We know what we’re reading in America, but what about the rest of the world? Next week, Indonesian writer Andrea Hirata’s first novel The Rainbow Troops, will be published in English for the first time. The novel, which with over five million copies sold is Indonesia’s best-selling book of all time, got us thinking about the books topping the charts around the world — that we may have never even heard of. After the jump, some potentially surprising — or just illuminating — best-sellers from India to the UK. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
The American edition of Andrea Hirata’s The Rainbow Troops comes emblazoned with its credentials: “A literary phenomenon: Indonesia’s best-selling book of all time; more than five million copies sold.” That figure is worldwide, of course — but the autobiographical novel, which was first published in 2005, has still sold over a million copies in Indonesia, where, according to the book’s publisher Bentang Pustaka, a book that sells 3,000 copies in a year is considered a smash hit. Will it do as well in the English-language book market? Only time will tell.
Contrary to what certain publicists would have you believe, 50 Shades of Gray is not the UK’s best-selling book of all time. It is, according to Nielsen Bookscan, the fifth, nestled right in the middle of a Harry Potter and Dan Brown sandwich. Yes, the best-selling book of all time in the UK is Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, which beats out Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by a not-insignificant margin. The first book on the list not to be written by J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer, E.L. James or Steig Larsson is Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, clocking in at #19, followed by Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, at #20.
China, China, China. You just keep on surprising us. First, we found out that Anne of Green Gables was voted one of the most influential novels in the country this year, along with Love in the Time of Cholera, The Hunger Games, and J.K. Rowlings’s The Casual Vacancy. Now, we’re seeing Alexis de Tocqueville’s The Old Regime and the French Revolution and James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake shoot up the Chinese best-seller charts. And though we couldn’t find a definitive list of 2012′s overall best-sellers, China Daily explains that “translated literature continued to top 2012′s best-seller lists” — the top five last year were Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen, Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, On China by Henry Kissinger, Peter Hessler’s River Town, and Soulstealers: The Chinese Sorcery Scare of 1768, by Alden Kuhn.
Yep, Norway’s bestelling book of 2012 was filled with sex and violence, but no, it wasn’t 50 Shades of Grey. It was a “literary” translation of the Bible, published in October 2011, which sold 157,000 copies in 2012, a huge number for a country Norway’s size. Indeed, it was among the top 15 best-sellers for 54 out of 56 weeks, and beats out both the mommy porn and Justin Bieber’s autobiography, as well as novels by James Nesbø, Ken Follett and Per Petterson. Although why everyone’s so surprised is beyond us — the same edition topped the charts in 2011 as well. Must be a damn good translation.
Though there seems to be no substantiated overall best-seller list in India, one blogger has distilled the best-seller lists of Flipkart, Infibeam, Crossword and Landmark into a master document. Some highlights: Corporate Chanakya, by Radhakrishnan Pillai, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: A Novel In Cartoons, by Jeff Kinney, Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography, by Walter Isaacson, The Kite Runner, by Hosseini Khaled, and 2 States: The Story Of My Marriage, by Chetan Bhagat, who The New York Times dubbed “the biggest selling English language novelist in India’s history.”
As The Sydney Morning Herald points out, there wasn’t too much literary fiction on the Australian best-seller lists this year. The most popular Australian literary novel was Anna Funder’s All That I Am, with sales of 89,000 spread across two editions, coming in at #4 on the independent chart. Nationally, the top five best-sellers were Jeff Kinney’s latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid installment, the late Bryce Courtenay’s Jack of Diamonds, Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s 15-Minute Meals, Fresh and Light, another cookbook by Donna Hay, and J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. Along with Funder’s book, Yann Martel’s Life of Pi and Peter FitzSimons’s Eureka snuck in there on the independent chart. See the full list here.
According to Mexican bookstore chain and online retailer Librerías Gandhi — which commands 30% of the book market in Mexico — these were the top selling books of 2012:
1. Cincuenta sombras de Grey, de E. L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey)
2. El manuscrito encontrado de Accra, de Paulo Coelho (Manuscript Found in Accra)
3. Cincuenta sombras más obscuras, de E. L. James (Fifty Shades Darker)
4. La emoción de las cosas, de Ángeles Mastretta
5. Cien Años de Soledad (edición conmemorativa), de Gabriel García Márquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude, commemorative edition)
6. Ética de Urgencia, de Fernando Savater
7. Cincuenta sombras liberadas, de E. L. James (Fifty Shades Freed)
8. ¡Renuncio¡, de Yordi Rosado
9. Ahora o nunca: La gran oportunidad de México, de Jorge Suárez Vélez
10. Las ventajas de ser invisible, de Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower)
The best-selling book in Brazil’s history is Agape, a self-help volume written by Brazilian Catholic priest Marcelo Rossi, which sold 7.7 million copies in the first 21 months after its publication. Just before Christmas, the publisher released Agapinho, an illustrated version of the book aimed at kids, which — surprise, surprise — topped the children’s best seller chart for 2012. As for the other genres, the best-selling work of fiction last year was (of course, sigh) Fifty Shades of Grey, and the most popular work of non-fiction was Nada a Perder, bishop Edir Macedo.
Yes, folks, even in France, Fifty Shades of Grey was at the top of the best-seller lists in 2012. According to French literary magazine Lire, however, the full list boasts a bit more literary fiction than in some other countries we could mention. Other best-sellers this year were Joël Dicker’s La Verite sur l’affaire Harry Quebert, Jean Echenoz’s 14, J. K. Rowling’s Une place a prendre (The Casual Vacancy), and Patrick Modiano’s L’Herbe des nuits as well as Toni Morrison’s Home and Philip Roth’s Nemesis.
Like the French, Russian readers veer to fiction, and don’t seem to be as swayed by YA or children’s novels as some other countries we could mention. Early in 2012, Publisher’s Weekly asked three major Russian bookstores to recap their best-sellers in 2011, and for the year so far. In 2011, readers snatched up The Green Tent, by Ludmila Ulitskaya, as well as Viktor Pelevin’s Pineapple Water for the Fair Lady and S.N.U.F.F., plus Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, and Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery.