"Great books that capture the spirit" Personal Page by leffe3
Not travel books - novels that really transport you to the place...(whether you have been or not)
'Cloud Street' by Tim Winton
Not my personal favourite book by Winton, but this is still a seminal book on growing up in Australia in the 2nd half of the 20th century - the rambling stories, the adventures, the outback, the characters and the city of Perth.
'The White Earth' by Andrew McGahan
A young boy growing up in the ruins of a once great station homestead in western Queensland. An orphan, you can feel and see the emptiness in his life, both emotionally and in the vastness of the landscape.
'The Playmaker' by Thomas Kenneally
It's a historical novel (and made into a stunning play - 'Our Country's Good' by Timberlake Wertenbaker) but it really brings home the toughness of the settling of Australia at the end of the 18th century and the inhospitable climate and landscape - much of which is still here.
'The Trout Opera' by Matthew Condon
By telling two stories simultaneously that eventually come together, we see the underbelly of modern day King's Cross and Sydney along with life in rural New South Wales at the beginning of the 20th century.
'30 Days in Sydney' by Peter Carey
One of Australia's greatest novelists returns to Sydney for a 30 day visit from his home in New York. See the city, it's history and the people from an insider as an outsider in this short but hugely entertaining novella.
'The Slap' by Christos Tsoliakos
At a BBQ in Melbourne, a man slaps a child who is not his own. So begins a story that sees life in a Melbourne inner-city suburb unfold as we see the incident from different eyes and different perspectives.
'The Cairo Trilogy' (Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street) by Naguib Mahfouz.
An extraordinary series of books to transport you into the world of Cairo (and in particular Islamic Cairo) in the first half of the 20th century. You can almost smell the spices of the bazaar!
'The Map of Love' by Ahdaf Soueif
A fascinating complement to Mahfouz's books. An Englishwoman falls in love and marries an Egyptian 'basha' at the beginning of the 20th century. History repeats itself at the end of the 20th century involving distant relatives as they read the diaries and memoires from the earlier time period. An insight into the politics of the day.
'My First Sony' by Benny Barbash
The young hero records as many conversations of his family with his first Sony. It's at times laugh-out loud hilarious and provides a wonderful understanding of the psyche of Israeli 'everyday' life, the personal concerns, neuroses, histories of several generations of his family.
'Still Here' by Linda Grant
Set in contemporary Liverpool, this at times hilarious novel of the liberated middle-aged Jewish woman, Alix, returning to her home city where she meets American hotel architect Joseph, provides an extraordinary insight into the development of the city and the psyche of the people.
Detective Inspector John Rebus novels by Ian Rankin
If you want to know the underbelly of Edinburgh, these are the books to check out. Invariably hugely entertaining crime novels, Rebus moves through the city and many of the tourist spots that few tourists really notice.
'The Other' David Gutterson
I know nothing about Portland and Washington State, but his descriptions (and in his other book 'Snow Falling On Cedars') of the huge expanses of forests and mountain ranges certainly provide a helping hand! Story of two male friends - the wealthy one who rejects wordly goods and lives as a semi-hermit in a cave and his lecturer-friend is riveting.
MEXICO & THE USA
'The Lacuna' Barbara Kingsolver
Stunning - the early childhood and young adulthood of Harrison W. Shepherd in a vibrant Mexico and specifically the household of Frieda and Rivera Diego, followed by post-war North Carolina and the horrors of the McCarthy communist witch-hunts. It was wonderful to read the Rivera's home animated in such a way (having been there a few years back) and contrasted with small-town post-war USA.
'Mao's Last Dancer' by Li Cunxin
Autobiography of a man who grew up in the rural China of Mao and the Gang of Three but who fled the country to become one of the world's greatest male ballet dancers. To be honest, he himself gets on my nerves at times (should have had a better ghost writer to cut some of the indulgences out), but the early part of the book, set in a small village north of Beijing, is fascinating and in reality, little is likely to have changed in the last 30 years.
'Midnight's Children' by Salman Rushdie
Whatever you think of the man, this has to be, in my mind, one of the greatest books ever written. It's an extraordinary epic. Saleem Sinai is born on the stroke of midnight when India becomes independent from Britain. His experience and life is an allegory of India before, during and after partition.
'A Fine Balance' by Rohinton Mistry
The intertwined lives of the widowed Dina, Ishvar and Omprakash - two impoverished tailors forced into the city from their village - and Maneck, a student. Set in the 1970s, it's a stunning epic that explores the everyday lives of people eking out a living against the political backdrop of the day.
'After Dark' by Haruki Murakami
Anything by Murakami is worth reading and whilst it may not be his best, the underbelly of Tokyo is beautifully evoked in this quiet, short (for Murakami) novel.
'The Moon & Sixpence' by W. Somerset Maugham
Charles Strickland abandons everything (his family, his fairly successful career in banking, his home) to follow his passion, painting. Living in penury, he first moves to fin de siecle Paris before finding himself in Tahiti. Loosely based on the life of Gauguin, the story is fascinating but the descriptions of life in Tahiti are incredibly powerful.
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