2020 is undoubtedly a bad time to be a traveller, but it’s a brilliant time to become a bookworm. While we can’t currently trek the globe in search of new cultural experiences, we can still seek out new adventures across the world in the pages of a novel. Here is some of the best international literature for letting your mind wander.
Circe, Madeline Miller
There’s no better place to start your journey than the islands of ancient Greece. Miller’s mythic and magical page-turner is a modern feminist parable following the story of Circe, daughter of Helios, God of the sun, an immortal outcast-turned-powerful sorceress, lover and single mother.
The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje
Jumping forward into modern European History, Ondaatje’s The English Patient tracks two timelines, one set in Italy towards the end of the Second World War, and the other uncovering a passionate past love affair in the arid climes of the Saharan desert, close to the Egyptian-Libyan border.
Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
Another cross-cultural tale of continental conflict, Things Fall apart explores the arrival of Europeans in pre-colonial Africa in the late 19th century through the story of a Nigerian Wrestler, Okonkwo, who is balanced between between his loyalty to local customs and the promise of Christianity.
Life of Pi, Yann Martel
If you want to travel vast distances in your imagination, there’s no better book than Life of Pi, which leaves us bobbing aboard a life raft with the titular protagonist and, naturally, a Bengal tiger. When the son of a zookeeper’s voyage from India to Canada goes awry, he is left contemplating his entire existence.
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
This iconic book offers an unparalleled portrayal of Dustbowl America and one family’s attempt to outrun poverty during the Great Depression. Forced from their farm and across Route 66, they come face to face with loss, exploitation and starvation in a bleak and desperate bid for survival.
Catfish and Mandala, Andrew X Pham
In another emotionally charged journey, this time a true story, Vietnamese-born Andrew X Pham cycles across his native country following the suicide of his post-op transsexual sister. It’s both memoir and travelogue, a Jack Kerouac-esque road trip to self-discovery which is equal parts witty and poignant.
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, Jung Chang
Chang’s novel offers another autobiographical window into Asian culture, but the writer ventures further back, offering a poetic family history spanning a century. Covering the lives of her grandmother and mother, the book beautifully documents three generations of Chinese women.
The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton
The Luminaries (recently adapted for the BBC) is a mystical tale of murder, desire and destiny set in New Zealand during the 1860s Goldrush. As two timelines unfold and two lives become intertwined, Catton’s intriguing cast of characters unearths both untold riches and inexplicable celestial forces.