Literature Highlights from Ethiopia

I don’t believe in bad reviews, instead I prefer to highlight literature that I have found to be enchanting, moving, or otherwise thought provoking. So this is a list of everything I read during my time in Ethiopia. I’ve expanded on the books that stayed with me the longest (To keep up with the books I’m currently reading, now that my service is over, check out my Goodreads account):

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell by the Bronte sisters
We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates
Le Divorce by Diane Johnson

Blackberry Wine

Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris – This book surprised me. It was one I had grabbed rather noncommittally from the PC library almost two years ago. I recognized the author, she had also written Chocolat and Holy Fools, books I had never read, but that were on my ever-expanding list. This book took some warming up to; I found the main character to be less than likable at first. But as he takes his journey to find himself, his past, and his writing, he grows on you. Though what really shines are the side characters – Joe, Gilly, Rosa, and Marise. And, of course, the wines.

Car by Harry Crews
Lonely Planet Thailand Guidebook
The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey
Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
The BFG by Roald Dahl
The Witches by Roald Dahl
The Summer of the Bonepile Monster by Aileen Kilgore Henderson
A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

Bell Jar

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – Once upon a time, a friend had me read The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, but now I wish that I had been given Plath’s The Bell Jar instead. Everything I couldn’t relate to in Holden Caulfield’s character was easily available to me in Esther’s personality. A reviewer once called The Bell Jar “the first feminine novel in a Salinger mood,” and perhaps that’s why I loved it so much more.

Edward Tulane

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo – I almost didn’t read this book, but I found myself with some free time at school and a limited number of books I hadn’t read…and I had enjoyed DiCamillo’s other books. And I quickly discovered that The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is by far my favourite of hers. So much so that I even teared up during the last few pages. The story follows a selfish porcelain rabbit who finds himself lost and discovers what it means to love along the way. Moments reminded me of The Velveteen Rabbit, another favourite of mine growing up. The story was charming and an unlikable character becomes someone to root for in the end.

Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen
The Teaching of Braille Reading by Randall K. Harley, Freda M. Henderson, and Mila B. Truan
Penguin Modern Poets 6: Jack Clemo, Edward Lucie-Smith, and George MacBeth
Lonely Planet Laos Guidebook
Danny & Ron Orlis and the Mexican Jungle Mystery by Bernard Palmer

Night Circus

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – Mesmerizing, enchanting, breathtaking, soothing…this book was a breath of fresh air and I only wish I had gotten around to reading it sooner. The challenge of a lifetime transforms into a love story and it all takes place in a land without color or daylight. I have never been a fan of the circus, but perhaps I shall have to reconsider.

Mandie and the Cherokee Legend by Lois Gladys Leppard
The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander
Donkey Dust by Jane Buxton
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham
Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
When the World Began: Stories collected in Ethiopia by Elizabeth Laird
The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Edwards
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Ella Enchanted

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine – Much in the same vein as Matilda, a misunderstood young girl, although this time under a spell. In the same way I felt Matilda’s injustices personally, I too felt compassion for Ella’s circumstances. But lest the reader get too upset reading this story, Levine fills the pages with enough hilarity to balance emotions. A truly exquisite example of a coming of age story.

Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
The Lion’s Whiskers and Other Ethiopian Tales by Brent Ashabranner and Russell Davis
Outlaw by Ted Dekker
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
The Rascals From Haskell’s Gym
The Outsiders by S.E. Hilton
So Far: Poems by Margaret Rampton Munk
Stuart Little by E.B. White
Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen


Matilda by Roald Dahl – Would you believe I hadn’t read this book before now? I’d like to blame my parents, but perhaps I was a bit precocious as a child. I mostly skipped reading middle grade fiction and YA and jumped almost immediately into the books contained in my parents’ library. So I bonded almost immediately with dear, little Matilda. Too intelligent for those around her – if only my mind had been as powerful as hers when I was growing up! It’s impossible to read this story and not find yourself cheering for her.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple – I didn’t know much about this novel, it had been recommended and handed to me by a friend. But just a few pages in and I was fascinated by Bernadette. As the novel came to a close, I realized that very few times in my life had I fallen so completely in love with a character. Semple gave her life in a way that so few modern authors do.

One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate – This book was a true delight. And a surprise. It shouldn’t have been – it is after all a Newberry Medal winner, joining the ranks of Bridge to Terabithia, A Wrinkle in Time,and The Giver. Applegate’s characters are all endearing from a painting gorilla to the precocious baby elephant. Their story brightened my spirits for many days after.

Lonely Planet Cambodia Guidebook
Lady Chatterley’s Love by D.H. Lawrence
The Borrowers by Mary Norton
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Parsley Sage, Rosemary & Time by Jane Louise Curry
The Whipping By by Sid Fleischman
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead

Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns – Even though this book was written in the 50s, it was only recently brought to my attention. And now I hate knowing it wasn’t always a part of my life. This is the most delightful prose I’ve stumbled across in recent memory, which is hard to believe given how many characters are killed off in this lovely little book. The opening lines had me hooked: The ducks swam through the drawing-room windows. The weight of the water had forced the windows open; so the ducks swam in. Round the room they sailed quacking their approval; then they sailed out again to explore the wonderful new world that had come in the night…

Lonely Planet Vietnam Guidebook
Once by Morris Gleitzman
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Tinkers by Paul Harding
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen

Life After Life

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – Repetitive, but never tedious or tiresome. Atkinson writes the main character’s birth into nearly half of the chapters, but she always finds a way to find a new point of focus. A new character to draw out. And as Ursula Todd slowly learns of her power, she does something quite incredible – she goes after the most hated man in her time. Spiderman may have coined the phrase “With great power comes great responsibility,” but this novel truly embraces that theme and has a charming lead character to boot.


Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant by Veronica Roth – Yes, this is popular YA. And yes, it was recently turned into a film. But don’t let those two facts dissuade you from its power. In my search for all things dystopian, I frequently find myself reading YA trilogies and this has been my favourite by far. I enjoyed Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, and Lauren Oliver’s Delerium series had a great deal of potential, but it was Divergent that really enthralled me. Perhaps it’s because of all the female leads, Tris Prior was the one whom I found the most respect for. Or maybe it’s because Roth did what so few YA authors have the courage to do – end the story nobly.

The Slumber of Christianity by Ted Dekker
The Circle by Dave Eggers
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Twink by John Neufeld
My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands by Chelsea Handler
Gypsy Summer by Wilma Yeo
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
The Wish Giver by Bill Brittain
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky
Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Patterson
Fudge-a-mania by Judy Blume
Antony and Cleopatra by Shakespeare
Othello by Shakespeare
Requiem by Lauren Oliver
Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Versal 11
The Double Life of Pocahontas by Jean Fritz
Poems and Selected Letters by Veronica Franco
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy by E.D. Hirsch, Jr., Joseph F. Kett, and James Trefil
Things I meant to say to you when we were old by Merrit Malloy
Nancy Drew: Ghost Stories by Carolyn Keene
Cahalia By Emily Pooler
Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed
Halfway Heaven by Melanie Thernstrom
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
The Courtesans by Joanna Richardson
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol
Illusions by Frank Peretti


We by Yevgeny Zamyatin – I’m a passionate lover of all things dystopian, but yet I’ve never been fond of George Orwell’s 1984. Something about the ending just never rang true for me. So you can imagine my joy when I stumbled across We, the very story that was the inspiration for 1984. But this novel had an ending I was much happier to embrace.

Venice: Pure City by Peter Ackroyd

Image of Josephine

Image of Josephine by Booth Tarkington – This book gets a blurb because it’s a diamond in the rough. Booth Tarkington is a Pulitzer Prize winning author, and yet this book is never talked about. Tarktington paints a vivid description of Bailey Fount, a WWII survivor who was affected both physically and mentally during his tour. During his medical leave, he works in a museum run by his cousin, and it is through his shell-shocked eyes that we rediscover Josephine Oaklin – a character who had been a mystery since her childhood description.

Daedalus and Icarus by David Calcutt
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Strange and Spooky Stories by Andrew Fusek Peters
Green by Ted Dekker
White by Ted Dekker
Red by Ted Dekker
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
Black by Ted Dekker
Torch by Cheryl Strayed
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Eyes Wide Open by Ted Dekker
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Book Thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – I was immediately charmed by Zusak’s main character. She’s as voracious a reader as I consider myself to be. And throughout the tragedies she encounters through the course of the novel, the power literature shines brightly. As do the rest of Zusak’s characters.

Room by Emma Donoghue
Thunder of Heaven by Ted Dekker
Not a Sparrow Falls by Linda Nichols
Twelfth Night by Shakespeare
In Morocco by Edith Wharton

The Mists of Avalon

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer – Gender equality is of course an aspiration I hope the world continues to embrace…and sooner rather than later. Which is why I was so taken with this book. It has rewrtitten the story of King Arthur and his knights from the perspective of the women in their lives. And what they had to do to ensure their own survival as well as the survival of those they love.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo


Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed – This book spoke to me as I began an adventure with the huge undertaking of trying to find myself from the path I had strayed from. And it was incredibly comforting to read about another’s journey, especially due to the clarity and honesty with which the author told her story.

Tess of the D’Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy
When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Mortal by Ted Dekker
Forbidden by Ted Dekker
Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

  1. Some excellent books there. Some I’ve read and loved, some I’ve not tried yet. When you love books there’s really never enough hours in the day…am I right? If you love a bit of dystopia you could always try a trilogy that I really enjoyed and zipped through (in a good way)…’Wool’, ‘Shift’ and ‘Dust’ by Hugh Howey.

    1. Oh, and there are definitely some terrible books in there – i.e. books that shouldn’t be sent to Africa, but are all I could get my hands on. But I also had some really great reads during those two years : ) I’ll check out Hugh Howey’s stuff…you know me well, I love a good dystopian novel.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: