If you’ve decided that you’re going to save your travels until next year but at the same time are desperately craving all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and invigorating inspiration that comes from a trip to a foreign land, here’s a way you can (almost) get the full travel experience without leaving the house.
Curl up in an armchair and grab a coffee to settle down with one of these great reads that will transport you to faraway lands in an instant, without you leaving the house.
Each of these books paints an evocative picture of the country in which they are set. Dig deep into the different cultures of these lands: get to know their people, their history, their landscapes and look forward to discovering them for real on your future travels.
Whilst we are on the topic of books and travel, I was asked by our fabulous, local, independent book retailer, Haslemere Book Shop, to provide them with my top travel related book choices. If you are interested in checking them out and / or purchasing them, please follow the link.
Travel to Turkey
Birds Without Wings: Louis de Bernières
Many of you will have read and/or watched the film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin which paints a wonderful picture of the Greek island of Cephalonia. Like Captain Corelli, this novel began with a holiday, this time to south western Turkey where Louis de Bernières visited the ghost town of Kayakoy.
Sitting up in the hills above the Mediterranean sea just 8km from Fethiye, Kayakoy is a peaceful village with verdant gardens. The ruins of the old town sit just above. The town was finally destroyed by an earthquake in the Fifties, but it really started to die when the Christian population was deported to Greece as part of the Population exchange between the two countries following World War 1.
Set against the backdrop of the collapsing Ottoman Empire, the Gallipoli campaign and the subsequent bitter struggle between Greeks and Turks, “Birds Without Wings” traces the fortunes of one small community in south-west Anatolia – a town in which Christian and Muslim lives and traditions have co-existed peacefully for centuries. When war is declared and the outside world intrudes, the twin scourges of religion and nationalism lead to forced marches and massacres, and the peaceful fabric of life is destroyed. Philothei, a Christian girl of legendary beauty, and Ibrahim the Goatherd who has courted her since infancy are but two of the many casualties. With the end of a community that once transcended religious differences, their great love seems destined to end in tragedy and madness.
Like Captain Corelli, it delivers a heady mix of love, savagery, war and Mediterranean idyll. The book is populated with characters as real as our best friends and is by turns hilarious and heartbreaking. It’s all about the pleasures of peace, the meaning of home, and the foolishness and fratricide of war, encompassing the whole range of human emotions and behaviours, from the most savagely cruel to the most selflessly compassionate.
Travel to Malaysia
The Gift Of Rain: Tan Twang Eng
The Gift of Rain is the first novel by Malaysian novelist Tan Twan Eng and was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize.
Set on the Malaysian island of Penang in 1939, the main character is sixteen-year-old Philip Hutton, a loner. Half English, half Chinese and feeling neither, he discovers a sense of belonging in an unexpected friendship with Hayato Endo, a Japanese diplomat. Philip shows his new friend around his adored island of Penang, and in return Endo trains him in the art and discipline of aikido.
But such knowledge comes at a terrible price. The enigmatic Endo is bound by disciplines of his own and when the Japanese invade Malaya, threatening to destroy Philip’s family and everything he loves, he realises that his trusted sensei – to whom he owes absolute loyalty – has been harbouring a devastating secret.
Philip must risk everything in an attempt to save those he has placed in mortal danger and discover who and what he really is.
With masterful and gorgeous narrative, replete with exotic and captivating images, sounds and aromas – of rain swept beaches, magical mountain temples, pungent spice warehouses, opulent colonial ballrooms and fetid and forbidding rainforests – Tan Twan Eng weaves a haunting and unforgettable story of betrayal, barbaric cruelty, steadfast courage and enduring love.
Travel to Zimbabwe
Nervous Conditions: Tsitsi Dangarembge
Nervous Conditions is a novel by Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga, first published in the United Kingdom in 1988. It was the first book published by a black woman from Zimbabwe in English. It was one of the BBC’s top 100 books that changed the world in 2018 and it won the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1989.
The semi-autobiographical novel focusses on the story of a Shona family in post-colonial Rhodesia during the 1960s. It illustrates the dynamic themes of race, colonialism, and gender during the post-colonial conditions of present-day Zimbabwe and provides a mine of information about Shona customs.
It tells the story of a Rhodesian girl’s journey in pursuit of education from impoverished homestead to missionary school and finally to private Catholic school.
When the novel opens, 14-year-old Tambu lives on a homestead with her parents and siblings. She is given a chance to go for higher education after the death of her older brother Nhamo. Centring around the experience of several female characters as they either challenge, or come to terms with, the traditional patriarchal structure of their society, the young narrator, Tambu, must show great determination as she overcomes all the obstacles to her progress in life.
It is a powerful read, at once a coming-of-age story, a critique of colonialism, and a protest against a traditional patriarchal society that predates colonisation.
Travel to Denmark
The Year of Living Danishly: Helen Russell
This is a true tale uncovering the secrets of the world’s happiest country.
When she was suddenly given the opportunity of a new life in rural Jutland, journalist and archetypal Londoner Helen Russell discovered a startling statistic: the happiest place on earth isn’t Disneyland, but Denmark, a land often thought of by foreigners as consisting entirely of long dark winters, cured herring, Lego and pastries. What is the secret to their success? Are happy Danes born, or made?
Helen decides there is only one way to find out: she will give herself a year, trying to uncover the formula for Danish happiness. From childcare, education, food and interior design (not to mention ‘hygge’) to SAD, taxes, sexism and an unfortunate predilection for burning witches, The Year of Living Danishly is a funny, poignant record of a journey that shows us where the Danes get it right, where they get it wrong, and how we might just benefit from living a little more Danishly ourselves.
Travel to India
A Suitable boy: Vikram Seth
A Suitable Boy is a novel set in a newly post-independence, post-partition India. With 1,488 pages soft cover, and 591,552 words, the English language book is one of the longest novels published in a single volume. But do not be daunted! It is beautifully written with a light touch so relax and let this book take you on it’s long, colourful journey. You’ll be sad when it comes to an end.
The story follows the story of four families over a period of 18 months, and centres on Mrs. Rupa Mehra’s efforts to arrange the marriage of her younger daughter, Lata, to a “suitable boy”. Lata is a 19-year-old university student who refuses to be influenced by her domineering mother or opinionated brother, Arun.
Her story revolves around the choice she is forced to make between her suitors Kabir, Haresh, and Amit.
The novel alternately offers satirical and earnest examinations of national political issues in the period leading up to the first post-Independence national election of 1952, including Hindu–Muslim strife, the status of lower caste peoples such as the jatav, land reforms and the eclipse of the feudal princes and landlords, academic affairs, abolition of the Zamindari system, family relations and a range of further issues of importance to the characters. The India today is shaped by these events and there couldn’t be a more charming way to get to grips with this important history. Christopher Hitchens gave the novel a glowing review, commenting that the prose “has a deceptive lightness and transparency to it”.
It is no surprise that A Suitable Boy is on the BBC’s list of the 100 most inspiring novels and now it has finally been adapted for TV. Can a TV series ever do justice to such sensitive writing in just 6 episodes? Probably not but who wouldn’t want to see for themselves? It has the perfect slot of 9pm on Sundays and sure to round off the weekend in the nicest possible way. Find it here if you need to catch up!
Travel to Australia
Down Under: Travels in a Sunburned Country: Bill Bryson
This is a travelogue about Australia written by best-selling travel writer Bill Bryson. Bill Bryson describes his travels by railway and car throughout Australia, his conversations with people in all walks of life about the history, geography, unusual plants and animals of the country, and his wry impressions of the life, culture and amenities (or lack thereof) in each locality.
Australia is iconic as the country that doubles as a continent, and a place with the friendliest inhabitants, the hottest, driest weather, and the most peculiar and lethal wildlife to be found on the planet. The book is a deliciously funny, fact-filled, and adventurous performance by a writer who combines humour, wonder, and unflagging curiosity.
Despite the fact that Australia harbors more things that can kill you in extremely nasty ways than anywhere else, including sharks, crocodiles, snakes, even riptides and deserts, Bill Bryson adores the place, and he takes his readers on a rollicking ride far beyond that beaten tourist path. Wherever he goes he finds Australians who are cheerful, extroverted, and unfailingly obliging, and these beaming products of land with clean, safe cities, cold beer, and constant sunshine fill the pages of this wonderful book.
Australia is an immense and fortunate land, and it has found in Bill Bryson its perfect guide.
If any of these books inspire you for a future trip. then please do call 01428 658777 or email [email protected], to see how we can help turn that dream into a reality. We can wait to help you plan your next adventure.