One of the greatest pleasures of reading is the experience of ‘travelling’ to faraway and foreign lands. At the simple act of opening of a book, one can transcend borders and escape to remote locations. This is the biggest thrill of reading for me, personally. I once read a saying from an unknown source: “Books are your cheapest tickets to everywhere.” How true!
In books, we meet foreigners with different mindsets and cultural backgrounds to what we are usually familiar with. We explore historical and famous landmarks, as well as unheard of places. When engrossed in a novel, you leave your skin for a short time and take on a new identity. How exotic and mysterious to be a national of a foreign country. Not only do we travel to other places, but we also jump into a time machine; travelling back in time to centuries past or into the future.
With this in mind, I thought I would plan a quick ‘itinerary’ that will take you travelling around the world. Though your wanderlust may never be fully satisfied, this makes a good start. Let’s take off in the West and make our way across the globe to the East.
1. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
This classic tale of unrequited love and the American Dream is a must read to get a real sense of American culture during the roaring 1920’s. The elaborate parties, deceitful and shallow characters, coupled with greed and opportunism is what makes this novel a perfect example of the Jazz Age (a period in which America underwent rapid social change and prosperity).
The reader is sucked into a world of hedonistic materialism, recklessness and selfish ambition, with little room left for love and integrity.
2. CHILE: The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
This bestselling novel is a great introduction to the powerful and complicated Trueba family of Chile.
The story is told through the lives of four strong Trueba women over four generations. In true Allende style, this larger-than-life novel centres on politics, history, relationships and love. Chilean attitudes, lifestyles and traditions are explored with a touch of magical realism. The effect is a reader who is spellbound by an epic tale.
3. UNITED KINGDOM: Persuasion by Jane Austen
One cannot read English literature without considering the works of Jane Austen. In her last novel, Persuasion, Austen splendidly depicts the expectations and norms of English society in the 19th century. This novel, in
This novel, in similar fashion to Austen’s previous novels, addresses issues of love, status, marriage and financial standing during a time when women’s rights were tied to their husbands, and getting ‘old’ meant losing profitable marriage prospects. The main character Anne Elliott faces this challenge as she gets on in years and has to consider forsaking love for a marriage of security.
4. FRANCE: Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran
This historical fiction novel takes us back in time to the late 18th century to experience life during the tumultuous French Revolution. By looking into the life of Marie Grosholtz, the famous wax-sculptor who came to be known as Madame Tussaud, the story of the revolution unfolds.
The plot moves from Marie’s humble beginnings in her home museum to her service at Versailles with Queen Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI. Both ends of the spectrum of French living are revealed: encounter the hardship and poverty of the peasants in contrast to the luxurious lifestyle of the royals. The struggles and fears of both the peasants and royals during the Reign of Terror are exposed, leaving the reader torn between the two.
5. SOUTH AFRICA: ‘Buckingham Palace’, District Six by Richard Rive
Don’t be fooled by the name; this novel is set in South Africa and focuses on the implementation of the discriminatory Group Areas Act in the 1950’s during the apartheid regime.
This story told with deep empathy, takes us back to one of South Africa’s most painful memories (the tearing down of the vibrant District Six in Cape Town, which was home to over 60 000 people of colour).
The heartbreak, brutality and unfairness towards this humble community are to be recognized and their fight against forced removals from their homes is to be appreciated. This book makes a heartfelt tribute to the victims of apartheid and is also an educational read from a historical viewpoint.
6. IRAN: The House of the Mosque by Kader Abdolah
This is a moving novel that leaves a lasting impact on the reader. The story unfolds within Aqa Jaan’s extended family, who all live together in a big house next to a mosque. By entering the home of this Iranian family, the reader lives through the Iranian Revolution of the 1960’s.
The impact of the revolution reveals the turmoil the family faces, the decisions they have to make and the challenges against their beliefs. Each character is affected in a different way and this gives valuable insight into how individual Iranians differ from each other, thus shattering the stereotypes we have of Iranian culture.
7. INDIA: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
This award-winning and creatively told narrative unveils the mask covering India. The reality of class and cast is driven home in this honest novel about a simple village man who moves to the city to find work and to make a success of his life. He ends up working as a chauffeur for a rich businessman but soon takes a turn down a dark road.
The distinction between rich and poor in India is defined and the overwhelming desire of the poor to attain a rich lifestyle. This brilliant story portrays the true image of a poverty-stricken country, without the usual bells and whistles that are found in other Indian novels.
8. CHINA: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
This is an enchanting tale of two brothers growing up in China. It is a coming of age story, as the brothers live through Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Their boyish antics are entertaining and humorous but a deeper truth is told about the re-education camps.
As the boys leave city life in Chengdu to work in a remote mountainside village, their lives change and the thought-provoking themes of lost innocence, the power of education, friendship and love come into play.
Now that your itinerary has been planned, I wish you ‘Bon Voyage’ as you embark on this exciting journey around the world!