Going to the bookstore is like going to the zoo. You won’t see any animals in captivity, Looking for a way to escape the everyday? Tired of the daily grind of office memos and too-short lunch breaks? We’ve got you covered. These ten picks (some new, some old) will whisk you away to settings and experiences across the globe.
by Yaa Gyasi
Why we love it: It blends history with critical commentary relevant today, and merges stories of Ghana and America into one beautiful tapestry that turns America into a new landscape.
A novel of breathtaking sweep and emotional power that traces three hundred years in Ghana and along the way also becomes a truly great American novel. Extraordinary for its exquisite language, its implacable sorrow, its soaring beauty, and for its monumental portrait of the forces that shape families and nations, Homegoing heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.
Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.
Generation after generation, Yaa Gyasi’s magisterial first novel sets the fate of the individual against the obliterating movements of time, delivering unforgettable characters whose lives were shaped by historical forces beyond their control. Homegoing is a tremendous reading experience, not to be missed, by an astonishingly gifted young writer.
2. The Alexandria Quartet
by Lawrence Durrell
Why we love it: The vivid descriptions of Egypt enrapture, making you feel like you know this mysterious country intimately.
Lawrence Durrell’s complete Alexandria Quartet—a story of passion and betrayal that stands as one of the most acclaimed and beloved works of twentieth-century fiction
The Alexandria Quartetis a striking and sensuous masterpiece, breathing vivid life into each of its unforgettable characters and the dusty Mediterranean city in which they live. Set in Alexandria, Egypt, in the years before, during, and after World War II, the books follow the lives of a circle of friends and lovers, including sensitive Darley, passionate Justine, philosophical Balthazar, and elegant Clea. Written in Durrell’s trademark evocative prose, these four novels explore the central theme of modern love, building into a remarkable whole that the New York Times hailedas “one of the most important works of our time.”
3. Come to Africa and Save Your Marriage
by Maria Thomas
Why we love it: It challenges the popular notion of well-meaning foreigners “saving” Africa through exquisite storytelling.
In this collection of fourteen short stories, originally published in 1987, acclaimed writer Maria Thomas vividly portrays the experiences of American expatriates in Africa, as well as the lives of ordinary Africans, from many points of view. Thomas wrote, "A language you don't understand reminds you how vulnerable you are," — and which allows us to then connect with others so meaningfully.
4. Far Tortuga
by Peter Matthiessen
Why we love it: Close to home for Americans, the Caribbean islands are often overlooked as simple tourist destinations. This book re-examines this area and renders it with startling clarity.
In a harbour in the Cayman Islands, the schooner Lillias Eden prepares to set sail for the turtling grounds of the western Caribbean. Her captain is Raib Avers, a bitter man with a violent temper, one of the last of a dying breed of turtle-fishers. Her crew consists of a mixed bag of both experienced and inexperienced sailors, those few who are prepared to accept Avers' tyrannical style of captaincy. They include his teenage son, a few of Avers' fellow veterans from the once-thriving turtle fishing industry, a one-eyed psychic, a black Honduran from the Bay Islands and a troublesome would-be singer who feels himself destined for greater things than a life at sea. Following the fortunes of the old Caribbean schooner and her crew, Peter Matthiessen's outstanding novel is both a powerful story of the sea and a resonantly symbolic account of the relations between man and nature.
by Banana Yoshimoto
Why we love it: This novel takes on everyday women in contemporary Japan, making it a breath of fresh air after so much media focusing on the countries feudal era or highly stylized geishas.
With the publication of Kitchen, the dazzling English-language debut that is still her best-loved book, the literary world realized that Yoshimoto was a young writer of enduring talent whose work has quickly earned a place among the best of contemporary Japanese literature. Kitchen is an enchantingly original book that juxtaposes two tales about mothers, love, tragedy, and the power of the kitchen and home in the lives of a pair of free-spirited young women in contemporary Japan. Mikage, the heroine, is an orphan raised by her grandmother, who has passed away. Grieving, Mikage is taken in by her friend Yoichi and his mother (who is really his cross-dressing father) Eriko. As the three of them form an improvised family that soon weathers its own tragic losses, Yoshimoto spins a lovely, evocative tale with the kitchen and the comforts of home at its heart.
In a whimsical style that recalls the early Marguerite Duras, "Kitchen" and its companion story, "Moonlight Shadow," are elegant tales whose seeming simplicity is the ruse of a very special writer whose voice echoes in the mind and the soul.
6. Midnight's Children
by Salman Rushdie
Why we love it: Rushdie seamlessly blends magic and politics into this sweeping tale, giving you broad historical knowledge alongside and almost out-of-this-world experience.
Saleem Sinai is born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, the very moment of India’s independence. Greeted by fireworks displays, cheering crowds, and Prime Minister Nehru himself, Saleem grows up to learn the ominous consequences of this coincidence. His every act is mirrored and magnified in events that sway the course of national affairs; his health and well-being are inextricably bound to those of his nation; his life is inseparable, at times indistinguishable, from the history of his country. Perhaps most remarkable are the telepathic powers linking him with India’s 1,000 other “midnight’s children,” all born in that initial hour and endowed with magical gifts.
This novel is at once a fascinating family saga and an astonishing evocation of a vast land and its people–a brilliant incarnation of the universal human comedy. Twenty-five years after its publication, Midnight’ s Children stands apart as both an epochal work of fiction and a brilliant performance by one of the great literary voices of our time.
7. One Hundred Years of Solitude
by Gabriel García Márquez
Why we love it: It’s hard to imagine a writer with more grace and poetry than Gabriel García Márquez. This novel sweeps you not just into South America, but into the lives and tragedies of its heroes until you almost forget how to find your footing.
One of the 20th century's enduring works, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a widely beloved and acclaimed novel known throughout the world, and the ultimate achievement in a Nobel Prize–winning career.
The novel tells the story of the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendía family. It is a rich and brilliant chronicle of life and death, and the tragicomedy of humankind. In the noble, ridiculous, beautiful, and tawdry story of the Buendía family, one sees all of humanity, just as in the history, myths, growth, and decay of Macondo, one sees all of Latin America.
Love and lust, war and revolution, riches and poverty, youth and senility -- the variety of life, the endlessness of death, the search for peace and truth -- these universal themes dominate the novel. Whether he is describing an affair of passion or the voracity of capitalism and the corruption of government, Gabriel García Márquez always writes with the simplicity, ease, and purity that are the mark of a master.
Alternately reverential and comical, One Hundred Years of Solitude weaves the political, personal, and spiritual to bring a new consciousness to storytelling. Translated into dozens of languages, this stunning work is no less than an accounting of the history of the human race.
8. The Sex Lives of Cannibals
by J. Maarten Troost
Why we love it: Writers often focus on more romantic destinations — European getaways, beachside holidays, or ancient civilizations. Troost, however, takes us deep into life on an island most of us have never heard of, let alone romanticized, creating an unforgettable adventure for his readers.
At the age of twenty-six, Maarten Troost—who had been pushing the snooze button on the alarm clock of life by racking up useless graduate degrees and muddling through a series of temp jobs—decided to pack up his flip-flops and move to Tarawa, a remote South Pacific island in the Republic of Kiribati. He was restless and lacked direction, and the idea of dropping everything and moving to the ends of the earth was irresistibly romantic. He should have known better.
The Sex Lives of Cannibals tells the hilarious story of what happens when Troost discovers that Tarawa is not the island paradise he dreamed of. Falling into one amusing misadventure after another, Troost struggles through relentless, stifling heat, a variety of deadly bacteria, polluted seas, toxic fish—all in a country where the only music to be heard for miles around is “La Macarena.” He and his stalwart girlfriend Sylvia spend the next two years battling incompetent government officials, alarmingly large critters, erratic electricity, and a paucity of food options (including the Great Beer Crisis); and contending with a bizarre cast of local characters, including “Half-Dead Fred” and the self-proclaimed Poet Laureate of Tarawa (a British drunkard who’s never written a poem in his life).
With The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Maarten Troost has delivered one of the most original, rip-roaringly funny travelogues in years—one that will leave you thankful for staples of American civilization such as coffee, regular showers, and tabloid news, and that will provide the ultimate vicarious adventure.
9. A House in Fez
by Suzanna Clarke
Why we love it: Situated in an often misunderstood and feared part of the world, this novel takes us into the heart of Morocco and shows us the beauty we find there.
The Medina — the Old City — of Fez is the best-preserved, medieval walled city in the world. Inside this vibrant Moroccan community, internet cafes and mobile phones coexist with a maze of donkey-trod alleyways, thousand-year-old sewer systems, and Arab-style houses, gorgeous with intricate, if often shabby, mosaic work.
While vacationing in Morocco, Suzanna Clarke and her husband, Sandy, are inspired to buy a dilapidated, centuries-old riad in Fez with the aim of restoring it to its original splendor, using only traditional craftsmen and handmade materials. So begins a remarkable adventure that is bewildering, at times hilarious, and ultimately immensely rewarding.
A House in Fez chronicles their meticulous restoration, but it is also a journey into Moroccan customs and lore and a window into the lives of its people as friendships blossom. When the riad is finally returned to its former glory, Suzanna finds she has not just restored an old house, but also her soul.
10. Burmese Lessons
by Karen Connelly
Why we love it: With Myanmar only recently opened up to the West, we thought it the perfect time to include this heartbreaking tale of Burma in its dictatorship. The novel sheds important historical light on the now-tourist-hot-spot.
When Karen Connelly goes to Burma in 1996 to gather information for a series of articles, she discovers a place of unexpected beauty and generosity. She also encounters a country ruled by a brutal military dictatorship that imposes a code of censorship and terror. Carefully seeking out the regime’s critics, she witnesses mass demonstrations, attends protests, interviews detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and flees from police. When it gets too risky for her to stay, Connelly flies back to Thailand, but she cannot leave Burma behind.
Connelly’s interest in the political turns more personal on the Thai-Burmese border, where she falls in love with Maung, the handsome and charismatic leader of one of Burma’s many resistance groups. After visiting Maung’s military camp in the jungle, she faces an agonizing decision: Maung wants to marry Connelly and have a family with her, but if she marries this man she also weds his world and his lifelong cause. Struggling to weigh the idealism of her convictions against the harsh realities of life on the border, Connelly transports the reader into a world as dangerous as it is enchanting.
In radiant prose layered with passion, regret, sensuality and wry humor, Burmese Lessons tells the captivating story of how one woman came to love a wounded, beautiful country and a gifted man who has given his life to the struggle for political change.