Well, the short answer is – to avoid the “danger of a single story” (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie).

Now let me get to the longer and (hopefully) more interesting answer 🙂

It starts with the talk The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that I discovered after reading her book Americanah (my review). And that’s when I realized that my interest in discovering other cultures through books is fueled by a fear of getting trapped in my own bubble, by getting only single story when there’s so much out there. It all made sense!

If you haven’t watch Adichie’s talk, I make it easy for you to do it:

When I started blogging (5 years ago) I was reading mainly fiction stories about English and American cultures, I was very excited about reading classics, and not so excited about reading contemporary stories.

As a little bit of context, I am living in Romania (Europe), a country with little mix of cultures, with its people predominantly white and Orthodox. Until I was 6 I grew up in a rural area, so even more traditional. I don’t think I saw face-to-face a Black person before turning 12, and that happened during the holidays abroad, not at home.

But things started to change after I started blogging – in 2017 I read about Australian and Japanese disputes during WWII (The Narrow Road to the to the Deep North by Richard Flanaganmy review), in 2018 I read my first Murakami (started with 1Q84my review), and in 2020 I read my first book written by a Black author (Homegoing by Yaa Gyasimy review).

Well, I still read books about English and American cultures, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But now I consciously choose to also read books about cultures that are less similar to my own. And book by book, I discover how many single stories I was trapped into …

Here are some books that challenged by single stories and provided much more than just a beautiful fiction story:

  • We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan (my review)- I learnt about the phenomenon of twice migration (first time I heard of it, mind-blowing ….)
  • The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak (my review) – I learnt about Sufism, a mystical practice in Islam
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (my review) – I learnt about colorism and about Black people with skin colour so light that they could pass as white
  • The Girl with the Louding Voice by Adi Daré (my review) – I learnt about Nigeria, a country I knew nothing about – from Nollywood (Nigeria’s film industry) to religion (Nigeria has the largest Christian population in Africa)
  • The Old Capital by Yasunari Kawabata (my review) – I learnt about the components of a kimono, how they created, and what’s their cultural significance
  • The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste (my review) – I learnt that Italy invaded Ethiopia during WWII (from school I had a narrow view that Africa was not involved in the war, imagine my shock)
  • … and the list can go on.

To conclude, I strongly believe that reading fiction stories about other cultures than yours is an accessible and effective way of having your single stories challenged. I am definitely looking forward to discovering more and more cultures, as I feel like I’ve just started my journey around the wonders of the world.

Let’s discuss – what books challenged your single stories?

‘Till next time … happy reading!


Cover picture: Jonathan Borba via Pexels

13 thoughts on “Why should you read stories about cultures that are different from your own?

    1. I do have some recommendations, but please keep in mind that I’m not very up-to-date with modern Romanian literature.
      From the authors I read in Romanian and have their works translated in English, I recommend Bengal Nights by Mircea Eliade, Nostalgia and Blinding by Mircea Cartarescu (he is an awarded contemporary writer).
      I’d also add The Book of Mirrors by Eugen Chirovici – he is Romanian, but he writes in English.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Thanks for this great post. I can totally relate with this. I did start with American writers about a decade ago. However, lately, I have been buying and reading books by authors unfamiliar to me. I have started inhabiting other literatures, with Japanese, Russian and Vietnamese literatures the ones I am most at home with. I also liked Swedish humor (thanks Fredrik Backman). I have also been soaking in Nigerian literary works; Ben Okri’s The Famished Road and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart even reminded me of my native culture (I am part of a Philippine ethnic tribe). Reading all these books made me realize that there is a bigger world out there and as you have underscored, these works challenged my perspectives. With this, I am looking forward to reading more books about different cultures.

    Again, thanks for this insightful post! And as always, happy reading!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for sharing! The authors & books you mentioned are not familiar at all for me – so thank you even more!!
      What would you recommend reading from Russian and Vietnamese literatures?
      I only read Russian classics (Tolstoy and Dostoevsky), and I haven’t read anything from Vietnam.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Just like you, I have read mostly Russian classics but I have been meaning to read more of their contemporary literature. Nevertheless, what I have read (including Mikhail Bulgakov, Vladimir Nabokov, Ivan Turgenev and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn on top of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy) have all impressed me. 🙂
        For Vietnamese literature, I recommend Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s The Mountains Sing. The works of Viet Nguyen Thanh are also a must, especially The Sympathizer. Both touches on contemporary Vietnamese history. I am also looking forward to reading more of translated Vietnamese work as these books I have mentioned were originally published in English.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this! I think one of the best things about literature is that it gives us insights into other cultures and helps us see things from different perspectives. There’s a quote by Chinua Achebe that just popped into my mind which I really love: “The Igbo people say, If you want to see it well, you must not stand in one place. The masquerade is moving through this big arena. Dancing. If you’re rooted to a spot, you miss a lot of the grace. So you keep moving, and this is the way I think the world’s stories should be told—from many different perspectives.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s so true! I feel like today’s world is not built in a way that openly encourages people to find out about other cultures and lives, so we have to make efforts to get out of our own bubbles. Thanks a lot for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

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