If you landed on this post, I bet you can´t resist a beautiful love story. Check this list of classical romance novels around the world. Each book is set in a different country. Let´s discover more heart-touching tales from all over and travel the globe through World Literature!
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Reading is one of my favorite ways to travel virtually and explore the world from the comfort of my couch. While there are moments we all might enjoy a history book or a memoir, there´s something truly magical about romantic stories set in far-away places.
Classical romance novels are always bursting with poetic metaphors and beautiful details.
You don’t need to focus on scientific or historical data – you get consumed by people, relationships, landscapes, and unexpected twists of fate bringing them all together. Even real historical events often etch on our memory better if they form part of an engaging personal storyline.
Let´s kill two birds with one stone – enjoy a beautiful love story and gain new insights into diverse cultures across the globe. Check my brief list of classical romance novels that will take you around the world.
I´ve done my best to pick only one book per country, although for England, Russia, and America it was not an easy task. Nevertheless, I also left for you more alternative suggestions in the description of each book.
While we will talk about different places, there is one thing these Romance Novels Around the World do have in common. That is a remarkable story that goes beyond love.
Classical Romance Novels Around The World
1. “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy – Russia
Created by one of the most famous Russian writers of all time, Leo Tolstoy, “Anna Karenina“ often appears on the lists of the world´s greatest novels. While “War and Piece” remains the author’s most emblematic work, I completely prefer “Anna Karenina” over his other books.
In “Anna Karenina” Tolstoy provides a social panorama of Russian society in the XIX century when a woman´s reputation was more valued than her happiness. Anna decides to leave her empty existence alongside her husband Karenin and desperately falls in love with another man – Count Vronsky. But what will be the real consequences of this personal choice?
What I also liked about “Anna Karenina” is the fact that Tolstoy points out no morals and lets the reader judge for himself. He also underlines an unfair side of history, when a burden of shame was completely falling on a woman, despite the fact that there were always 2 people involved in any relationship.
2. “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen – United Kingdom
Since 1813, “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen has always been one of the most popular novels ever written in English.
The center of the book is a beautiful romance that evolves from initial antipathy to epic love. Flirtation, intrigue, a bit of humor – “Pride and Prejudice” is a book that has it all. Reading Jane Austen is your first stop on the way to discovering the world of Britain´s manners and etiquette of the XIXth century.
By the way, there´s also a “Pride and Prejudice” (2005 ) movie starring Keira Knightley (which I liked a lot), so if you´re already familiar with the story, you can always pick another one of Jane Austen´s masterpieces: “Sense and Sensibility“, “Mansfield Park“, “Emma“, or “Northanger Abbey“. Do not miss my list of Romantic Travel Movies to watch with your loved one.
More British classical romance novels: “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte, “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte, “Theatre” by William Somerset Maugham, “The Gadfly” by Ethel Lilian Voynich, “Vanity Fair” by William Thackeray, “Rebecca” Daphne du Maurier, “North and South” by Elizabeth Gaskell.
3. “Heaven has no favorites” by Erich Maria Remarque – Germany
“Heaven has no favorites” by German novelist Erich Maria Remarque is one of my all-time favorite books. Although it is not actually set in Germany, like for instance, another Remarque novel “The Black Obelisk“.
Two main characters of “Heaven has no favorites”, Clerfayt and Lillian, prove that opposites often attract and make the most unique love stories. By and large, it is a bittersweet story about living only in the moment, without regard for the future. “Heaven has no favorites” is also a never-ending source of beautiful quotes that inspire you to think about life and all the things that really matter in it.
4. “The Autobiography Of A Turkish Girl” (also called The Wren) by Resat Nuri Güntekin – Turkey
Ever since my first layover in Istanbul, Turkey has been one of my favorite travel destinations. In search of intriguing historical insights and details about the Ottoman descendants, I’ve devoured hundreds of books, movies, documentaries, and TV series. Nevertheless, I still remember the first book that marked my Turkish cultural journey – “The Autobiography Of A Turkish Girl” (also called The Wren) by Resat Nuri Güntekin.
The story is brought to a reader in the form of a diary, written by a Turkish girl Feride. This very personal story immediately consumes you and it´s impossible to set this book aside before you flip its last pages. Feride breaks an engagement and leaves Kamran, the only man she ever loved, upon discovering that he´s been unfaithful to her. She runs away to follow her teaching career and finds happiness and peace. But can we really start over after losing the love of our life and are there those second chances in relationships?
Alongside the engaging storyline, “The Autobiography Of A Turkish Girl” also shows life in Turkey in the early XXth century, while giving its readers the scoop on Turkish customs and traditions.
“The Autobiography Of A Turkish Girl” by Resat Nuri Güntekin was turned into a TV series twice, in 1986 and 2013.
5. “Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert – France
“Madame Bovary” is a scandalous debut novel of the French writer Gustave Flaubert. The storyline was considered controversial for its time and has been attacked by public prosecutors for obscenity. Yet it´s been an absolute bestseller worldwide ever since.
The book reveals the story of Emma Bovary, trapped in her marriage and bored with the banality of provincial life. Her unhappiness makes her search for love outside of her family alliance, but the real life continues to fail to live up to her romantic expectations.
“Madame Bovary” makes you realize that life is about the journey itself. We are the first ones in charge of loving ourselves and trying to find happiness within. Because if you leave it to other people – you might as well be unhappy for the rest of your life.
6. “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel García Márquez – Colombia
“Love in the Time of Cholera” is a masterpiece of Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez, one of the most famous writers in Latin America and a Nobel Prize Winner.
The main characters of “Love in the Time of Cholera” fall passionately in love in their youth, but life drifts them apart. So, do second chances in relationships really exist and can we keep the internal flame of love forever?
“Love in the Time of Cholera” is one of the classical romance novels that show us fondness beyond the common concepts of age, marriage, faith, and life´s possibilities.
7. “The little lady of the big house” by Jack London – America
Despite my love for Ernest Hemingway´s books, I´ve decided to pick “The little lady of the big house” by Jack London in order to bring some love-triangle drama into this list of classical romance novels.
As an American writer, journalist, and social activist, Jack London has quite a novel portfolio: just take his “The Call of the Wild“, “Martin Eden“, or “Hearts of Three“. But I love the fact that “The little lady of the big house” is one of his lesser-known novels, plus it was also the last book published during Jack London´s lifetime.
Biographers claim that “The little lady of the big house” is not an autobiographical piece. Although quite a few characters in it were most likely inspired by the author´s personal life.
8. “Ali and Nino” by Kurban Said – Caucasus
“Ali and Nino” is a romantic novel Kurban Said, the author whose true identity is still a matter of dispute.
It is a captivating romance about two people pulled apart by culture, religion, and war. “Ali and Nino” tells the story of a Muslim boy and a Christian girl who defy their parents and marry. But will their all-consuming love be enough to overcome the differences in their backgrounds?
Plus, as if it was not enough, things get turned upside down by the arrival of World War I.
The story of “Ali and Nino” made it to the screen in 2006. The movie was directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Asif Kapadia.
9. “The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy – India
“The God of Small Things” is a relatively modern novel (published in 1997) by an Indian author Arundhati Roy. Nevertheless, it already belongs on the list of classical romance novels, as it was awarded The Booker Prize for Fiction and has become an absolute best-seller worldwide.
The story is set in Kerala, India in 1969. The plot rolls around the lives of twins Rahel and Estha and their mother Ammu, all sharing a secret dramatic past. It´s really hard to reveal more without giving away any spoilers.
When you follow the storyline, you can´t help the feeling that there are quite a few pieces of the puzzle missing there. Then you unexpectedly come across a beautiful and tragic love story that starts shedding some light on the life of the main characters, their relationships, and personalities. I feel like “The God of Small Things” is different from anything I´ve ever read.
Check out more interesting books and movies about India here.
10. “The Girl Who Played Go” by Shan Sa – China
No list of love novels around the world can be complete without a touch of Asian literature. “The Girl Who Played Go” is a novel by Shan Sa, a Bejing-born French writer.
It is another relatively modern pick for this list (published in 2001) due to its uniqueness and award-winning profile. “The Girl Who Played Go” has won a number of international prizes, including Prix Goncourt des Lyceens and Kiriyama Prize.
The plot is set during the Japanese occupation of China. A local Chinese girl is exceptional at playing Go and her most frequent opponent is a Japanese soldier, captivated by her beauty and unpredictable approach to the game strategy. In tough times of war, falling in love with an enemy is one of the most rebellious acts of human nature, don´t you think?
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