You don’t need to leave the library.
English-speaking writers sometimes choose other countries to set their stories.
Japan — Arthur Golden “Memoirs Of A Geisha”
A historical novel by American writer Arthur Golden was published in 1997. The novel, told in first person perspective, tells the story of a fictional geisha working in Kyoto, before and after World War II.
At the age of nine, Chiyo Sakamoto is taken from her poverty-stricken fishing village of Yoroido on the coast of the Sea of Japan with her older sister and sold to an okiya (geisha boarding house) in Gion, the most prominent geisha district in Kyoto.
Why travel? To explore one of the most intriguing and ambigious subcultures.
France — Joanne Harris “Chocolat”
“Chocolat” (1999) tells the story of Vianne Rocher, a young single mother, who arrives in the French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes with her six-year-old daughter, Anouk. Vianne has arrived to open a chocolaterie — La Céleste Praline — which is on the square opposite the church. During the traditional season of fasting and self-denial; she gently changes the lives of the villagers who visit her with a combination of sympathy, subversion and a little magic.
Harris has indicated that several of the characters were influenced by individuals in her life: Her daughter forms the basis for the young Anouk, including her imaginary rabbit, Pantoufle. Harris’ strong-willed and independent great-grandmother influenced her portrayal of both Vianne and the elderly Armande.
Why travel? Fairy-tale fiction with wonderful smells. And chocolate is good for your brain!
Holland — Jessie Burton, “The Miniaturist”
“The Miniaturist” is the 2014 debut novel of English actress and author Jessie Burton. An international bestseller, it was the focus of a publishers bidding war at the 2013 London Book Fair.
Set in Amsterdam in 1686/7, the novel was inspired by Petronella Oortman’s doll’s house on display at the Rijksmuseum. It does not otherwise attempt to be a biographical novel.
Petronella (Nella) Oortman, a poor 18-year-old girl from the Dutch countryside, arrives at the Golden Bend home in Amsterdam of the wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt, who married her a month earlier. She steps into a house of secrets held by Brandt’s ascetic sister Marin, the servants Cornelia and Otto, and Brandt himself, who treats her more like a friend than a wife. Brandt gives her a wedding present of a dollhouse designed to look like their nine-story home in miniature, and she engages the services of a local miniaturist to add realistic furnishings to it.
Burton, who had studied English literature at the University of Oxford before embarking on an acting career, wrote the novel over a period of four years whilst supporting herself as an actress. She came up with the idea while on holiday in Amsterdam, where she viewed Petronella Oortman’s doll house at the Rijksmuseum, and undertook extensive research on 17th-century Amsterdam, studying books, cookbooks, Dutch Golden Age paintings, maps, and wills.
Why travel? If you have a doll house, you can pretend to be a God.
Ukraine — Jonathan Safran Foer “Everything Is Illuminated”
The first novel by the American writer, published in 2002. The book’s writing and structure received critical acclaim for the manner in which it switches between two stories, both of which are autobiographical. One of them is the fictionalized history of the eradicated town of Trochenbrod (Trachimbrod), a real exclusively Jewish shtetl in Poland before the Holocaust where the author’s mother was born; while the second narrative encompasses Foer’s trip to Ukraine in search for the remnants and memories of Trachimbrod as well
The real town of Trochenbrod (Polish: Zofiówka) was an exclusively Jewish shtetl located in the Wołyń Voivodeship of the Second Polish Republic before the Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland. After the German attack on the Soviet positions, a Jewish ghetto was established at Trochenbrod for local residents including those from nearby villages.
Why travel? Because memory is important, because past is future.
Portugal Yann Martel “The High Mountains Of Portugal”
A 2016 novel by Canadian author is split into three sections, each of which concerns a widower.
Spreading its action over the course of the 20th century, “The High Mountains of Portugal” probes the tender center of grief: each of its three sections follows the fallout that results from the death of a man’s wife.
Yann Martel: “The High Mountains of Portugal have no mountains, as various characters in the novel discover. And yet these characters have aspirations; they wish to climb mountains. And they do. Tomás wants to climb a mountain to conquer it, out of pride, hurt, mournful madness. Peter quite contentedly lives on a mountain, in a state of blessed detachment”.
Why travel? Through times and countries we all have the same troubles. And, besides, it’s warm in Portugal.