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Traveling with Fiction
Each year as summer approaches I find myself thinking about vacation even if I’m not taking one. When I do travel, I like to read fiction set in the places to which I’m traveling. And if there’s no vacation on the horizon, I still love to get carried away with a good book set in a location I’d like to visit.
I know many library patrons also enjoy reading fiction set in other locales. Listed below are some titles I’ve recommended to patrons and others that have been recommended to me.
Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea
A contemporary story set in a small Mexican village. After most of the men in her village have moved North for work, nineteen-year old Natalia, inspired by the movie, The Magnificent Seven, recruits a small group of friends to journey to the U.S. to find seven men to move to her village and protect its residents from banditos.
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon. Orphaned by their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution. –From Publisher’s Description
The Sacred Night by Tahar Ben Jelloun
Mohammed Ahmed, a Moroccan girl raised as a boy in order to circumvent Islamic inheritance laws regarding female children, remains deeply conflicted about her identity. In a narrative that shifts in and out of reality moving between a mysterious present and a painful past, Ben Jelloun relates the events of Ahmed's adult life. Now calling herself Zahra, she renounces her role as only son and heir after her father's death and journeys through a dreamlike Moroccan landscape. –From Publisher’s Description
The Bird Artist by Howard Norman
Set in Witless Bay, a small fishing village in Newfoundland, at the turn of the last century this book tells the story of Fabian Vas, a bird artist and self-proclaimed murderer of the lighthouse keeper, Botho August. Fabian reflects on his life, unraveling the story of the murder which was instigated in part by his mother’s affair with the lighthouse keeper and his parent’s attempts to keep him from marrying Margaret, the whiskey drinking love of his life.
Dance of the Happy Shades by Alice Munro
Published in 1968, this is the 2009 Man Booker Prize winner's first collection of short stories. Munro captures life in small Ontario towns and suburbs.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Marina Singh, a researcher at a pharmaceutical company, travels to the Amazon to locate a gynecologist, Anneck Swensen, who has been studying the reproductive lives of the women in a local tribe who are able to reproduce well after middle age.
Mysteries by Cara Black
Mystery writer Cara Black’s books are set in various Paris neighborhoods. I love getting lost in the Marais (Murder in the Marais) or Latin Quarter (Murder in the Latin Quarter) with this San Francisco author. Check out her latest title, Murder Below Montparnasse.
The Book of Salt by Monique Truong
Set in 1934 Paris, this fictionalized memoir tells the story of Bihn, chef to Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein. Bihn leaves his native Vietnam after his father learns about his affair with another man and spends several years as a sailor before making his way to Paris where he finds work in the kitchen of Stein and Toklas. Wandering the streets of Paris, Bihn reflects on his life as a chef in Vietnam and at sea and the years he spent working as a chef for the famous writer, using the metaphor of salt.
Black Girl in Paris by Shay Youngblood
Inspired by African-American artists such as James Baldwin and Langston Hughes, Youngblood’s protagonist leaves her southern home to follow her dream of becoming a writer in Paris. Once there, she experiences the City as an artist's model, a poet's assistant, and an au pair before eventually coming of age as a writer.
The Tea House Fire by Ellis Avery
Set in late nineteenth century Japan as the country opens its doors to the West, this novel tells the story of Aurelia, an American orphan girl who is adopted by the owners of a tea ceremony school in Japan and her relationship with Yukako, the daughter of a respected tea advisor. This is a great read for those interested in the art of the tea ceremony.
The Painting by Nina Schuyler
Set in 1869 Japan, a young woman escapes the confines of her arranged marriage by painting memories of her lover on mulberry paper. She secretly wraps the painting around a ceramic pot that's bound for Europe. In France, a disenchanted young man works as a clerk at an import shop. When he opens the box from Japan, he discovers the brilliant watercolor of two lovers locked in an embrace under a plum tree. He steals the painting and hides it in his room. With each viewing, he sees something different, and gradually the painting transforms him. –From Publisher’s Description.
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao first plans to document the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in ways she can scarcely imagine. –From Publisher’s Description
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby. –From Publisher’s Description
The Bone People by Keri Hulme
Hulme’s book creates a sense of place on the harsh beaches of New Zealand. “The novel chronicles the complicated relationships between three emotional outcasts of mixed European and Maori heritage. Kerewin Holmes is a painter and a loner, convinced that "to care for anything is to invite disaster." Her isolation is disrupted one day when a six-year-old mute boy, Simon, breaks into her house. The sole survivor of a mysterious shipwreck, Simon has been adopted by a widower Maori factory worker, Joe Gillayley, who is both tender and horribly brutal toward the boy. –From Publisher’s Description. Although I read this book many years ago, the New Zealand landscape remains vivid in my memory.
What are some of your favorite books set in other locales?
Rebekah Eppley, Dimond Branch