Every Country’s Highest-Rated Book by a Local Author
Who did we talk to about books before the invention of Goodreads and BookCrossing?
Goodreads is social media for bookworms: a place where 125 million readers meet to boost, slate or ‘meh’ their latest reading project. Users have “shelved” 3.5 billion books globally, which is a lot to sort through to find a read that is not just first-rate but just your flavor.
BookCrossing narrows the options. Some two million readers have found or deposited over 14,105,640 pass-me-down paper books in public, tracking each particular book-object’s story through a unique code stuck into each one. Serendipity plays a bigger role here; you can hunt for a book you know has been left, but more likely, your relationship with it will begin when you stumble upon it on a bus seat or in a British telephone booth.
While Goodreads is a global conversation, BookCrossing’s interactions are more local — although, with books shared across 132 countries, there’s always a chance you’ll pick one up when you or the book are far from home. Either way, both networks are fantastic opportunities to shake up your regular reading habits and discover a book in another voice: a social, cultural or geographic context perspective you might not otherwise find.
WordFinderX decided to grab a snapshot of the geographically diverse books you might encounter on your switched-on bookworm adventure: we used Goodreads data to identify the most highly rated books by local authors from every country on Earth.
What We Did
WordFinderX identified the top-rated book in each country by a local author based on the average rating on Goodreads. We only included books with at least 500 ratings.
- The highest-rated book in the world is Svědectví o životě v KLDR (Witnessing Life in the DPRK) by Czech author Nina Špitálníková, with an average rating of 4.79 on Goodreads.
- The top book written by a man is Argentine cartoonist Quino’s Toda Mafalda collection (4.77).
- The highest-rated North American book is U.S. writer Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance (4.76).
- Australia’s top book is Jess Hill’s See What You Made Me Do: Power, Control and Domestic Violence (4.68).
The second highest-rated book in our data is Toda Mafalda by Argentine cartoonist Quino, which collects the entire run of his strip about Mafalda, the six-year-old daughter of a typical middle-class Argentine couple, and her oblique outlook on life. “The kind of ideas that he works with are some of the most difficult, and I am amazed at their variety and depth,” says no less a reviewer than Charles M. Schulz. “Also, he knows how to draw, and draw in a funny way. I think he is a giant.”
Biographies, memoirs and ethnographies are among the other top books around the continent. But children’s books make the grade, too. Frizzy is the top-rated book from a Dominican author, Claribel A. Ortega — “a former reporter who writes middle-grade and young adult fantasy inspired by her Dominican heritage.”
Meg Medina’s Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away is for slightly younger kids (5-7), and it’s the top-rated book by a Cuban author. “Moving away from your best friend is a really unique experience that brings up a lot of emotions, especially as a child,” writes one Goodreads reviewer. “Medina did an amazing job of depicting the joy just before it happens and the heartbreak when it finally does.”
Elsewhere, a modernist classic appears as the top-rated book by a Peruvian. Mario Vargas Llosa was at the forefront of the Latin American Boom in literature in the 1960s alongside figures such as Julio Cortázar, Gabriel García Márquez and Manuel Puig. His Conversation in the Cathedral portrays Peru in the 1950s under the dictatorship of Manuel A. Odría:
“Over beers and a sea of freely spoken words, the conversation flows between two individuals… who talk of their tormented lives and of the overall degradation and frustration that has slowly taken over their town,” goes the synopsis. “Through a complicated web of secrets and historical references, Mario Vargas Llosa analyzes the mental and moral mechanisms that govern power and the people behind it.”
Meša Selimović was a Yugoslav writer born into a Bosnian Muslim family in Tuzla, modern-day Bosnia — and his 1966 breakthrough novel Death and the Dervish is the top-rated Bosnian book on Goodreads. The book takes the form of an epic suicide note written by an eighteenth-century dervish (a Muslim monk) in Sarajevo, as his world falls apart around him.
“Everything that I wrote before The Dervish was correct, but repressed by my own fear of complete disclosure, of strong emotion, of ultimate sincerity,” wrote Selimović of his leap from literary obscurity. “Everything I wrote previously was a long and trying preparation for The Dervish. Twenty years it ripened within me, in different forms, but always with the same essence.”
Palestine’s top-rated book is written by Susan Abulhawa. Originally published as The Scar of David, Mornings in Jenin begins in Palestine in 1948 and follows a family into and beyond a refugee camp across years marred by tragedy and tinged with love and hope.
“The writing is mesmerising at many places,” writes a reviewer from India. “Lyrical, full of imagery and churning emotions weaved by the words. I have to pause at the end of this book before picking the next. I need time to digest this one!”
See What You Made Me Do: Power, Control and Domestic Violence is Australia’s top book, written by investigative journalist Jess Hill. Nearly 1,200 Goodreads users are “currently reading” the book.
“Jess Hill’s four-year investigation of the parlous numbers of domestic abuse in Australia is ground-breaking,” said the Stella Prize judges, giving Hill the award in 2020. “She has ignited a nationwide debate on the causes and solutions to a devastating problem, garnering significant media attention.”
Senegalese writer Cheikh Anta Diop delivers the other top book on the continent. The revered historian and anthropologist delivered The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality in 1974, and it remains popular if controversial today.
A Book, A Place, An Idea
Our data reveals how not just a range of perspectives but of genres, approaches and styles can clamber to the top of a nation’s literature. Often, it is a book about a country itself — or of another country from the perspective of the author — that grabs readers’ attention, creating either the intense introspection, exotic escapism, or the need to decipher and unscramble words that get us clicking on that fifth Goodreads star. You can find the highest-rated one from your country in our full data below.
METHODOLOGY & SOURCES
First, we collected author and book lists for each country on Goodreads (e.g., books by Indian authors), then isolated the top-rated books for each location based on the “average rating” metric.
Any book with less than 500 reviews was removed from our data.
Finally, we pulled the genre and cover image for each winning book from their pages.
The data is correct as of May 2023.