A Booklover's Guide to World Cup 2014

A book from every nation competing in World Cup 2014.
Category: Reading

Whether you are incredibly excited about the upcoming World Cup in Brazil (12 June 2014) or the idea of a month of football has you reaching for your book, we've got a reading list for you!

Explore the world of literature through this country-by-country guide to great books in translation from each of the countries competing at Brazil 2014. 

If you're planning an office sweepstake, you can use our downloadable World Cup 2014 Office Sweepstake and challenge your colleagues to read the book associated with their country.

Jogo bonito, leia bonito!


Group by Group Guide

Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon

Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia

Group C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan

Group D: Uruaguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy

Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras

Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria

Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA

Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea


Group A



Zero by Ignacio de Loyola Brandão, Dalkey Archive Press

Get into the minds of this year's hosts by reading one of Brazil's 'greatest living writers'. Brandão is the author of eight novels but many hail Zero as one of his best works. Set during Brazil's military dictatorship it combines elements of dystopia, sci-fi and the absurdity of a repressive political regime.



Mama Leone by Miljenko Jergović, Archipelago Books

Miljenko Jergović is Bosnian born but has lived and worked in Zagreb since 1993. A controversial writer and poet, Jergović's Mama Leone has been widely translated, receiving Italy's highly-coveted Premio Grinzane Cavour award for best translated work in 2003. Set in Yugoslavia, it depicts a childhood devastated by war through a series of linked stories in a 'dazzling, rhapsodic, and above all compassionate' way.  



Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo, Anagrama

Many describe Juan Rulfo, and not Gabriel Garcia Marquez, as the father of magical realism. His legendary novel Pedro Paramo, blends 'an extraordinary mix of sensory images, violent passions and unfathomable mysteries' as it shifts from one consciousness to another in a flow of dreams, desires and memories. Dominated by the central figure of Pedro Paramo - a lover, overlord and murderer - Rulfo's novel is said to have influenced famous, more contemporary Latin American writers, including his countryman Carlos Fuentes.




Dark Heart of the Night by Lianora Miano, Bison Original

Cameroonian author Lianora Miano explores Africa's own heart of darkness through the eyes of Ayané when, after three years abroad, she returns to the Central African village of her birth. Distrusted as an outsider, she bears witness to customs, superstitions and a horrific act carried out by an invading militia. Through Ayané's eyes Mioano explores the themes of responsibility and submission while questioning the role of Africans in the suffering of their own people. 


 Group B


Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas, Harvill Secker

If Carl Ruiz Zafon's Shadow of the Wind has been racking up the overseas book sales for the reigning World Cup champions in recent years, Dublinesque, by the internationally-acclaimed Vila-Matas, has been racking up the critical praise and awards. Shortlisted for the 2013 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, it follows Samuel Riba, a successful Spanish publisher, on a spur-of-the-moment trip to Dublin for Bloomsday to hold a special funeral for the age of print, and the literary mystery that follows. 




2666 by Roberto Bolaño, Picador

The birthplace of Pablo Neruda is often referred to as 'the land of poets' but, as Isobel Allende and Roberto Bolaño prove, there's plenty of prose fiction to admire too. Some have hailed 2666 as 'the finest novel of the present century' and it has been widely heralded as the great writer's masterpiece, written, as it was, in the last years of his life. Over 1,100 pages long, this apocalyptic novel explores 20th century degeneration through a wide array of characters, times and settings.




The Netherlands

Rembrant's Whore by Sylvie Matton, Canongate International

If you think Bergkamp's 89th winning goal in the quarter final against Argentina in France '98 (listen to the commentary) was the most beautiful thing to come out of The Netherlands, think again. The internationally-acclaimed Rembrandt's Whore is written as a fictional monologue of Hendrickje Stoffels, the great painter's last mistress. An exposition of 17th century Dutch society it follows the rise and fall of Stoffels as she becomes Rembrandt's lover, confidante and fills the gap left by the death of his wife and children.




The Secret River by Kate Grenville, Canongate Books

Kate Grenville has been consistently writing top novels since 1985 to become one of Australia's best loved novelists. The Secret River (2006) was her first to tackle Australia's colonial past and relations with its indigenous people. Set in 1806 it follows the life of convict William Thornhill as he is shipped from London slums to New South Wales. As Thornhill creates a new life for himself, he faces tough choices in response to the aboriginals living on 'his land'.


Group C



The Informers by Juan Gabriel Vasquez, Riverhead Books

Rather than follow in the footsteps of Gael Garcia Marquez, Juan Gabriel Vasquez prefers current affairs and urban life to the familiar magical realism tropes of tradition and the rural. In The Informers, his tightly plotted breakthrough novel, Vasquez examines Colombian corruption in the latter half of the 20th century, and its role in World War II.






Kassandra and the Wolf by Margarita Karapanou, Clockroot Books

Selected by Publishers Weekly as 'one of the best translated novels you might have missed', Kassandra and the Wolf  juxtaposes the girlish and wolfish. Karapanou's troubling novel blurs the lines between victims and the victimised in this uncomfortable exploration of childhood. Written during the Greek dictatorship, between 1967 and 1974, Kassandra and the Wolf is seen as an essential Greek book of the 20th century.



Ivory Coast


Aya by Marguerite Abouet, Jonathan Cape

This first of a series of graphic novels tells the story of Aya. Aya resides in Yopougon in a 1970s Ivory Coast golden age where hospitals are modern, schools are mandatory and life is good. Bookish, 19-year-old Aya, and her friends Adjoua and Bintou, live out the last, carefree summer of their youth in a joyous Africa rarely shown in contemporary fiction. 





Ring by Koji Suzuki, Harper Collins

Genuinely terrify yourself with the novel that gave rise to the cult Japanese film, and Hollywood remake. Asakawa is a workaholic journalist who doesn't take much notice when his teenage niece suddenly dies. His interest is piqued, however, when he uncovers chillingly similar sudden deaths. If you're interested in Japanese fiction, check out Flavorwire's excellent list of 10 contemporary Japanse novelists.


Group D


The Invisible Mountain by Carolina Robertis, Harper Collins 

Uruguay sometimes struggles to emerge from under the shadows of its larger neighbour Argentina. But, in Carolina Robertis, a Uruguayan living in Argentina, they have an exciting, well-reviewed contemporary novelist to put them on the map. The Invisible Mountain begins at the dawn of the 20th century; a century where South American women are emancipated, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro free Cuba, the Perons take power in Argentina, and three generations of Firielli women will experience it all in this powerful work of historical fiction.

Costa Rica

Years Like Brief Days by Fabian Dobles, Peter Owen

The Tartan Army may shudder at the words 'Costa' 'Rica' following Scotland's infamous defeat to these minnows at Italia '90. But, even though it's unusual to find Central American fiction in translation, 'The Rich Coast' has an equally rich literary heritage to explore. Dobles' highly thought of novella tells the tale of an unnamed septuagenarian who belatedly comes to terms with his past in lilting, musical prose where memories swirl and emotions flow.


The Ball is Round by David Goldblatt, Penguin

It seems fitting our pick from the country that gave the game of football to the world is a non-fiction account of its journey from ancient ritual to a global, money-spinning, capitalist phenomenon. Goldblatt's book is seen as essential reading for anyone with an interest in football, and anyone who hates it but would like to understand what makes the game what it is. 



The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano, Doubleday

There are many great English language non-fiction books for those seeking to understand more about the 2006 World Cup champions, especially those of Tim Parks. In fiction, England's first opponents at the World Cup produce a great number of talented, contemporary novelists. This million-selling hit won the 32-year-old Paolo Giordano Italy's Premio Strega award for best debut novel. A meditation on loneliness and love, it explores whether we can be whole when we're in love with another. 



Group E


Night Train To Lisbon by Pascal Mercier, Atlantic Books

Banks, skiing, neutrality and Heidi are four words that come to most people's minds when they think of Switzerland. Perhaps that's unfair for the land that brought us Hermann Hesse, Max Frisch and... Alain de Botton. And now we can add Pascal Mercier (Peter Bieri's nom de plume) to that list. In 2004 the writer / philosopher hit it big with Night Train to Lisbon, described by Isobel Allende as "A treat for the mind. One of the best books I have read in a long time."


Wolves' Dream by Abdón Ubidia, Latin American Literary Review Press

One might not naturally seek out Ecuadorian literature but this north-western corner of South America has had a few novels you can find in translation so don't Quito looking. Wolves' Dream by Abdón Ubidia, a highly respected author in his homeland, is the story of five characters who hatch a plan to carry out a bank robbery in Ecuador's capital in 1980, at the end of the oil boom. What's the worst that could happen? Everything it seems. 


The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, Gallic Books

The French gave extra nuance to the word debacle during South Africa 2010 when the players, frustrated with their fairly 'out there' coach, refused to get off the team bus in protest. Luckily French literature is more reliably excellent than Les Bleus. Seek out philosophy teacher Muriel Barbery's novel which gained her comparisons to Proust and prompted the newspaper Le Figaro to describe the novel as 'the publishing phenomenon of the decade'. 


The Ships by Roberto Quesada

Honduran literary heavyweight Roberto Quesada was described by the late Kurt Vonnegut as a 'lively and gifted writer full of amusing and thought-provoking ideas' and The Ships is seen as one of the most important novels to emerge from this Central American Republic in recent times. It charts the progress of young Guillermo in the coastal town of La Ceiba. His nights are spent mis-adventuring in love and sex while his days are spent harvesting pineapples under a hot sun in the employ of the Standard Fruit Company against the backdrop of workers' strikes, radio reports of the Nicaragua revolution a few hours' drive south, and the drone of American helicopters overhead. 


Group F


Shantytown by César Aira, New Directions

If there are literary rock stars in this new(ish) century, César Aira is Argentina's. The prolific author publishes a new book at least every year and is known for short, irreverent and surreal novels. His latest, Shantytown, is his first venture into noir. Maxi, a middle-class, directionless young blending heart working with trash pickers in a shantytown, attracts the attention of a corrupt, trigger-happy policeman in a shantytown who will stop at nothing to break a drug ring. 



Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bridge Over The Drina by Ivo Andric, Harvill Press

Written during WW2, whilst Andric was under house arrest in Belgrade, Bridge Over The Drina is full of the author's longing for his Bosnian home. The book reportedly won its author the Nobel Prize in 1961 and is set in the small Bosnian town of Visegrad, home of the stone bridge of the book's title. The bridge spans generations, nationalities and history, and Andric's writing captures the stories it provided the backdrop to. To get a fuller flavour of the book, read Fiona Sampson's ode to it in The Independent. 




The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat, Alma Classics Ltd

Film scholars can chew one's ear off about Iranian film but what of its literature? The Blind Owl is held by many to be up there with the greatest Iranian books of the last century. It's a claustrophobic tale of a painter whose life unravels after he suspects his wife of infidelity. This circular, dream-like novel attracts comparisons to Poe or Dostoevsky and exemplifies the common use of allegory in Iranian fiction, which modern writers there often use to protect themselves from the state.



On Black Sister's Street by Chika Unigwe, Vintage

Nigerian fiction is alive and well with many titles to seek out. Endorsed by Scotland's own Ali Smith, on Black Sister's Street tracks four very different women who have made their way from Africa to Brussels. When one of their number is murdered the others are drawn together. Its author was recently named in the Hay Festival's list of 39 Sub-Saharan African writers aged under 40 with potential and talent to define future trends in African literature.


Group G


The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke, Peirene Press Ltd

Brand Germany's stock has never been higher. Since hosting the 2006 World Cup, the country has reclaimed its identity as a modern, progressive state. Against its re-emergence, diving into modern German literature seems necessary and The Mussel Feast is a great place to start. Vanderbeke's novella follows the fortunes of an East German family in Berlin as the wall falls in 1989 in beautiful, stream-of-consciousness prose.


Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi, Penguin

Ghana Must Go was the much anticipated debut novel of part Ghanaian, part Nigerian Taiye Selasi. Selasi rose to fame when she coined the term 'Afropolitan' to describe a new class of educated, ambitious Africans and sons and daughters of the African diaspora. In Selasi's beautifully written debut, three such Afropolitans must journey to the land of their parents when their estranged father dies suddenly of a heart attack. 

Listen to our Book Talk show on Ghana Must Go.


Act of the Damned by António Lobo Antunes, Grove Press

If Cristiano Ronaldo has anything to do with it, all eyes will be on him as he pouts, poses and struts his way through World Cup 2014. His countryman Antunes is considered to be one of the literary giants of Portugal. His work has been compared to William Faulkner's in the way it seeks to incorporate many voices in complex literary structures. In Act of the Damned Antunes tells the story of a once wealthy family that unravels into dysfunction as it tries to escape a socialist revolution.


Friday Night Lights by H. G. Bissinger, Yellow Jersey

If you think soccer fans are fanatical, spend 1988 with the Permian Panthers as this high school American football team carry the hopes, dreams and expectations of 20,000 Texans every Friday night. Written as narrative non-fiction, Bissinger's book, which he moved his family to the town to research, is held by some as the greatest sports book ever written and has since been adapted as a film and TV series. 


Group H


The Tongue's Blood Does Not Run Dry by Assia Djebar, Seven Stories Press

Algeria's internationally acclaimed novelist, scholar, poet and filmmaker Assia Djebar examines how wars are fought upon women's bodies and lives through a series of stories. Djebar is considered to be one of North Africa's most influential writers and is well known and regarded for her strongly feminist stance. 


Marcel by Erwin Mortier, Pushkin Press

It was uncertain, until recently, whether multi-lingual Belgium was going to continue as one country. Considered by many to be the dark horses of this year's World Cup, Belgians might soon find themselves firmly on the map. Once there they may start shouting more about their literature and, handily, Erwin Mortier's novels have recently been translated by Pushkin Press. Seek out Marcel to journey into the mind of the eponymous main character unravelling his family's complicated past in their Flemish village. 


Maidenhair by Mikhail Shishkin, Open Letter

Love them or hate them, everyone is well aware of the Russian classics. Soon Maidenhair might find its place in this canon. Hailed by some as 'a masterpiece' Shishkin's prose is said to 'reach over the heads of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky to the tradition of Pushkin.' In Maidenhair three distinct storylines bounce off each other in a plot that sounds challenging yet rewarding (Russian literature then, you might say).

South Korea

Please Look After Mother by Kyung-Sook Shin, Phoenix

The 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan was notable for the contagious enthusiasm of South Korea's home crowd, if not the standard of football in a forgettable tournament. Please Look After Your Mother was the first Korean novel to win the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2012. It looks follows one mother's journey from the Korean countryside to the Seoul of her grown-up children, exploring Korea's rapid urbanisation and cultural shifts.


You can use this blog as a starting point for your office sweepstake! Please download our World Cup 2014 Sweepstake of Literature (PDF).


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