13-year-old Aisha Esbhani, from Karachi, Pakistan, decided a year ago that her bookshelf was made up almost entirely of authors from either Britain or North America. Feeling like she was missing out, Aisha set herself the challenge of reading at least one book from every country (as well as some extra territories). In order to get suggestions, Aisha has set up her own Facebook page where people from around the globe can come and recommend different books.
In an interview with Lit Hub, Aisha said that she discovered her love of reading when her brother introduced her to the A Series of Unfortunate Events books by Lemony Snicket. Upon setting up her Facebook page, Aisha has been sent a vast amount of suggestions from around the world.
“I was sent an unpublished translation of The Kaafir of Karthala from Comoros, it is said to be the only book in English from the country,” she said. “Translator Allison Charette will be sending me an advanced copy of a book from Madagascar in a few weeks. Also, author Robi Gottlieb from Luxembourg and Karlis Verdins both sent me printed and e-versions of their books that weren’t commercially available in English.”
Her mission has even attracted the attention of the former President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, who has sent her some of his recommendations.
A year since her mission began, Aisha has already read 80 books from 80 different countries and is still reading onward. Aisha explained the point of her reading odyssey thusly:
“There are many authors in this world who have produced masterpieces but do not receive the recognition they should. One of my aims is to invite people to join me to read the world and appreciate all those authors who are not appreciated for their work! Also, if you are a true reader, you must explore different writing styles! I’ve noticed that writers from the African continent spend a lot of time describing the country. Western authors are more about thoughts. But you cannot identify these characteristics and differences without actually reading books from different cultures! And so, I invite you all to try to read books from different nations, start with a few nations and I’m sure you will be motivated to read the world!”
When asked how her reading has changed her as a person, Aisha said:
“I have been connecting with so many people around the world because of this project,” she wrote. “I have become so confident (I was always a shy kid). And this is surprising! Me and being confident never matched together until I started reading a book from every country of the world!”
In the end, she said, “books have really made me a more positive person and have allowed me to empathise more. That’s what I noticed; the power of words.”
So far, some of Aisha’s favourite books she’s read include A Long Way Gone, written by Ishmael Beah in Sierra Leone, Girl at War by Sara Novic in Croatio/USA, Miguel Street by V.S Naipaul in Trinidad and Tobago, Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa al-Sanea in Saudi Arabia, and The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak in Turkey.