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Are you looking for books set in the Baltics? This Baltic books reading list includes books set in Estonia, books set in Lithuania, and books about Latvia. Spark your Baltic wanderlust while learning about volatile histories, folktales, and romanticized cities.
We just returned from a whirlwind tour of the Baltic states: Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Have you been?
And, did you know that they have a wonderful literary culture full of national libraries, lit walls, and bookish restaurants?
We loved our time in the Baltics, and even more, we loved reading Baltic literature.
What Books Should You Read Before Visiting The Baltics & Where Do I Find Them?
Truth be told, I have never read Baltic books before this latest adventure. In fact, I don’t even think I could name all three Baltic states until a few years ago. No wonder I stink at bar trivia games (along with my blogging friend, Hayley, too).
With our upcoming Baltics trip, I headed to the library for books set in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Once abroad, I hungrily perused the shelves of an Estonian bookstore since more obscure/translated Eastern European literature is hard to find in the U.S. public library system.
Below are the Baltic books my libraries had and a few I had to purchase or borrow from friends. These should all be easily accessible for you too, and most are famous or brand new.
Books Set In The Baltics With A Local Flair
I also craved a local’s opinion on which books we should read before going to the Baltic States.
The Uncorked Librarian is thrilled to have two Estonian contributors for this book list, a research student and English teacher, Anne-Grete and Helle-Mari. Their book additions have double asterisks next to them under books set in Estonia.
Below, find Baltics books that are mysteries, YA fantasy, literature, historical fiction, and contemporary fiction. Learn more about Baltic history, fire up some wanderlust, and enhance your next Baltic vacation.
13 Books To Read Before Visiting The Baltics:
- The Warrior Maiden by Melanie Dickerson
- Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
- Indelible by Adelia Saunders
- Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
- The Dogs Of Riga by Henning Mankell
- Among The Living And The Dead by Inara Verzemnieks
- The Caveman Chronicle by Mikhel Mutt
- The Beauty of History by Viivi Luik
- Song Of The Dead by Douglas Lindsay
- My Estonia by Justin Petrone
- The Man Who Spoke Snakish by Andrus Kivirähk
- Into Exile: a Life Story of War and Peace by Elin Toona Gottschalk
- Sketches of Estonia by Justin Petrone
Baltic Books: Books Set in Lithuania
The Warrior Maiden by Melanie Dickerson
If you love fairy tale retellings, Dickerson is the author for you. The Warrior Maiden is the 7th in a series of standalone titles and reimagines the classic tale of Mulan. For YA Lithuanian books, The Warrior Maiden is one of my favorites.
With Mulan’s father dead, she must either marry the town’s degrading butcher or pretend she is a forgotten son in order to save her mother’s Lithuanian home.
Deciding that honor and traveling the world is more important than good meat, Mulan heads off to war. Her mission is to not only go unnoticed as a woman but also to save Poland from the Teutonic Knights.
Gender, class, and ethnicity unwind as Mulan breaks all barriers while finding love with the hunky Wolfgang. Dickerson incorporates religion and history to make this a captivating young adult novel perfect for adults too.
Check out TUL’s full review of The Warrior Maiden. Young Adult Historical Romance and YA Christian Fiction. Find a copy of The Warrior Maiden on Amazon. You’ll also find The Warrior Maiden on TUL’s Popular Mulan Retellings book list.
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Although Salt to the Sea takes place across the Baltic Sea, including mentions of Poland and Prussia, Joana’s Lithuanian roots truly ground the story in Baltic history, which is why I placed the title under books set in Lithuania–put the thumbs DOWN.
4 teens’ tell their perspectives throughout 1945 during the war.
With the Soviet army advancing on Hitler’s fallen territory, refugees Emilia, Joana, and Florian scramble to catch safe passage to Germany.
Unfortunately, these youth board the unlucky Wilhelm Gustloff, which 10,000 passengers cram into to flee. True to history, the ship is struck with Soviet torpedoes. Over 9,000 innocent souls mostly comprised of women and children perish.
Even though the Wilhelm Gustloff is the largest maritime disaster in history, the Titanic and Lusitania tragedies overshadow its story. Sepetys is one of my favorite Baltic authors, bringing memory and awareness to tragedy while showing the effects of war on youth.
Indelible by Adelia Saunders
Imagine if you knew everything about a person before even speaking to them. This is the situation that Magdalena finds herself in on a daily basis in the Baltic book, Indelible. Magdalena sees tattoos across peoples’ skin that speak to pasts, presents, and futures.
Growing up in Lithuania and living in Paris, Magdalena’s life intersects with Neil and Richard–two equally hurt and lost travelers seeking out their personal truths. The story alternates from each of their perspectives.
Richard tries to learn more about his estranged and famous mother. Neil navigates his testy relationship with his father. Magdalena must bring the ashes of her Lithuanian friend to rest.
In this Lithuanian novel, Saunders takes readers back into post-Soviet as well as modern-day Lithuania in a commentary about self-discovery and moving forward from tragic histories.
You can also find Indelible on our top WWII book list.
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Like many Lithuanians, at 15-years-old, Lina is thrown into a crowded train headed for a Siberian work camp along with her mother and brother. Separated from their father, Lina sends coveted drawings along illegal lines to let her father know that she is alive.
Like Salt to the Sea, Sepetys lights a candle on the effects of war on youth and civilians. Lina is also a minor crossover character from Salt to the Sea.
Between Shades of Gray is one of the best YA books set in Lithuania about war. This vivid and heartbreaking Baltic book is a Carnegie Medal nominee, a William C. Morris Award finalist, a Golden Kite Award winner, and an NYT bestseller. YA Historical Fiction.
You can also find Between Shades of Gray on this YA World War 2 reading list.
Find your copy of Between Shades of Gray here: Amazon
Baltic Books: Books Set in Latvia
The Dogs Of Riga by Henning Mankell
A Latvian mystery novel translated by Laurie Thompson
An older Baltic book about Latvia, written in the 1990s, The Dogs Of Riga addresses post-war Latvia struggling for independence from Soviet Russia in the midst of a murder mystery.
Kurt Wallander, a Swedish police officer, hates living on the edge. When two bodies wash up on Sweden’s shore, Wallander lands in a dangerous murder scenario full of escalating political tension, drug trade, and cutthroat killings.
Heading into Latvia to solve the crime, Wallander navigates a barely surviving country trying to reclaim independence and a sense of home. With his own life in danger, Wallander must out the corrupt officials within the Latvian police department. Will he survive?
Although the second of a series, you can read The Dogs Of Riga as a stand-alone Latvian book. There are only minor, unnecessary references to the first in the series.
Find your copy of Baltic book, The Dogs Of Riga: Amazon
More Murder Mysteries Set In Latvia To Read Before Visiting The Baltics:
Among The Living And The Dead: A Tale of Exile and Homecoming on the War Roads of Europe by Inara Verzemnieks
If you are looking for nonfiction books about Latvia, Among The Living And The Dead gives the stark reality of Latvia during WWII and the remnants of a torn country.
Raised by her grandparents, Inara returns to her grandmother’s motherland, Latvia. Desiring to know more about Livija’s life as a refugee, Inara seeks answers from her aunt, Asuma’s, stories.
As Hitler and Stalin had fought for control over Latvia, Asuma and most of the family became exiles of Siberia. The sisters never knew if the other was alive until 50 years later.
Although one of slower-paced books set in Latvia, learn about a land full of ghosts that persevere in the name of home. Nonfiction Memoir; Latvian WWII History.
Find your copy of Among The Living And The Dead: Amazon
Baltic Books: Books Set in Estonia
The Caveman Chronicle by Mikhel Mutt
Popular Estonian literature translated by Adam Cullen
The Caveman Chronicle is one of the most dense Baltic literature books on this list but also the most thought-provoking with endless depth.
On the fringes of independence from the Soviets, an eccentric and lost group of artists, writers, and politicians gather at the elite Cave for drinks and conversation.
Although the narrator tells the stories of these misfits like a gossip columnist, The Caveman Chronicle reads more like a dry humor memoir.
Here in the bar, members act as though the Soviets do not exist while outside, each of their lives is affected by politics, religion, and beliefs. Through numerous marriages, forbidden friendships, and failed careers we see Estonia try to recover its own sense of nationalism and being after Soviet rule.
Readers learn more about Estonian independence and it’s effects on this new “free” population.
Find your copy of The Caveman Chronicle, an philosophical book set in Estonia: Amazon
The Beauty of History by Viivi Luik
Estonian poetry translated by Hildi Hawkins
Viivi Luik is a beloved Estonian poet and writer. The Beauty of History is one of the most poetic Baltic literature titles that she has written. Taking place in 1968, learn more about life under Soviet occupation and watch Latvia and Estonia on the brink of independence.
The main themes in this insightful and beautiful read are the opposing ideas of power and freedom, communism and individuality, and common and extraordinary. Estonian Poetry.**
Find your copy of The Beauty of History: Amazon
Song Of The Dead by Douglas Lindsay
If you are looking for a mystery book set in Estonia, try Song Of The Dead.
Former spy, Ben Westphall, heads to Tallinn and Tartu, Estonia to look into an old case now reopened. Ten years ago, John Baden went missing on his Baltic vacation. Found dead with DNA and family identification, the impossible has happened. Is this man truly Baden?
A victim of torture and having his body parts sold on the Black Market, this Baden is in bad shape. Westphall struggles with the pieces of this mystery, even though he has a strong intuition and sense for lies in peoples’ hearts.
With double identities and a surreal feel, Westphall can’t separate ghosts from reality.
A somber Estonian murder mystery, Westphall must crack the case before everyone involved meets his or her untimely demise. Mystery.
Find your copy of this thrilling Baltic novel here: Amazon
My Estonia by Justin Petrone
If you are looking for a Baltic expat writer and author, meet Justin Petrone.
My Estonia: Passport Forgery, Meat Jelly Eaters, and Other Stories follows an American man moving to Estonia and falling in love with the country. He also relocates because he has taken interest in an Estonian woman.
Petrone makes comical remarks about how Estonians behave and cultural quirks that are sometimes difficult for outsiders to understand.
My Estonia is an easy and fun read, especially when planning a visit to the Baltics. Included is a real story about love but also how to survive in a country where winters are long. Nonfiction Estonian Memoir.**
Find your copy of My Estonia here: Amazon
The Man Who Spoke Snakish by Andrus Kivirähk
Infamous Estonian and Baltic literature
A bestselling Estonian book that is now popular around the world, The Man Who Spoke Snakish is a folktale-like fantasy about traditionalism versus modernity.
Young Leemet lives in the forest and knows the ancient tongue of Snakish. Snakish is a dying language used to communicate with animals and nature. Unfortunately, Leemet is coming of age in a world where his upbringing in the woods falls into conflict with all of the people moving to villages, aka ‘civilization.’
Not quite a Tarzan or Jungle Book story, there are cheating bears, flying frogs, and of course, talking snakes. Baltic Literature & Fantasy/Magical Realism.
Find your copy of The Man Who Spoke Snakish here: Amazon
Into Exile: a Life Story of War and Peace by Elin Toona Gottschalk
If you love WWII nonfiction, you’ll enjoy this Estonian biography, Into Exile.
Into Exile was first published in English in 2013 and later translated into Estonian. Yet, the author is actually Estonian with Baltic roots. Go figure.
The autobiography follows a young girl who is forced to escape Estonia during WWII with her grandmother and mother. Intimate and delicate, this Estonian story moved me. I felt such emotion and compassion toward the harsh realities that so many people had to (and still sadly have to) undertake just to stay alive.
Into Exile was one of the best titles I read in 2018. Estonian WWII Autobiography.**
Find your copy of Into Exile here: Amazon
Sketches of Estonia by Justin Petrone
While book hunting at Rahva Raamat in Tallinn’s Old Town, I picked up another Baltic book from hilarious memoirist, Justin Petrone: Sketches of Estonia.
Having lived in Estonia for over 15 years, Petrone pieces together stories of the people he has met along the way. From surreal Estonian grandmothers to hippies and boozy pals, laugh along with Petrone and his Balti wanderings as an expat.
I picture Petrone as a less-sophisticated Bill Bryson on booze. Estonian Nonfiction and Memoir.
Find your copy of this special Baltic book, Sketches of Estonia at… Rahva Raamat
Have you read any of these Baltic books? Which sound appealing to you?
A Thank You To Our Local Contributors:
**Signifies contributions from:
Anne-Grete is a researcher working in the Netherlands. Books and traveling are big passions of hers. However, she also enjoys cooking, tennis, and spending time with friends. Lately, books are invading Anne-Grete’s life in all ways imaginable and she is loving every second. Anne-Grete’s huge dream is to connect her everyday life and work with books and reading.
Helle-Mari is an Estonian high school and literature teacher. She passionately loves her job. Helle-Mari notes that she has loved reading since she was little. As a very curious soul, she always has multiple and competing hobbies: Right now, Helle-Mari also loves nerdy geocaching, playing tennis, visiting art galleries, and just people watching with cocktails in cafes.
When Anne-Grete reached out to The Uncorked Librarian, it was fate. Not knowing at the time that I was headed to the Baltics, Anne-Grete wanted to see how she could help out with writing for TUL. Ironically, a few weeks later, I landed in her home country looking for book recommendations.
Thank you so much to Anne-Grete and her sister, Helle-Mari, to adding a more local flair to this Baltics book list. I look forward to having them back to enhance TUL’s Baltics travel guides. Rumor has it, they will help with Tartu travels next.