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One of the best ways to feel more immersed in a culture before you travel is to read about it! Go beyond the blogs, Google reviews and travel influencers with fiction classics that are truly “transportive”. Delving into another culture through literature is a great way to connect with the place you are visiting, beyond the typical tourist trail. Here are a few of my favourite picks to inspire you for your next big trip!
Murakami is probably Japan's biggest literary export, his book having been widely translated and even made into movies. His books can be complex, even difficult at times. Reading a Murakami book for the first time could even be likened to being in an unfamiliar country for the first time. Disorientating, surprising but unforgettable.
The central plot consists of a young man’s labyrinthine journey to find his missing mother and sister and the cast of colourful and disturbing characters he meets along the way - not limited to : talking cats, ambiguous ghosts, a forest with magical properties, murder and more. Somewhere along the way, you stop trying to make sense of it all and just enjoy the masterful prose and exquisite characters.
Start with: “ Kafka on the Shore” by Haruki Murakami
Diplomat, revolutionary, poet - Chile’s most beloved writer, Pablo Neruda, had a lot of strings in his bow. But while his own life might have been turbulent, his poetry is pure magic. A country’s beautiful culture and breathtaking scenery cannot be enjoyed without learning about its history. Decades of political unrest and social upheaval leave an indelible mark, and you cannot fully appreciate a place until you have educated yourself to a meaningful level on these things.
And then there is poetry. Called by some the best poet of the 20th century, Neruda wrote about love, loss and beauty like no one else. Let a volume of his words be your companion as you explore this beautiful place.
Start with : “Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair”
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France has no shortage of literary greats. Sadly, a lot of these books are now pretty unreadable. After all, you’re still on vacation - you want to read something entertaining! The Count of Monte Cristo ticks all the boxes - a historical novel, a compelling plot ( murder, treason, revenge, etc.) and long enough to last you the entire trip.
The central plot revolves around a young ship's captain, Edmond Dantés, who is wrongly imprisoned on the island of Elba, where he remains for many years. There he meets Abbé Farias, and together they hatch a plot to escape the island and find the mythical treasure of Monte Cristo. Now a wealthy man, Dantés returns home to exact his revenge against those who had him imprisoned...
Start with : “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas
Hemingway could ostensibly be linked half a dozen other locations around the world - Paris, Cuba, Spain, and more - but Key West is where he spent his later years and were you can still go visit his home. Hemingway’s seminal Key West novel is a great way to transport yourself back in time to when Key West was a seedy backwater full of rum runners, black marketeers and dangerous women.
This slim novella is the perfect companion for a weekend getaway in the sun. After spending a lazy day reading by the pool, why not visit his local haunt, Sloppy Joe’s, and enjoy his signature cocktail, a Daiquiri. Time your visit right and you can also observe the annual Hemingway look-a-like contest that they hold every year.
Start with : “To Have and Have Not” by Ernest Hemingway
If you long for rolling green hills, verdant forest paths and peaceful villages, Thomas Hardy’s books will send you into a reverie of bucolic bliss. Nearly all his books are set in a fictionalised county of South West England called Wessex, that encompasses the real-life Dorset, Wiltshire, Somerset and Devon.
Hardy’s book are near perfect depictions of individuals living closely in nature, with problems only arising when the human world intervenes. While his stories have since spawned many overly sentimental depictions of rural English life, the countryside really is as beautiful as he describes.
Start with: “Far From the Madding Crowd” by Thomas Hardy
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Yeats is one of Ireland’s most beloved writers and therefore makes for an essential read before you jet off to the Emerald Isle. Yeats was born in Sandymount and raised in Dublin. As a young man he became obsessed with Irish mythology and folklore, and this infused his early poetry. He was also a staunch nationalist and served two terms as a senator for the Irish Free State.
Few poets have written with equal passion and reverence for their country. Take a volume of his poems on your Irish getaway, and let yourself be swept away by the majesty and history of this beautiful isle.
Start with : “Lake of Innisfree”
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