novels that bring that swarming metropolis to life, but Marjorie M0rningstar is one of our favourites. The book's heroine navigates her way up and down the social ladder in '30s Manhattan, skillfully weaving between the many different cliques and cultures as she strives to reinvent herself. It's a sharp, accurate depiction of the city which still feels recognisable today.