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From song to story: Top picks for a Eurovision-inspired book club

15 March 2023

Sara Cox is back with a new series of BBC Two's irreverent book club Between the Covers. Alongside the best new releases, Sara's guests discuss favourite novels from the home nations of this year's Eurovision finalists... read on to add an international flavour to your springtime book lists.

Sara Cox with six novels written in countries participating in Eurovision.

Each week on Between the Covers, Sara Cox and her guests invite us to take an informed and often irreverent look at some of their favourite books.

This series has a truly continental feel, as the team take inspiration from Eurovision. Alan Davies, Mel Giedroyc and Sophie Duker are just some of the celebrity bookworms who will be deciding which texts deserve a full twelve points.

If you'd like to read along, take a sneak peak at the international titles Sara and guests are talking about this Spring.

Six novels for a Spring reading list with an international flavour

A chilling true-life tale from the Icelandic winter of 1829

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

In Iceland, in 1829, Agnes Magnúsdóttir is condemned to death for her part in the murder of her lover.

Agnes is sent to wait out her final months on the farm of district officer Jón Jónsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderer in their midst, the family avoid contact with the condemned woman. Only Tóti, the young assistant priest appointed Agnes’s spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her. As the year progresses and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes’s story begins to emerge and with it the family’s terrible realization that all is not as they had assumed.

Based on actual events, Burial Rites is an astonishing and moving novel about the truths we claim to know and the ways in which we interpret what we’re told. In beautiful, cut-glass prose, it tells of a battle for survival and asks how one woman can hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others.

Hannah Kent's chilling tale is inspired by Iceland’s formidable landscape.

Tension and horror abound in Leila Slimani's murder mystery from France

Lullaby by Leila Slimani

The baby is dead. It only took a few seconds.

When Myriam, a French-Moroccan lawyer, decides to return to work after having children, she and her husband look for the perfect caretaker for their two young children. They never dreamed they would find Louise: a quiet, polite and devoted woman who sings to their children, cleans the family's chic apartment in Paris's upscale tenth arrondissement, stays late without complaint and is able to host enviable birthday parties.

The couple and nanny become more dependent on each other. But as jealousy, resentment and suspicions increase, Myriam and Paul's idyllic tableau is shattered.

Franco-Moroccan author Slimani's tense thriller is fast becoming a classic.

Classic 1990s-set Ukrainian satire by Andrey Kurkov

Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov

All that stands between one man and murder by the mafia is a penguin.

Viktor is an aspiring writer in Ukraine with only Misha, his pet penguin, for company. Although he would prefer to write short stories, he earns a living composing obituaries for a newspaper. He longs to see his work published, yet the subjects of his obituaries continue to cling to life.

But when Viktor opens the newspaper to see his work in print for the first time, his pride swiftly turns to terror. Viktor and Misha have been drawn into a trap from which there appears to be no escape.

Ukranian author Kurkov's dark comedy of post-Soviet isolation has been delighting readers for nearly two decades.

"A masterpiece of microcosm" - Tove Jansson's meditation on summer on a Finnish island

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

An elderly artist and her six-year-old grand-daughter while away a summer together on a tiny island in the gulf of Finland. As the two learn to adjust to each other's fears, whims and yearnings, a fierce yet understated love emerges - one that encompasses not only the summer inhabitants but the very island itself.

Written in a clear, unsentimental style, full of brusque humour, and wisdom, The Summer Book is a profoundly life-affirming story from Finnish author Janson, who captured much of her own life and spirit in the novel. A worldwide classic about a tiny island and larger love.

Niccolò Ammaniti's story of childhood innocence lost in rural Italy

I’m Not Scared by Niccolò Ammaniti

One relentlessly hot summer, six children explore the scorched wheat-fields that enclose their tiny Italian village. When the gang find a dilapidated farmhouse, nine-year-old Michele Amitrano makes a discovery so momentous he dare not tell a soul. It is a secret that will force Michele to question everything and everyone around him.

Italian author Ammaniti's unputdownable thriller I'm Not Scared is also a devastatingly authentic portrayal of childhood and the tensions of joining the adult world.

British naturalist Gerald Durrell's classic familial memoir from Corfu

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

Soaked in the sunshine of Corfu, where the author lived as a boy, this delightful book tells of Gerald Durrell's early life with his 'family and other animals'.

Brought vividly to life are the extraordinary members of the Durrell family and their many eccentric hangers-on, as well as the bizarre menagerie Gerry adopts for closer study. The procession of creatures he brings back to the strawberry-pink, the daffodil-yellow or the snow-white villa includes toads and tortoises, bats and butterflies, scorpions and geckos, ladybirds, glow-worms, octopuses and rose-beetles, Quasimodo the pigeon, the puppies Widdle and Puke and, of course, the Magenpies.

Durrell's memoir of his years living in Greece has delighted generations.

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