February 8, 2012

Reading Along the Way

Before moving to Norway, my pal @FedericoA gave me a book called Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson. Although hardly my style of novel, it was surprisingly enlightening in helping me grok aspects of norwegians that I would most likely have missed otherwise.

Since then I have always tried to read something about places I’m visiting. While I’d love for this to be an intellectual exercise, I have realized that if the book is not entertaining in some way, I never finish it. As as result most of the books are historical fictions or plain novels, but they usually still reach their objective: giving me a different perspective of the place before/during my visit.

Below the books that fit this description that I read on my recent trip, a passage I highlighted, and some minor notes:

rainbow in the nightrainbow in the night

A Rainbow in the Night: The Tumultuous Birth of South Africa by Dominique Lapierre

As is often the case in Africa, the confrontation turned into a joyous celebration.

The apartheid and the history of South Africa (all Africa for that matter), have always been nebulous concepts for me. I enjoyed this book immensely. If more history books were written like it, the world would be a more understanding place. Without picking sides, you get an interesting overview of the history of the country, with special attention to important events.

Visiting museums and landmarks during my stay was more enjoyable thanks to this book.

A Different SkyA Different Sky

A Different Sky by Meira Chand

The day’s experiences settled uncomfortably in Mei Lan like an over-rich meal.

In itself, not a great book. However, it does manage to give a good introduction to the history of Singapore by mixing three characters from different backgrounds through its time as a British colony, WWII and ending up with independence.

The Beaten TrackThe Beaten Track

The Beaten Track by Sarah Menkedick

Slow travel operates largely on the gimmick of time just as backpacker travel operates largely on the gimmick of authenticity.

Not so much a book rather combination of very long articles, but still interesting. I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to get into travel mode. If you’re scared about arriving into a city without a hostel reservation, or not being able to understand what the food is, these real stories of will remind you it could be so much worse.

The Windup GirlThe Windup Girl

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

His last days were not his only days.

Sadly I didn’t get to visit the Kingdom of Thailand because of the rains, but this Sci-Fi novel was still worth it by itself. It would probably have not helped much in recognizing the country, but the proudness of the people seems to be accurately represented from what other travellers told me.


Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

Civilisation, after all, is defined by what we forbid, more than what we permit.

I read this a few years ago and loved it. While I really don’t believe it’s based on a true story, it does capture the essence of India’s personality. When rereading I remembered something from the first time: the book is divided in 5 parts, forget the last one, ruins the whole experience.


Tai-Pan by James Clavell

Empires are built by young men, Culum. They’re lost by old men.

Excellent book. The historical aspects are true enough that you can walk around Hong Kong and know a little of everything. The fictional characters are so great, you also put an extra effort trying to understand how it really happened.

American GodsAmerican Gods

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

There was a girl, and her uncle sold her, wrote Mr. Ibis in his perfect copperplate handwriting. That is the tale; the rest is detail.

Since I’ve been traveling to the US for most of my life, reading this book to get a different perspective seemed ridiculous. Was I wrong. There is something very weird about this book that helps you understand the US a little better. And even if you don’t care about that, reading it was still one of the most enjoyable experience with words I’ve ever had.

travel fiction non-fiction

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