Living off a student loan means it can be quite difficult to put enough money away to jet off and experience the plethora of exotic landscapes, languages and personalities the world has to offer. Following travel Instagram accounts may temporarily satisfy my wanderlust, but after about four seconds, I’ve scrolled further down my feed and forgotten all about that lake in Slovenia that looked really pretty and made me definitely want to weekend there. Reading books set abroad though, is a great form of escapism, and a cheap and effective way of gaining a deeper understanding of another country.
Here are my favourites:
1. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway – Paris
I bought this novel after it became a symbol of solidarity after the Paris attacks, with the French version titled ‘Paris est une fête’ (Paris is a party), reminding people of the beauty and excitement the capital still held. The book is short and sweet and a collection of Hemingway’s musings of French cafés, characters and culture during the glamorous Jazz Age. Flitting between idealised accounts to brutally honest ones, I enjoyed getting lost in the rain-glazed streets of the Paris of the past and wishing my semester abroad had been that exciting.
‘Paris est une Partaayyy’
2. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel – Mexico
The book is part emotionally charged love story, part Mexican cook book, with each chapter beginning with a different recipe. It has a classic forbidden love narrative, but with a deep connection with food, which is tied to the events of the protagonist Tita’s life and her struggles to be with the man she loves. The descriptions of the preparation of various Mexican dishes help to literally (well, figuratively if we’re going to be all bookish here) give you a flavour of such an integral part of Mexican culture. If you’re feeling lazy, it’s also been made into a film.
‘Yes this is in Spanish. No, I couldn’t read it.’
3. White Tiger by Aravind Adiga – India
Ok, so this novel won the 40th Man Booker prize, so it’s not just my good authority that says this is a must-read. It is told through the eyes of Balram Halwei, documenting his experiences as a member of the ‘sweetmaker’ caste. Not only is the book pretty funny, it also gives a refreshingly realistic side to the politics of caste and poverty in India that other novels such as ‘These Foolish Things’ by Deborah Moggach (the basis for ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’) skim over (although this is a great book too and I’d recommend it if you liked the film). I feel that through the book I got to experience the grittier side of India and one that should not be ignored.
Happy reading and happy travelling everyone!