10 Books That Illuminate the LGBTQ+ Experience Around the World

By Amanda Wowk

May 31, 2021

From London to Lebanon, these 10 books set around the world illuminate the enormous range of the LGBTQ+ experience. Thanks to the immersive power of storytelling, readers can better understand the myriad aspects of identity through the eyes of LGBTQ+ authors and characters. 

1. The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne

The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a story full of heartbreak and hope; an illuminating tale of coming of age—and coming out—during the mid-1900s in Ireland. 

John Boyne is the author of 15 novels as well as a collection of short stories. In his native Ireland, he has won three Irish Book Awards and been shortlisted on 10 separate occasions. He has also won or been shortlisted for a host of international literary awards, including a Stonewall Honor Award and a Lambda Literary Award in the United States. His novels are available in over 50 languages.

2. The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

In The Death of Vivek Oji, Akwaeke Emezi details a Nigerian family’s struggle with losing a child they never truly knew. Was what Vivek’s family chose not to see while he was alive what ultimately contributed to his death? 

Akwaeke Emezi is a 2018 recipient of the National Book Foundation's 5 Under 35 honor. They are also the author of Freshwater and Pet—a young adult tale about a transgender teenager and monster hunter. 

3. The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Delve into the drama of interwoven love lives against the backdrop of a post-war London in Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests. A widow and her daughter take a young couple into their home, igniting a love affair between the daughter and the new female tenant.

Sarah Waters is the New York Times bestselling author of The Paying Guests, The Little Stranger, The Night Watch, Fingersmith, Affinity, and Tipping the Velvet. She has three times been short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, has twice been a finalist for the Orange Prize, and was named one of Granta's best young British novelists, among other distinctions.

4. You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat

Spanning Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and New York, You Exist Too Much follows a young Palestinian-American woman’s journey in search of acceptance, love, and a place to belong.

Zaina Arafat is a LGBTQ+ Palestinian-American writer based in Brooklyn. Her debut novel, You Exist Too Much, was selected as an Indie Next Pick for June, and has been praised by O Oprah Magazine, Vogue, Elle, Harper's Bazaar, NPR, LitHub and Good Morning America. Her stories and essays have appeared in publications including Granta, The New York Times, The Believer, Virginia Quarterly Review, VICE, BuzzFeed, Guernica and The Atlantic. She holds an MFA from Iowa and an MA from Columbia, and was awarded the 2018 Arab Women/Migrants from the Middle East fellowship from Jack Jones Literary Arts. She teaches writing at Long Island University and the School of the New York Times, and is currently working on an essay collection.

5. Christodora by Tim Murphy

Crises and characters converge at the Christodora—an apartment building in New York’s East Village. Tim Murphy transports us from the 1980s to present day and back again with a complex tale of love, art, addiction, and activism.

Tim Murphy has reported on HIV/AIDS for 20 years, for such publications as POZ Magazine, where he was an editor and staff writer, Out, Advocate, and New York magazine, where his July 2014 cover story on the new HIV-prevention pill regimen PrEP was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Magazine Journalism. He also covers LGBT issues, arts, pop culture, and travel for publications including the New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, Details, and Yahoo! Style. He is also the author of Getting Off Clean and The Breeders Box

6. The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue 

Set in Dublin, Ireland during the 1918 flu pandemic, The Pull of the Stars spans just three days, but tells a compelling tale about the will to bring new life—and hope—into a war-torn world. Donoghue’s three main characters, a nurse, a doctor, and a young volunteer, band together to help the pregnant women quarantined in an understaffed hospital ward. 

Born in Dublin in 1969, Emma Donoghue is an Irish emigrant twice over: she spent eight years in Cambridge doing a PhD in eighteenth-century literature before moving to London, Ontario, where she lives with her partner and their two children. She is best known for her novels, which range from the historical (Slammerkin, Life Mask, Landing, The Sealed Letter) to the contemporary (Stir-Fry, Hood, Landing). Her international bestseller Room was a New York Times Best Book of 2010 and was a finalist for the Man Booker, Commonwealth, and Orange Prizes.

7. Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen

In Eric Nguyen’s debut novel, Things We Lost to the Water, an immigrant Vietnamese mother and her two young sons settle in New Orleans. As the youngest son begins to embrace his adopted homeland and his burgeoning sexuality, the eldest tries to stay connected to his heritage by joining a Vietnamese gang. These divergent paths threaten to pull the family apart—un­til disaster strikes the city they now call home. 

Eric Nguyen earned an MFA in Creative Writing from McNeese State University in Louisiana. He has been awarded fellowships from Lambda Literary, Voices of Our Nation Arts (VONA), and the Tin House Writers Workshop. He is the editor in chief of diaCRITICS.org. He lives in Washington, DC. 

8. The Stonewall Reader edited by The New York Public Library

Released 50 years after the Stonewall uprising—which is considered to be the most significant event in the gay liberation movement in the U.S.—The Stonewall Reader is an anthology chronicling the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the 1960s. 

Drawing from the New York Public Library's archives, The Stonewall Reader is a collection of spotlights honoring iconic activists who were pivotal in the movement, first accounts, diaries, periodic literature, and articles from LGBTQ+ magazines and newspapers that documented both the years leading up to and following the riots.

9. Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett

Love, loss, and the ways we live through them—Kristen Arnett’s debut novel, Mostly Dead Things, explores how we pick up the pieces for (and after) family. After Jessa-Lynn’s father kills himself, she’s left to care for his struggling business in Florida. Meanwhile, she's still reeling from a toxic love triangle where she and her brother were in love with the same woman for years. 

Kristen Arnett is an LGBTQ+ fiction and essay writer. She won the 2017 Coil Book Award for her debut short fiction collection, Felt in the Jaw, and was awarded Ninth Letter's 2015 Literary Award in Fiction. She lives in Florida.

10. On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Ocean Vuong’s debut novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous captures the complex intersections of the modern-day American Dream. Raised by a single mother who immigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam, the narrator writes her a letter (in a language she’ll never understand) about the realities of his young life: addiction, abuse, and the loss of his first love.

Ocean Vuong is the author of the critically acclaimed poetry collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds and the New York Times bestselling novel On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous. A recipient of the 2019 MacArthur Genius Grant, he is also the winner of the Whiting Award and the T.S. Eliot Prize. Born in Saigon, Vietnam, he currently lives in Massachusetts.