Books to keep the wanderlust alive

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Mason Cooley, American author and academic, said: “Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.” In our current situation, never has a truer word been said.  Story by:  Linsey Schluter

Reading is the perfect form of escapism, transporting us far beyond our homes to far-flung corners of the globe. We have put together a list of books to stoke your wanderlust – books where the locations are almost as important as the characters themselves, beautifully brought to life and inspiring an urge to explore the world.  A mix of fiction and non-fiction, grab (or download) a copy of one of these today:

1.  A year in Provence, Peter Mayle

A year in Provence, Peter Mayle

This wonderfully warm memoir chronicles Peter Mayle’s move to Provence, in south-eastern France – and the family’s encounters with inclement weather, underground truffle dealers and local builders.  Sue Garrett from the Flight Centre Travel Group, says it is impossible not be delighted with the region’s Provençal restaurants, vineyards and villages: “A holiday through southern France is high on people’s bucket lists. Perhaps consider a family barge trip, as hopping aboard a barge is a wonderful, hassle-free way to explore different villages throughout France. Not only do you get to select your route, but you get to set the pace.”

2. Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts

Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts

Gregory David Robert’s 2003 novel, Shantaram, is one of those polarising novels which people seem to either love or hate. This epic, no-holds-barred adventure takes readers on a journey from Australia to the vibrant streets of Mumbai, teeming with life, love and danger.  Once you are drawn into Robert’s almost unbelievable world (it is, in his own words, a novel rather than an autobiography, although influenced by true events), it is hard to put down this epic page-turner – with India at its heart.

3. Baking Cakes in Kigali, Gaile Parkin

Baking Cakes in Kigali, Gaile Parkin

Gaile Parkin’s novel tells the story of Angel Tungaraza, a mother, cake baker, pillar of her community, keeper of secrets big and small and resident of Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.  Twenty-five years after the horrific genocide in Rwanda, the country’s capital, Kigali, has emerged as a vibrant, optimistic beacon of hope and prosperity. With friendly locals, a lively art scene and an incredible atmosphere, Kigali delivers an unforgettable experience.

If you want to take a literary journey a little closer to home, Natalie Tenzer Silva, Director of Dana Tours, a Maputo-based destination management company, suggests Ualalapi, by Mozambican author, Ungulani Ba Ka Khosa. It’s been voted as one of Africa’s 100 best books of the twentieth century.

4.  The Last Flight of the Flamingo

Last Flight Of The Flamingo, by acclaimed Mozambican author Mia Couto, is another recommendation for a literary journey into Mozambique.

5.  The Adventures of a Young Naturalist, by David Attenborough

This book is for anyone who seeks to understand how far we have come in developing a protective attitude to wildlife.  It chronicles the year David Attenborough (then, a young television presenter), was offered the opportunity of a lifetime – to travel the world finding rare and elusive animals for the London Zoo’s collection, and to film the expeditions for the BBC.  This is the perfect book to enjoy in a local setting like Royal Thonga Safari Lodge in Tembe Elephant Park, Kwa Zulu-Natal. If you love wildlife as much as Sir David does, this is just the place to imagine yourself reading it. It’s the kind of place where you can awake to the ‘dawn patrol’ – elephant families plodding through the surrounding bushveld.

6.  The Talented Mr Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith

This tale of obsession, a stolen identity, murder and intrigue takes you on a cat-and-mouse game through New York, the Bay of Naples, Sanremo, Rome and Venice.  Although in Highsmith’s novel, the action plays out in the fictional Italian port of Mongibello, the movie was later filmed on the volcanic island of Ischia – one of Italy’s best-kept secrets.  The bay, situated in the Campania region of southern Italy, is one of the most beautiful places on earth: Capri, Procida or Ischia, the Bay of Naples is spectacular. Little wonder that Highsmith chose it as a setting for the beautiful and impossibly glamorous world of the 1950s rich and famous.

7.  The Beach, Alex Garland

Alex Garland’s 1996 debut, takes us on a backpacker’s search for a legendary and isolated beach untouched by tourism – and the drama which plays out among the beach’s small, international community of travellers. It’s no small irony that the novel, and subsequent film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, contributed to the overcrowding, natural destruction and eventual closure of Maya Bay – Thailand’s natural beach and coral bay made famous by the movie. According to Garrett, this loss of fragile ecosystems and historic monuments around the world as a result of over tourism, has led to the rise of under tourism and we can expect to see more low season, conscious and ‘off the beaten track’ travel. When travel comes back after the COVID-19 pandemic, we are going to see even more of this conscious travel – where travellers are increasingly aware of the impact they have on the world around them.

8.  The Corfu Trilogy, Gerald Durrell

Just before the Second World War, the Durrell family decamped to the sun-soaked island of Corfu where the youngest of the Durrell family discovered his passion for animals. His adventures have now been captured in the ultimate Durrell trilogy: My Family and Other Animals; Birds, Beasts and Relatives; and The Garden of the Gods – arguably the best (and most delightful) escape for those languishing in lockdown.

9.  The Shipping News, Annie Proulx

The Shipping News, Annie Proulx

Annie Proulx’s 1993 novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1994. The book tells the story of a man’s quest to reclaim his life as he retreats to the starkly beautiful and remote coastal life of Newfoundland. Often dark, often comical and always magical, the real star of the book is Newfoundland itself – and its rocky shoreline, rich history, unique cuisine and colourful cast of characters.

10.  Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain

Fans of Paula Mclain’s novel The Paris Wife, which tells a fictionalised account of Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage, may enjoy her fictionalised account of the life and times of Beryl Markham, the English-born Kenyan aviator, and the first person to fly solo, non-stop across the Atlantic from Britain to North America.  Markham was also a racehorse trainer, author and adventurer – whose adventures Paula McLain brings to life in an addictive romp through colonial Kenya. The descriptions of life in the Kenyan bush are fabulous, but the novel does have its detractors, so you might prefer Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa – a must for anyone who hasn’t yet experienced Blixen’s account of her farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.

11.  Less, by Andrew Sean Greer

Winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize, Less tells the story of a man who sets off on a mid-life, whirlwind tour of literary events around the world (rather than attend the wedding of an old boyfriend). A trip that will take him to Paris, Berlin, Morocco, India and Japan, among others. It’s a wonderful ‘coming of age’ (yes, middle-age) story of love, travel and misadventure. The perfect companion for the next few weeks.

12.  Walk it Off, Erns Grundling

Walk it Off is South African journalist, Erns Grundling’s personal account of his 40-day 1,025 km journey along the Camino – sans cell phone, camera or watch! It’s a wonderfully uplifting read for anyone who wants to set off on a bucket-list walk, rediscovering what it’s like to live in the moment.

Post COVID-19 travel is going to see intrepid travellers donning their walking shoes and venturing off on hikes and bucket-list adventures such as The Camino, Pacific Crest Trail (US) and the South West Coast Path (UK). Luckily South Africans who want to stay local, are also spoilt for choice at home – with hikes ranging from the Otter Trail, the Oystercatcher, The Whale Trail and the Leopard Trail, to the mega Cederberg Odyssey Trail.

It is absolutely impossible to put together an exhaustive list of brilliant books, so here are a few more, catering to a range of different tastes, to inspire wanderlust:

•  Around the World on an Empty Stomach, by the late Anthony Bourdain
•  Any of Paul Theroux’s wonderful works, including The Old Patagonian Express
•  Cheryl Strayed’s first-hand account of her 1,100-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in Wild
•  Absolutely anything by Bill Bryson, including In a Sunburned Country
•  The Call of the Wild by Jack London
•  Jack Kerouac chronicling the ultimate road trip across the United States in the 1957 classic, On the Road
•  Slow Boat to Uruguay, South African author, Andrew Tunstall’s true life sailing adventure across the Atlantic Ocean to explore South America – with his wife, mother-in-law and seven-month-old daughter along for the ride!


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