Courtesy of That Artsy Reader Girl, I’ll be dipping into books I’ve read that take place abroad (i.e. not the UK) this week. It feels a bit of a cheat really because, when I think about it, I don’t read a great many books set in England in the first place!
For these purposes, therefore, I need to think a little deeper. About those books with the greatest sense of place, that would be devoid of meaning without it.
The first time we went to India my other half and I were determined to read literature to go along with our trip. He read Shantaram (ridiculous, apparently) and I read Rohinton Mistry’s chunk of a novel. It is a phenomenal book, capturing India and its hierarchical society in all its glory. Brilliant, evocative and added a perfect extra layer to the holiday.
Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
I read this classic so many years ago that the details are vague. However, what has easily remained with me is both how much I adored it (maybe time for a reread?) and its deeply evocative sense of place.
It seems odd I suppose to include a book here that I, controversially given its prize-winning status, didn’t much care for. In reality I found Obreht’s surreal tale to be unnecessarily confusing and meandering. That said, the bleak portrait she paints of an unknown Balkan state, with its icy weather, traditions and folklore has stuck with me ever since.
A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
Another one that I read years and years ago but whose images; dusty courtyards, bombed out houses, women gazing through the mesh of their burqa, have seared themselves in my mind. And I haven’t even read The Kite Runner yet. Yey.
As tough as some of the scenes are in this tale of abuse and betrayal in America’s Deep South, the atmosphere and imagery of rural East Texas are undeniably beautiful.
I’ve said it countless times but I really need (still) to read more African literature. Somalia is a real black hole on a map for me, thankfully less so after reading this Mohamed’s thoughtful, complex second novel.
Wild Swans – Jung Chang
This task is so useful for reflecting on books I read years ago. I stared at this one on my auntie’s bookshelves for years before finally picking it up. It is an absolute must read. Epic.
An entirely different side to America than Ruby, Donna Tartt’s doorstop novel, which I dog-eared to bits, is phenomenal, ranging from a cosy, antique New York to a cold, hard Los Angeles, whose dusty streets and sterile homes magnify the sense of unease and foreboding.
Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys
This classic really gets mixed reviews so I felt rather dubious when it was chosen by the book club one month. To my surprise I really loved it and that was helped by the vivid picture Rhys paints of life in nineteenth century Jamaica/Dominica. Hot, oppressive and delirious.
Carmen – Prosper Mérimée
I was so excited to read the novella that inspired Bizet’s famous opera. Mérimée is always good for a short story and Carmen is no exception. It also helps that I lived in wonderful Sevilla for a very short time and have LIVED that famous cigar factory. Yas.