One way I select where to travel next is by reading various novels and dreaming about visiting the locations described within the pages of the stories. Before I ever traveled abroad, I had read James Michener’s The Drifters and I had complete notions of what Spain, Marrakech, and Mozambique were like. Below is a list of books I have loved for the stories they told and the locations they transported me to.
Amsterdam: The Miniaturist by Jesse Burton. Set in the seventeenth century, this is the story of an arranged marriage, a curious doll house, and the morals within the city.
North Korea: The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. Pulitzer Prize winning story about a man who faces the perils of life in North Korea, and experiences a wondrous yet dangerous undertaking.
India: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. The story of a would-be entrepreneur in emerging Bangalore.
Nantucket: Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund. Moby Dick’s Ahab had a wife, who spent her days back on Nantucket. This is her story.
Africa: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbra Kingsolver. The setting is 1959 in the Belgian Congo and a Baptist missionary family from Georgia is stationed there. Also, Circling The Sun by Paula McLain, which tells the true story of aviator Beryl Markham, living in Kenya in the 1920s.
New York City: The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. It’s 1937 in Greenwich Village, and two women and one gentleman meet in a speakeasy. Their intersecting lives from that point forward become fascinating. The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell. A prohibition mystery novel in 1924 NYC that will keep you wondering even at the end.
Israel: The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman and The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.
New Zealand: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. Man Booker prize winner about a murder in a small gold-mining town in 1866. Numerology is a factor throughout the novel.
Japan: A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki and Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden.
Chicago: The Devil in The White City by Erik Larson. Non-fiction story of the 1893 World’s Fair, it’s architect, and a serial murderer in Chicago. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. The story of Frank Lloyd Wright’s mistress.
Afghanistan: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. The story of friendship and redemption in a caste system in Kabul.
China: Balzac and The Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie and Ina Rilke. This novel examines the powerful magic of reading forbidden western books during the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
Greece: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. Three generations of a genetic difference makes for special circumstances for the Stephanides family.
Burma: The Art of Hearing Heartbeats and A Well Tempered Heart by Jan-Phillip Sendker. These novels are sequels about a particular Burmese family and the meaning of devotion.
Paris: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. The story of Hemingway’s wife, Hadley, and their life together in Paris, France during the Jazz Age. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky. The story of Paris in 1940 on the eve of Nazi occupation.
Arizona: Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls. The story of the author’s grandmother who broke horses on a ranch in Arizona and survived despite the odds. (I also enjoyed her memoir, The Glass Castle.)
North Dakota: The Round House by Louise Erdrich. This novel takes place in 1988 on a Native American reservation. It’s a coming of age story, a mystery, a family saga, and an adventure novel rolled into one.
England: Old F.I.L.T.H. and The Man In The Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam. These two novels (one told from the man’s point of view, and one from the lady’s) cover the story of a British judge who spent time as a lawyer in Southeast Asia and also England, and the relationships he developed along the way. F.I.L.T.H. stands for “Failed In London, Try Hong Kong.”
St. Thomas: The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman. The fascinating story of the woman who gave birth to Camille Pissarro, the Father of Impressionism.
Life at sea: The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje, In The Heart of The Sea : The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick, The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman.
Reader….what suggestions would you add to this list?