[Jennie Couling | Contributing Writer]
Books are great: Through reading we can be transported to any place, any time, any life. While you might not get a tan reading these, any of these books will transport you to another place and culture for about the same price as a trip to the seaside.
Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found is author Suketu Mehta’s autobiographical experience of Mumbai and was a 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for its portrayal of life in the city. Mehta looks at the criminal world of Muslim and Hindu gangs; follows the life of a bar dancer raised surrounded by poverty and abuse and looks behind the scenes of Bollywood. At over 500 pages, it’s not a short read, but that’s only because of the immense detail of Mehta’s descriptions.
Maybe a bit of an obvious choice, but it’s popular for a reason. No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is the first in a series of detective novels set in Gaborone, Botswana. The protagonist Mma Precious Ramotswe is the first female private investigator in Botswana and throughout the series solves a number of cases that explore rural life in Southern Africa, Christianity and traditional belief systems in contemporary Africa and women in nontraditional occupations. Not just books for middle aged women, the No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series are real page turners.
3) NORTH AMERICA
Set in the tiny village of Tome, New Mexico, So Far From God examines the lives of Mexican-American women on the borders. Sofi, a middle-aged single mother, and her four daughters, live at a crossroads between Chicano, Mexican, Spanish, and First Nations cultures. At the beginning of the novel, La Loca (Sofi’s youngest daughter) dies, sees hell, then comes back to Tome to live. So Far From God examines the supernatural and the real; the comic and horrific in an easy but rewarding read.
4) SOUTH AMERICA
The City of Your Final Destination follows the story of Omar Razaghi, an academic who has won an award to write the biography of an obscure but celebrated author Jules Gund. Razaghi must win the trust of Gund’s literary executors before he can go ahead with his book. He makes the decision to travel to Uruguay to try and persuade them in person but struggles to convince Gund’s widow to agree. The City of Your Final Destination has vivid descriptions of the beautiful country of Uruguay and has also been turned into a film.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena starts in 1994 on the backdrop of the Chechen wars and follows the story of eight year old Havaa who watches Russian soldiers abduct her father and set fire to her home. Marra then continues to explore other narratives, characters walking in an out of narrative for chapters at a time. While many of the plot lines are is dark, they’re not without their moments of humour and human warmth.
This couldn’t be a list of books from around the world without an actual travelogue. In Down Under Bryson documents his travels around Australia sharing his conversations with people from all kinds of different backgrounds about the history, geography, unusual plants and animals and his impressions of the life and culture of the country. Not as dry as it sounds, Down Under is an entertaining read (as are many of Bryson’s other books if you’re into travelling vicariously).
7) THE POLAR REGIONS
Names For the Sea is the autobiographical account of Sarah Moss and her family’s move to Iceland. After applying for a job at the University of Iceland, Moss upped sticks and moved her family over to Iceland at what may have been the worst time to do so. Their new life saw the economic collapse of the country (which meant Moss’ salary halved in value before she even got there) and the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, and is shaped by their new friendships with a woman who speaks to elves and a man who witnessed the 1943 bombings. Moss’ book gives a fascinating insight into life adapting to a new culture
If you’ve got a favourite book from around the world, let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @TridentMediaUK!