13 Captivating Baltic Books For Lit & History Lovers

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Are you looking for the best books set in the Baltics? Uncover Baltic books set in Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia to read before you go. 

Truth be told, we had never read any Baltic books before planning a road trip across Eastern Europe — man, were we missing out. 

Prior to jet-setting off to Riga, we headed to the library for books set in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.  Once abroad, we hungrily perused the shelves of an Estonian bookstore.

Unfortunately, some lesser-known and translated Baltic literature can be hard to find in the U.S. public library system.

Below are the Baltic books our libraries had as well as a few we had to purchase or borrow from friends.  Most should be easily accessible for you, and many are famous or brand new.

We 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 our “books set in Estonia” section.

So, keep reading for the best books set in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia that are mysteries, YA fantasy, literature, historical fiction, and contemporary fiction.

You’ll find a few nonfiction books about the Baltics and WW2 too. Memoirs, poetry, and magical realism — we got you!

Learn more about Baltic history, fire up that wanderlust, discover more to romanticized cities than meets the eye, and enhance your next Baltic vacation. Let’s get started!

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Baltics Books Set In Lithuania Latvia and Estonia with City Hall in Old Town Riga at sunset with street lights on
Travel to Eastern Europe with these Baltic books.

Best Baltic Books To Read Before Going

Books Set In Lithuania 

The Warrior Maiden by Melanie Dickerson book cover with female warrior in red tunic with swordPin

The Warrior Maiden by Melanie Dickerson

If you enjoy retellings and Christian fiction, Dickerson is 100% for you.  The Warrior Maiden is the 7th in a series of standalone titles and reimagines the classic story of Mulan.

For YA Lithuanian books, The Warrior Maiden is also one of our favorites – although our readers have given this one mixed reviews.

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 smashes 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.

Read The Warrior Maiden: Amazon | Goodreads

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys Sea with a floating life preserver in a blue sea with stormy gray skyPin

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.

This is why we placed the title under books set in Lithuania – so, put those trolling thumbs down.

Salt to the Sea is also a fantastic selection if you are looking for YA WWII books or ship books.

Readers follow four teens’ perspectives – some likable and others not so much – in 1945 during the war. 

With the Soviet army advancing on Hitler’s fallen territory, refugees Emilia, Joana, and Florian scramble to find safe passage to Germany. 

Unfortunately, the youth board the unlucky Wilhelm Gustloff, which 10,000 passengers cram into to flee to safety. 

True to history, Soviet torpedoes strike and sink the ship. Over 9,000 innocent souls – mostly 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 our favorite Lithuanian-American authors, bringing awareness to tragedies that others have left behind while depicting the effects of war on youth.

YA Baltic books don’t get any more poignant than this. Explore more books about Polish history too.

Read Salt to the Sea: Amazon | Goodreads

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Indelible by Adelia Saunders

Imagine if you knew everything about a person before even speaking to them. 

This is the difficult situation that Magdalena finds herself in on a daily basis in one of the lesser-known books set in Lithuania (and Paris), Indelible

Magdalena sees tattoos on strangers that speak to their 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 among each of their perspectives. 

Richard tries to learn more about his estranged and famous mother. Neil navigates a testy relationship with his father.  Magdalena must bring the ashes of her Lithuanian friend to rest.

Notable for Baltic books, 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. 

Indelible is truly a magical, slow-burn novel for readers who enjoy books about France and top WW2 books for adults

Read Indelible: Amazon | Goodreads

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys book cover with mother and child on train tracks in snowPin

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray is one of the best YA books set in Lithuania about war. We especially enjoyed this one as an audiobook for a medium-length drive.

Like many Lithuanians at the time, 15-year-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.

Similar to Salt to the Sea, Sepetys sheds light 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 most award-winning Baltic books on this list as a Carnegie Medal nominee, a William C. Morris Award finalist, a Golden Kite Award winner, and an NYT bestseller.

Read more books with the color gray in the title.

And, if you enjoy Ruta Sepetys as much as we do, travel to Spain with The Fountains of Silence.

Read Between Shades of Gray: Amazon | Goodreads

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Books Set In Latvia 

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The Dogs Of Riga by Henning Mankell

Translated into English by Laurie Thompson:

Written in the 1990s, The Dogs Of Riga is one of the most suspenseful Baltic books set in Latvia. It 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, the 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 standalone novel.  There are only minor references to the first in the series.

Explore more books about Sweden.

Read The Dogs Of Riga: Amazon | Goodreads

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Among The Living And The Dead: A Tale of Exile and Homecoming on the War Roads of Europe by Inara Verzemnieks

For gripping nonfiction books about Latvia, Among The Living And The Dead showcases 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 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 the slower-paced books set in Latvia on this list, witness a land full of ghosts with families who persevere in the name of home. 

Read Among The Living And The Dead: Amazon | Goodreads

Books Set In Estonia 

The Caveman Chronicle by Mihkel Mutt book cover with inked black sketch on white backgroundPin

The Caveman Chronicle by Mihkel Mutt

Translated into English by Adam Cullen

The Caveman Chronicle is one of the densest Baltic literature books on this list but also the most thought-provoking; it won’t be for everyone (it’s a bit of a tedious tome at times).

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 its effects on this new “free” population.

The Caveman Chronicle is by far one of the most philosophical Baltic books about Estonia you can read.

Read The Caveman Chronicle: Amazon | Goodreads

Song Of The Dead by Douglas Lindsay book cover with blue letter title over aerial view of road with green treesPin

Song Of The Dead by Douglas Lindsay

For thrilling mystery books set in Estonia, Song Of The Dead will transport you to some of Estonia’s most popular cities.

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 correctly matching 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 their untimely demise.

For Baltic books, though, Song Of The Dead has the potential to un-inspire that wanderlust…

Read Song Of The Dead: Amazon | Goodreads

The Man Who Spoke Snakish by Andrus Kivirähk book cover with yellow sketched snake and green backgroundPin

The Man Who Spoke Snakish by Andrus Kivirähk

Translated by Christopher Moseley:

One of the top bestselling Estonian books now popular around the world, The Man Who Spoke Snakish is a folktale-like fantasy about traditionalism versus modernity.

Like The Caveman Chronicle, this Estonian book may not speak to everyone, though.

Young Leemet lives in the forest and understands 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, encounter cheating bears, flying frogs, and of course, talking snakes.

The Man Who Spoke Snakish is Baltic literature that meets fantasy and magical realism.

Read The Man Who Spoke SnakishAmazon | Goodreads

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Sketches of Estonia by Justin Petrone

While book hunting at Rahva Raamat in Tallinn’s Old Town, we picked up another Baltic book from hilarious memoirist, Justin Petrone: Sketches of Estonia (our Estonian contributors you’ll meet below suggested him).

Having lived in Estonia for over 15 years, Petrone pieces together stories about the people he has met along the way. 

From surreal Estonian grandmothers to hippies and boozy pals, laugh along with Petrone and his Baltic wanderings as an expat.

Like much expat nonfiction, though, read Petrone’s words with knowledge, awareness, and caution.

We picture Petrone as a less-sophisticated Bill Bryson — one of our favorite travel writers — with more booze. Maybe he’s Katz…

Read Sketches of Estonia: Goodreads 

Books About Estonia From Estonian Contributors, Anne-Grete and Helle-Mari

The Beauty of History by Viivi Luik book cover with white object filled with light rainbowPin

The Beauty of History by Viivi Luik

Translated in English 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 ever written.

Taking place in 1968, learn more about life under Soviet occupation and watch Latvia and Estonia on the brink of independence.

Encounter themes of opposing ideas, including power and freedom, communism and individuality, and common versus the extraordinary.

Estonian books don’t get any more beautifully intense and insightful than this.

Read The Beauty of History: Amazon | Goodreads

My Estonia by Justin Petrone book cover with dark gray heart on light gray backgroundPin

My Estonia by 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.

Read My EstoniaAmazon | Goodreads

 Into Exile: a Life Story of War and Peace by Elin Toona Gottschalk book cover with black and white photo of people on ship and one shaded in red figurePin

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.

The autobiography follows a young girl forced to escape Estonia during WWII with her grandmother and mother.

Intimate and delicate, this is one of the most enlightening books about Estonia and the horrors people faced during the war. 

Read Into Exile: Amazon | Goodreads

What are your favorite books about the Baltics? Have you visited Lithuania, Latvia, or Estonia?

We loved road-tripping around the Baltic States. Vilnius, Lithuania houses an entire street dedicated to its writers, authors, and poets.

Riga, Latvia is home to a 10-story library known as the Castle of Light — it’s utterly stunning to visit. We also met up with two of our writers here, Dagney and Jeremy.

And of course, most have heard of Tallinn, Estonia with its historically gorgeous buildings; however, we also loved lesser-known Parnu, an Estonian shore town and local vacation spot.

Before heading to the Baltics, we enjoyed reading books to learn more and transport us there — fiction and nonfiction.

Have you read any of the Baltic books above? Have you visited any of the Baltic States?

What are your favorite books set in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia? Let us know in the comments!

A Thank You To Our Local Contributors

Anne-Grete

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

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.

More European-Based Book Lists:

Polish Books
Books About Ukraine
Icelandic Novels As Beautiful As The Northern Lights
Books Set In And About Switzerland
Books Set In Italy
Head To Norway With These Books
Greek Books

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Christine Frascarelli

Christine (she/her) is the owner, lead editor, and tipsy book sommelier of The Uncorked Librarian LLC, an online literary publication showcasing books and movies to inspire travel and home to the famed Uncorked Reading Challenge.

With a BA in English & History from Smith College, an MLIS from USF-Tampa, and a U.S. Fulbright Fellowship in Christine's back pocket, there isn't a bookstore, library, or winery that can hide from her. Christine loves brewery yoga, adopting all of the kitties, and a glass of oaked Chardonnay. Charcuterie is her favorite food group.

16 Comments

  1. I’m fascinated by this list, because I haven’t ever read much that takes place in these countries! A couple of years ago I read The Riddle of the Sands, which doesn’t take place in the Baltic states but does take place in the Baltic Sea. It made me want to learn more about the whole region and countries surrounding it.

    1. Prior to actually going to the Baltics, I had never read any Baltic literature besides Ruta Sepetys. Our trip was the perfect excuse to crack down and read a ton of Baltic books all at once, including murder mysteries. I think the Baltic States’ role in WW2 was largely left out of mainstream books, which is part of the problem, too. I was super thrilled to have two Estonian bookstagrammers chip in with their book recs too. I always recommend Sepetys first for that area, and I thought Indelible was incredibly unique. I haven’t read Riddle of the Sands, yet. I’ll have to check it out.

      Now, I am trying to cram in Swiss books before our trip: there seem to be a ton of classics set there, which puts me ahead for once.

  2. Me neither, I don’t ever watch films as I lose concentration/interest too quickly so I’m going to be 97% useless if film is the genre (the 3% is solely reserved for Hary Potter?)

    Sounds like you’ve still got heaps to share. A booklist for Ireland is something I’d be really keen to read.

    Haha yes you’re right!! I’m going to get on that early so I can be prepped if it happens…??

  3. It’s thanks to you our team won that game of trivia when the Baltics came up! Haha but other than that I usually suck, I’m only good for the Harry Potter questions. These books sound so interesting. I love that you read books before visiting the country, it must provide great context. It’s definitely something I’m going to do more of. Need to book a holiday first though.?

    1. Gahaha, that is truly the best story. I am TERRIBLE at trivia. I literally know nothing cool, weird facts, or important things. Pop culture is another rough subject for me; I am really bad at movie stars, singers, faces of famous people, etc. It is kind of embarrassing. I didn’t watch TV for years–so that did not help.

      With our upcoming move (and not having a cat sitter for my monsters), I’m a little worried about the rest of our 2019 travels. However, I still have endless Iceland and Baltics content to write. Plus, I actually rarely wrote about Florida…because, ya know… lol I need to do a booklist for Ireland and talk about those bookish travels…

      You might have to read some books set in… that place we talked about that you might see one day soon. ; )

  4. Among the Living and the Dead sounds so good to me! I’m trying to read more non-fiction, and that sounds right up my street. This is such a quality list, and I’ll never get tired of seeing Ruta’s books featured 😉

    1. Yes, I am trying to read more nonfiction too!

      To be honest, Among the Living and the Dead wasn’t my all-time favorite, but it’s perfect for the Baltics. I definitely felt nature, the mood, the history, and the environment. I did like it, though, and the title is well-written. Along the Living is like a homecoming of sorts.

      Sepetys is AMAZING. I also really loved Warrior Maiden since I’ve been lacking in YA fantasy lately.

  5. Another great list! Thank you, now I have more books to add to my “to be read” pile. Ruta Sepetys books especially sound compelling.
    I also need to learn Snakish, so maybe I should read that one too?
    I love that you were able to connect with locals and collaborate with them. I love how the internet and blogging forms all sorts of connections you never knew would be possible. Very awesome!

    P.s. I really think there’s been a trend lately that once I go to start my comment to you on your blog post, I see notifications from you on Instagram. Starting to freak me out. ?

    1. Haha, I know the feeling of a growing TBR pile. It’s kind of like my growing email inbox and friend’s TBR blog posts that I still have to catch up on.

      Sepetys is truly amazing. Since she writes YA, you’ll find that those are easier and faster to get through. Plus, she’s so good that you forget you’ve been reading for hours.

      I was super excited to have local help here. I always feel like an imposter trying to pick out “the best” literature in a country. Plus, I just cannot find the time to read allllll of the books.

      I’ve been soooo bad about IG lately. It’s such a time sucker that I realized how much more productive I am for the blog when I cut back.

  6. Yay! Another incredible list that I don’t think I’ll ever get to read. I do still want to read that Mulan book, Inedible, now I have to add to my list Among the Living and the Dead, and My Estonia sounds like an easy read for me. How do you find the time to read and do everything else you do? You astound me.

    1. AHAHAHA. OMG, this Baltic books list had been sitting in my drafts for 2-3 months. I slowly read one book at a time and figured this post would never end. I could not even look at it anymore, and then I thought I already posted it. Oops. Like Iceland, I will probably add a few more titles when I have time to read them.

      I have barely been able to find the time to read lately. I had a few more books to add to this list, but their renewal time period lapsed after the 3rd renewal. I had to turn them in and call it. We have been jet-setting far too much. I am supposed to be reviewing a few non-travel related ARCs too…but I am behind. I try to carve out one hour to read right before bed. Yoga has been stealing that slot lately.

      Thanks for reading!

  7. I really enjoyed The Man Who Spoke Snakish, it was really different. Plus, I love a lyrically told folktale.

    I’ve read quite a few of these, but I haven’t even heard of several of them! I’m definitely going to check out Justin Petrone! I’ll have to see if I can find ebooks of his stuff… and then add them to the ever-growing list I’ll probably never get through. Despite my love of foreign murder mysteries, I’ve never read an Henning Mankell, so The Dogs of Riga might be a great place to start (I do love Riga…)! And all your reviews about Indelible have me sold!

    Great list! I love how diverse it is. Definitely something here for everyone!

    1. I think I wanted to enjoy The Man Who Spoke Snakish more. I might have to go back and read it again one day; I just could not get into it, even though people love it. I’ve never heard a bad word about the title. Thank you for a copy, too! I saw The Man Who Spoke Snakish in an Estonian bookstore and am so glad that I didn’t buy it: one because it wasn’t my fav, and two because it was SO expensive in English.

      I am just finishing up Sketches from Estonia, and I love that my contributors had the author on their list too. I had no idea they read him when I picked up my book in Tallinn. He’s pretty amusing, and I’m dying to know your thoughts about him. I think you’ll find him quite….interesting. Their title sounds even more interesting (and easier to get).

      Usually, I don’t read murder mysteries so it was super weird and scary that they were all in the Baltics!! I enjoyed reading them for this list since they are pretty light and fast-paced. I couldn’t help thinking about my organs being sold in Estonia, though. That just sounds SO wrong but the book was ALL about that.

      Indelible is SO unique. Originally I picked it up solely for the Baltic books list, but then the novel just seemed so fitting for WWII books too. It’s more Paris (and one second England) vs Lithuania, but the history is there. The story seemed so simply beautiful to me. If you hate it, don’t tell me. Lol ; )

      Thanks!

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