Our international book list 2022: the best new fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, essays, sci-fi and photo books – Rest of World

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  • Fiction
  • Asia
  • After the Inquiry
  • By Jolene Tan

In this understated administrative thriller set in Singapore’s stifling police bureaucracy, novelist Jolene Tan writes about how Singaporeans “sustain the myths of our nation, specifically by unseeing the empirical evidence which would call those myths into question.” Her novel follows a middle-aged civil servant looking into the shooting of a police sergeant, a case which had already been closed, and uncovering disturbing secrets along the way. Tan’s unsettling read shows how individual acts of ambition and callousness in a system that prioritizes stability over humanity add up to a banal, but fundamental evil.

Author Q&A: Ethos Books

Buy on Ethos Books


  • Fiction
  • South Asia
  • Karnali Blues
  • By Buddhisagar

One of the most widely-read novels in Nepal, Buddhisagar’s Karnali Blues, published in 2010, has finally been translated into English this year. The book recounts the relationship between a father and a son, told through the memories of a young son living in a remote village along the Karnali river in far-western Nepal. The book paints a vivid depiction of helplessness and hope, death and disease in a rural country on the verge of dramatic socio-political change. For readers anywhere in the world, this story of family, memories of childhood joy and pain, and the constant struggle for life and livelihood is an instant treat.

Review: Scroll.in

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  • Non-fiction
  • Global
  • The Naked Don’t Fear the Water
  • By Matthieu Aikins

Thousands of refugees have crowded into refugee camps on the Greek island of Lesbos. One is Omar, a former translator and driver for foreigners in Afghanistan – including reporter Matthieu Aikins, who disguised himself as a fellow refugee to undertake the same journey. Aikins travels with Omar, who left his family and fiance behind, from Kabul to Athens, along the way lighting one of his own passports on fire to avoid exposure. The book documents the smuggling, theft, and cruelty that refugees face when attempting to gain entry to the kinds of places Aikins can visit any time he wants.

Review: The Guardian

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  • Non-fiction
  • Middle East
  • Black Wave
  • By Kim Ghattas

Lebanese journalist Kim Ghattas’ book traces how the past four decades of rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran has redrawn beliefs and loyalties across the Middle East. Ghattas argues that events triggered by the fall of the Shah of Iran and the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca cascaded through the subsequent decades, sowing intolerance, fundamentalism, and violence throughout the region. A product of Ghattas’ decades of experience as a journalist, Black Wave follows the stories of dissidents, academics, and writers, and flows across the borders of Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and Pakistan.

Review: Washington Post

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  • Photo book
  • Asia
  • The Banda Journal
  • By Muhammad Fadli and Fatris MF

Nutmeg originates from just one place on Earth: the Banda Islands, an archipelago in what is today Indonesia. This exceptional accident has reduced the islands to the status of a rarefied commodity throughout their history, which Rest of World contributor and photographer Muhammad Fadli and folklorist Fatris MF chronicle in The Banda Journal. The book, which won the 2021 Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation PhotoBook of the Year Award, reflects multiple trips the authors made to document life and work in a place that has played an overlooked but central role in the development of global capitalism.

Review: Aperture

Buy on Jordan, jordan Édition


  • Non-fiction
  • Asia
  • Ask Iwata
  • By Satoru Iwata 

Nintendo was in trouble when Satoru Iwata took over. But he realized that fighting with Sony and Microsoft for hardcore gamers wasn’t the right fight, so he led the creation of the Wii, a game console for everyone, and Nintendo has gone from strength to strength. But his successes aren’t why the late Iwata is beloved by employees, fans, and even rivals. He genuinely saw the world in a different way, and drew on his experiences from every level of the gaming business — from programmer to executive — to drive his unique approach to management. This book collects his columns and interviews, giving insight into the gaming titan.

Review: Nintendo Life

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  • Memoir
  • Africa
  • Leaving the Tarmac
  • By Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede

In this memoir, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, one of Nigeria’s foremost finance heavyweights, writes in detail about his experience buying a Nigerian bank and scaling it to become one of the country’s biggest within the span of just ten years. Aig-Imoukhuede charts his own life path and describes what it took to create a reliable financial institution amid the regulatory chaos of the early 2000s. The book is full of Aig-Imoukhuede’s hard-won insights into entrepreneurship and the inner workings of corporate Nigeria — a business environment that has produced disappointingly scant literature.

Review: New African

Buy on Rovingheights


  • Memoir
  • Asia
  • The Impossible City
  • By Karen Cheung

Karen Cheung’s memoir paints an intimate portrait of Hong Kong in her lifetime: underground rock concerts in industrial buildings, skyrocketing rents, roads winding between mountains and skyscrapers, the exiled feeling of watching protests grip your home from afar. Cheung’s deeply personal lens pushes past a simplified political narrative to bring to life a city confronting economic inequality, shrinking political freedoms, and shifting cultural identity. Cheung takes readers beyond the Hong Kong known as “Asia’s financial center,” interweaving perspectives of individual young people grappling with stifled dreams in a city passed from one imperial power to another. 

Review: Washington Post

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  • Non-fiction
  • Latin America
  • Border Hacker
  • By Levi Vonk and Axel Kirschner

A twisty nonfiction odyssey by Levi Vonk and Axel Kirschner traces the latter’s journey as an undocumented migrant with prodigous computer skills. Axel was deported to Guatemala after a traffic stop, leaving his wife and kids behind in the U.S. He uses an old computer to chart his path back to the U.S. through Mexico, getting as far as he can on the strength of his hacking skills and bravado, and along the way joining a caravan of Central American migrants and meeting up with Levi. 

Review: The Bibliophage

Buy on Bold Type Books


  • Non-fiction
  • South Asia
  • The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing
  • By Sonia Faleiro

One night in 2014, two girls from a tiny Indian village in Uttar Pradesh went missing. Hours later, their bodies were found hanging in an orchard. A year later, Rest of World contributor Sonia Faleiro, the author of the award-winning Beautiful Thing, returned to the scene of the girls’ disappearance. The book, in addition to highlighting the systemic issues of caste, inequality, and privilege that are driving forces in Indian society, presents a straightforward reality: a culture of shame and apathy that shaped the lives of the two girls – and ultimately failed them.

Review: LSE Review of Books

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  • Photo book
  • Eastern Europe
  • The Book of Veles
  • By Jonas Bendiksen

What is real, and how do we know it is? Jonas Bendiksen tricked the photojournalism world into believing his latest project was a work of real documentary. Bendiksen’s new book depicts the real Macedonian town of Veles and its thriving fake news industry, supposedly taking an intimate look at the people behind online misinformation and a city that profits from it. But the entire photobook itself is a trick – Bendiksen used artificial intelligence tools, 3D modeling, and YouTube research to create fake people and scenes to tell what he calls “a fake news story about fake news producers.”

Author Q&A: Magnum Photos

Buy on Gost Books


  • Non-fiction
  • Global
  • The Subprime Attention Crisis: Advertising and the Time Bomb at the Heart of the Internet
  • By Tim Hwang

Tim Hwang’s gripping account of how attention is monetized dissects the internet advertising ecosystem and the incentives that are seemingly baked into every corner of the internet. While this boom has succeeded in commoditizing internet users’ attention, accurately valuing it is another story entirely, Hwang points out. Hwang digs deep into the state of the online advertising industry, which fuels many big tech companies, and draws repeated parallels to the lack of regulatory oversight and the precarious inflation of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis – offering a prescient warning of a looming crisis. 

Review: TechTribe Oxford

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  • Non-fiction
  • South Asia
  • Karachi Vice: Life and Death in a Contested City
  • By Samira Shackle

British journalist Samira Shackle weaves together the stories of five people living in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi. Through the lens of a crime reporter, a school teacher, an NGO worker, an ambulance driver, and a woman living in a rural village, Shackle describes the ups and downs of everyday life against the backdrop of power struggles in Karachi. Shackle’s five protagonists bring readers behind the violence-saturated headlines to illuminate, as she writes, “a society where lavish wealth and absolute poverty live side-by-side, and where the lines between idealism and corruption can quickly blur.”

Review: Asian Review of Books

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  • Fiction
  • Eastern Europe
  • No-Signal Area
  • By Robert Perišić

Croatian novelist Robert Perišić’s harsh, funny book, translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac, turns its spotlight on the winners and the losers of the post-Soviet era. Two hustlers travel to the remote fictional town of N in an unnamed former Yugoslav republic in order to reopen a long-shuttered turbine factory, even rehiring its old workers. Why would they want to build a rundown turbine to 1980s specifications, for ambiguous reasons they keep even from the workers? They quickly find themselves in limbo and in over their heads, and a sense of futility pervades the project, another wild goose chase in the transition from socialism to capitalism.

Review: The Calvert Journal

Buy on Seven Stories Press


  • Photo book
  • Middle East
  • We Don’t Say Goodbye
  • By Lorenzo Meloni

Few photographers have spent as much time covering the fight against ISIS as Lorenzo Meloni. We Don’t Say Goodbye chronicles that conflict through Iraq, Syria, and Libya. Meloni said his intention was to position the emergence of the Islamic State in the context of history. “I asked myself many times,” wrote Meloni, “if I had been born Iraqi and my family was killed by U.S. soldiers, what might I have done?” The printing is crisp and vivid, designed with the bright, haunting orange color used by the terrorist group for prisoner jumpsuits. It’s an uneasy reflection on a brutal war.

Review: IMP Festival

Buy on Magnum Photos


  • Memoir
  • South Asia
  • My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future
  • By Indra Nooyi

Indra Nooyi is among the first Indian women to climb the corporate ladder at an iconic American company. The former PepsiCo CEO has over the years become an inspiration for women of color who aspire to professional success. In this tell-all memoir, Nooyi shares intimate snapshots from her life – as a young girl in South India, an immigrant student in the U.S., a working parent, and a corporate leader – and offers practical solutions and inspiration for navigating life and work. Nooyi describes her vision for a workplace and society where young parents are provided adequate support to pursue their professional passions – highlighting the need for women in decision-making roles.

Author Q&A: Washington Post

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  • Fiction
  • Latin America
  • Eugenia: Esbozo Novelesco de Costumbres Futuras
  • By Eduardo Urzáiz Rodríguez

Eduardo Urzáiz Rodríguez’s novel is set in the futuristic Central American capital “Villautopia,” run by technologists looking to keep an idealized version of the human race going through eugenics and surveillance. While this may sound like a direct product of the questions raised today by our contemporary relationship with technology, Rodríguez was writing over a century ago. Eugenia, one of Latin America’s first science fiction novels, was originally published in 1919 – years before Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World – and has just been reprinted in 2021.

Review: Science-Fiction [Spanish]

Buy on UNAM


  • Fiction
  • Asia
  • The Land of Big Numbers
  • By Te-Ping Chen

Wall Street Journal reporter Te-Ping Chen draws on her experiences as a former correspondent in Beijing and Hong Kong as material for her inventive and intricate fiction debut, The Land of Big Numbers. Dazzling details from her real-life observations spin into fictional plots – passengers trapped indefinitely in a train station in China, aspiring Party cadres who invent flying machines, video game-obsessed university students with dissident siblings – that inevitably hit a little too close to home. Chen’s ability to transform ordinary details into extraordinary narratives feels just as fantastic as everyday life in China today.

Review: Los Angeles Times

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  • Memoir
  • Asia
  • The Properties of Perpetual Light
  • By Julian Aguon

In this brilliant collection of short stories, human rights lawyer and Pulitzer Prize finalist Julian Aguon poignantly chronicles life, death, joy, and growing up in Guåhan, which has been occupied as the U.S. territory Guam since 1898. Across formats ranging from poetry to prose and essay, Aguon revels in the beauty of the Mariana Islands, makes a searing case for environmental preservation in the face of military occupation, and grapples with passing down place-based ancestral knowledge in an environment imminently threatened by climate change. 

Author Q&A: Vox

Buy on Native Books


  • Fiction
  • Asia
  • AI 2041: Ten Visions for Our Future
  • By Kai-Fu Lee and Chen Qiufan

Former head of Google China Kai-Fu Lee once wrote an algorithm designed to imitate science fiction superstar Chen Qiufan’s voice. In AI 2041, Lee and the real Chen collaborate on a set of short stories that speculate how artificial intelligence will reshape the world and challenge life and work as we know it just two decades from now. The stories are set in urban centers across the world, from Seoul to Mumbai to San Francisco, and encourage readers to imagine positive, negative, and utterly mundane applications for AI technology in the not-so-distant future.

Review: Los Angeles Review of Books

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  • Fiction
  • Africa
  • If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English
  • Noor Naga

Noor Naga’s novel, which won the Graywolf Press African Fiction Prize, tells the story of an Egyptian-American in Cairo who strikes up a relationship with a burned-out local tired of the city. Guilty about missing the Arab Spring, she uses their relationship as a way to feel more connected to the country of her mother’s birth. Looking for redemption and a more comfortable place to sleep, he moves into her apartment. Their relationship questions the power dynamics that shape history and belonging after a failed revolution.

Review: New York Times

Buy Graywolf Press


  • Non-fiction
  • Africa
  • Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World
  • By Howard French

Longtime foreign correspondent Howard French centers Africa and Africans at the heart of this global history of the rise of European colonial powers, shifting from a Eurocentric narrative to one that chronicles the way the triangular trans-Atlantic trade fragmented society in Africa and enriched Europeans and Americans through the labor of millions of enslaved people. French tells the story of these centuries – in which enslaved people became more valuable and commoditized than the rumored gold that originally drew the European imagination to the continent – and their lingering effects from the perspective of Africa.

Review: The Guardian

Buy on W. W. Norton & Company


  • Fiction
  • Latin America
  • Chilean Poet
  • By Alejandro Zambra

Zambra’s novel, translated by Megan McDowell, portrays a father and stepson, both aspiring poets in Chile grappling with the legacy of their country’s poetic giants like Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral, and Vicente Huidobro. The two poets also struggle with the challenges, flashes of inspiration and despair, and foolish optimism inherent in aspiring to literary greatness. Zambra, himself a poet as well as a novelist, has sprinkled his latest work with intentionally bad draft poems. Zambra asks what it means for literature, and poetry in particular, to be one of Chile’s main internationally-recognized exports.

Review: New York Times

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  • Fiction
  • Africa
  • Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth
  • By Wole Soyinka

Nobel Prize-winning author, playwright, and activist Wole Soyinka’s first novel in nearly fifty years follows the darkly-named Human Resources, an organization that specializes in the sale of organs and body parts. Genre-bending, at once murder mystery and political satire, by turns humorous and despairing, chaotic and intense, Soyinka paints a picture of a fictional land that at times resembles Nigeria a little too closely, and raises questions about what kind of violence society can be built on.

Review: The Guardian

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