Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The summer of reading | A reading list to inspire your next travel destination

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How do you go about the business of planning your next holiday? Do you think of that one Instagram reel you came across on your feed, or maybe a friend’s offhand recommendation for a place tourists haven’t ‘discovered’ yet? These are all, of course, completely valid ways to pick your next travel destination. However, presented here is an alternate way to pick your next vacation — through reading. There is quite literally an array of destinations, based on books published in English alone each year. So why not choose where to travel next based on some of these? There is nothing quite like being transported to a place through the written word, and then feeling a tug of longing to lay your eyes on it in real life.

Here are a few recommendations for those who love discovering both books and places:

Berlin, Germany

Revolutionary Berlin: A Walking Guide by Nathaniel Flakin

Flakin is a journalist and a historian who runs anticapitalist walking tours in the storied German capital, Berlin. Berlin is a city which seems to have seen it all — Communists and Fascists, revolutions, the world wars, and the coming down of the Berlin Wall, of course. Author Flakin keeps his sights firmly on the ‘revolutionary’ part of the city’s history. Through nine chapters, each dealing with a specific district and a moment in time, readers are acquainted with Berlin’s radical, vibrant, sometimes seedy but never dull history. Read it, and then sign up for one of Flakin’s tours when you’re visiting.

Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

Dust Childby Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai:

Vietnam is having a moment, it seems, with every second (or maybe third) person you know waxing lyrical about its beaches, its coffee and its many culinary delights. But beyond the superficial information, gleaned in snatches, most of us may not have spent too much time reading about Vietnam’s history. Dust Child is set in two timelines— in 1969, during the war, and 2016, where a Black-Asian orphan is looking for his father, an American GI. The book not only paints a vivid picture of Vietnam and its evolving society, but also the devastation that the war left in its wake.

Havana, Cuba

Havana Year One by Karla Suárez (translated by Christine MacSweeney):

Picture yourself walking down the iconic promenade of Havana, Malecón, as you learn about the invention of the telephone in Cuba in the 19th century. Or imagine sitting in a paladar, the family-run restaurants which sprung up all over Cuba in the 90s, as you discuss the economic crisis following the fall of the USSR. This slim, bizarre book is guaranteed to make you want to look up tickets to Havana.

Fiji islands

A Disappearance in Fiji by Nilima Rao:

1915 in Fiji was a time when indentured workers were transported to the Fiji islands to work on sugar plantations, run by the British colonialists. A young Sikh police officer is tasked with investigating the disappearance of an Indian woman worker from one such plantation, even as his boss expects him to not ruffle any (white) feathers. Reading this richly drawn portrait of a society in flux against the setting of this island paradise is a delight and what better introduction to a (potential) holiday spot than an atmospheric historical fiction?

Chile

Chilean Poet by Alejandro Zambra (translated by Megan McDowell):

A country with a rich political and literary history — and consequently a history of brutal dictators as well as Nobel-winning poets, such as Pablo Neruda among others — is bound to be fascinating. All the contradictions of a society that begat both poets and tyrants form a part of Zambra’s meandering, slice of life novel which deals with love, families, country and, well, poetry. If you are someone who has a love of romance, literature and history, why not take a cue from this book and explore a slice of South America …

Bangkok, Thailand

A Good True Thai by Sunisa Manning:

Thailand is not a novel choice for travellers anymore, but one can always enrich their understanding of the beloved tourist destination. Manning’s book is more likely than not going to be an eye-opener for most folks unacquainted with the intricacies of Thai history or politics. Set during the popular and bloody student revolutions in Thailand of the 70s against dictatorship and censorship, reading this book may make you take a deeper look at the complexities of a place which is a mere getaway for most tourists.

Guadeloupe

Crossing the Mangrove by Maryse Condé (translated by Richard Philcox):

Yet another island paradise in the glittering Caribbean sea, Guadeloupe is perhaps not a place you have considered travelling to. The death of a mysterious newcomer to the island kicks off the book and the perspectives of the locals are presented to the reader through interlocked narratives. Reading this book by a giant of Guadeloupean fiction is bound to make you curious about the place — just a quick google search, if nothing more. For the adventure hunters always looking for new experiences and ‘offbeat’ holidays too, this is the perfect introduction to a part of the world we don’t much hear about.

Tokyo, Japan

The Pachinko Parlour by Elisa Shua Dusapin (translated by Aneesa Abbas Higgins)

Some books are so pitch perfect that it’s a surprise to find out that they were originally written in a different language. The Pachinko Parlour is a deceptively simple book written and translated with precision. As with a lot of Japanese fiction in translation, this book too is infused with ennui and melancholia. Come for the beauty of the prose, stay for the vibes. This is not to undercut or belittle the book at all, but just to highlight the ease of Dusapin’s writing and how it’s going to make you want to spend similarly sunny days in Japan.

Penang, Malaysia

The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng

You may have read Tan Twan Eng’s 2023 Booker Longlisted The House of Doors. His first book is equally worth digging into for its colonial Penang setting brimming with intrigue, betrayal and a world sinking into chaos during World War II. It’s not hard to imagine yourself in the dense rainforests of Malaysia as you sink into this ambitious, epic, door-stopper of a book.

The Deep Seas

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith

Who among us hasn’t wondered about the deep sea and its myriad secrets, not least of which is the magnificent octopus. Scientists and enthusiasts have long marveled at the creature, often referred to as the closest we’d ever get to an ‘alien’. This book is bound to imbue the same spirit of awe into you, perhaps encouraging you to book yourself for a deep sea adventure instead. You can also read the newly released Secrets of the Octopus by Sy Montgomery for more octopus facts. Who cares for land when the ocean has such wonders to offer, you may well think after reading these books.

All books mentioned in this article are available in bookstores or online as ebooks.

Ayushi Saxena is a consulting editor who has worked on several award-winning and bestselling children’s books. She is currently the publisher at Art1st, an independent company that creates books for children based on Indian art.

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