World Travel Through Literature: 8 Authors Who Take You Places
There are moments in every traveler’s life when our feet start itching but our finances and responsibilities prevent us from simply packing our bags and hopping on the next plane. When this happens, take a trip to your nearest bookshop instead, and embark on a literary journey. Here are just a few suggestions with 8 authors who can take you on a round-the-world trip from the comfort of your home. It may not be the same as real travel, but it’s a pretty eye-opening alternative.
Haruki Murakami’s Japan
In his epic book entitled Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Paul Theroux recounts his meeting with the elusive world-famous Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, author of Kafka on the Shore, and describes him as being “Japan’s best-known and most widely translated writer. Bursting with health, full of ideas, deeply curious, he is beloved in Japan. Yet he is invisible, never recognized, so he told me; another ghost figure.” Only the jazz club he used to own in Tokyo, Peter Cat, seems to have left a tangible mark of his existence on the cityscape, and even that is now gone, replaced, as a keen expat blogger discovered, by a restaurant/cafeteria.
Spotting Murakami among a sea of commuters may be near impossible, but tracing his 15-year-old hero’s journey across half a country is relatively easy. In the aforementioned book, Kafka gets on a 9-hour bus ride from Tokyo in an attempt to run away from his bizarre father after he prophesies that Kafka will murder him as well as sleep with his mother and sister, who both left years before.
Whether you fall in love with Murakami’s story of talking cats, strange downpours, androgynous librarians and World WarII soldiers wandering un-aged in the woods or not, the place Kafka flees to, Takamatsu, is worth the long scenic bus ride from the capital if not because of its celebrated Edo-period Ritsurin-kōen garden, then simply because it will lead you to Shikoku, home to 88 sacred temples and Japan’s most famous pilgrimage route.
James Joyce’s Dublin
With Ireland‘s most famous and celebrated author it seems that it’s not really important whether his works are readable or not, since the city’s love affair with James Joyce couldn’t be more clearly or strongly expressed. There are plenty of ways in which you can follow in the steps of his two most famous characters; Stephen Dedalus from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce’s semi-autobiographical book, and Leopold Bloom from Ulysses, which tells the tale of one day in Bloom’s life in Dublin with clear parallels to Ulysses’ journey in The Odyssey. For lighter reading, try his collection of short stories entitled Dubliners, depicting snippets of Irish middle class life in and around Dublin.
For the full Joycean experience when you find yourself in the Irish capital, visit the James Joyce Centre where you can peer into Joyce’s recreated bedroom and knock on Leopold Bloom’s door, take a walk around Trinity College which Stephen Dedalus describes as a ‘grey block…set heavily in the city’s ignorance like a dull stone’ but which is in fact a lovely place to lose oneself in for a while, explore Stephen’s Green Park, which is filled, in the Stephen’s own words, with trees ‘fragrant of rain’, and finish the day by heading to the top floor of the Guinness storehouse and savouring a pint of the black stuff in its panoramic Gravity Bar, where you will be surrounded by quotes from Joyce’s works printed in black characters on the large full length glass windows. But this is only the tip of the iceberg.
For many more Joyce-related delights, take a look at this self-guided walking tour on dochara.com. Should you wish to visit Joyce’s final resting place, you will need to hop on a plane and head to the Fluntern cemetery in Zurich, Switzerland. While you’re there, check out the Zurich James Joyce Foundation whose library houses more than 5000 Joyce-related volumes and hosts regular readings from the writer’s works.
Salman Rushdie’s India
If your feet are itching for India, one of the best reads around is Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, winner of the 1981 Booker Prize and of the ‘Booker of Bookers’ prize in 1993. Written in the intriguing style of magic realism, it tells the tale of Saleem Sinai, born on the stroke of midnight which signaled the start of the country’s independence from Britain. The strange circumstance of his birth endows him with the power of telepathy and gives other ‘midnight children’ (those born close to the midnight of independence) other magical powers.
This fictional autobiography of magical Saleem will take you from Kashmir to Delhi, from Mumbai to Pakistan and even beyond, to the mangrove jungle of the Sundarbans which spreads from Southern Bengal into Bangladesh.Since the book in itself is an allegory of Indian history, you will find that you will enjoy reading it much more if you get yourself acquainted with the nation’s recent past.
To retrace Saleem’s steps through his epic journey, you might want to consider taking a slum tour through the Dharavi slum of Mumbai where the poorest of the midnight’s children lived, and where you can make up your own mind as to whether such tours are appropriate or not. If you do, make sure you book with an operator which gives back some of the money to the inhabitants of the slum themselves. For a more nature-oriented experience, head to the Sundarbans mangrove jungle where Saleem goes to hide from the horrors of war. Meaning ‘beautiful jungle’, the Sundarbans is the largest continuous halophytic mangrove forest in the world and home to the endangered Royal Bengal tiger.
Annie Proulx’s America
American writer Annie Proulx’s name is now synonymous with her short story Brokeback Mountain, which made it onto the big screen with its powerful depiction of two homosexual cowboys and the development of their relationship. While the story is set in Wyoming and Brokeback Mountain doesn’t really exist, the actual movie was filmed in Alberta, Canada and the popularity of the stunning scenery shown in the movie has given rise to ‘Brokeback mountain tours’ such as this one, which you can undertake as a self-guided road trip.
If you’re looking for inspiration for a classic USA trip though, pick up a copy of Proulx’s Accordion Crimes, which tells the story of an accordion brought to the USA by a Sicilian immigrant, its journey across America and the fortunes and misfortunes of those who at some point or another come into the possession of this instrument. If you want to follow the accordion’s journey through the US, you’ll have a lot of ground to cover, as in the space of about 550 pages, starting from New Orleans, it travels through, amongst other places, Montana, Iowa, Texas and Maine, and drops you off in Florida, where the accordion comes to a miserable end unlike its lucky final owner.
>> Read about lesser-known National Parks in the US
Orhan Pamuk’s Turkey
Not many Turkish writers are known internationally, but Orhan Pamuk is definitely an exception to the rule, having been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006. Pamuk is best known for his novel Snow, which narrates the story of a Turkish poet named Ka who after 12 years of exile, returns to his home country and ventures to the city of Kars in East Turkey, both to investigate why so many young women have been committing suicide there and to meet Ipek, a woman from his past who he has feelings for. If you decide to go this far into the heart of Turkey, you will be rewarded by a landscape and world completely different from the more cosmopolitan Istanbul and Western Turkey, which is as much as many travelers see of this beautiful country. And while you’re here don’t leave before pushing a little bit further East and witnessing the haunting beauty of the ruins of Ani, a medieval city on the Armenian border.
For those of you who don’t wish to travel that far, get a copy of Pamuk’s melancholic Istanbul: Memories and the City, and stroll through the place of his birth using the book as a guide with which to relive it through the author’s eyes.
Paulo Coelho’s North Africa
Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist is as much of a journey within as it is without. It tells the story of a young Shepherd named Santiago, who after having a dream which tells him that there is a great treasure waiting for him beneath the Egyptian pyramids, sells his flock of sheep and leaves the Andalusian region of Spain to look for it.
While Santiago’s spiritual journey may be difficult to replicate to say the least, the physical one simply needs time and patience. Follow the protagonist on his ferry ride from Spain to Tangier, Morocco and lose yourself in its medina, then head into the desert in search of the Al-Fayoum Oasis in Egypt and end your quest at the feet of the pyramids themselves.
Ian McEwan’s England
Ian McEwan’s Atonement starts off in South-Eastern England in an area known by the name of Surrey Hills, where Briony, a young girl with a passion for fairytales, happy endings and stories, misinterprets a crucial event in such a way as to forever change the lives of her sister Cecilia and her lover Robbie. The scene then shifts to France where Robbie is stationed as a soldier and Dunkirk, where he waits to return back to England, and finally to London, where years later, Briony, Cecilia and Robbie meet for Briony’s attempt at atoning her ‘sin’.
While London needs no introduction, the little known area of Surrey Hills, marketed by the local authorities as an ‘area of outstanding natural beauty’ is within easy reach from the British capital and a perfect retreat from its noise and pollution. For more information about this stretch of rolling hills and green fields, visit the official website which contains a treasure-trove of information.
>> Read about places to go in England besides London
Milan Kundera’s Prague
Along with Franz Kafka, Milan Kundera is one of the few Czech writers who has achieved international fame. Two of Kundera’s most famous books, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and The Book of Laughter and Forgetting are as intrinsically tied to the setting and influence of Prague as they are poignant and original.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being is the story of the tumultuous love between Tomas and Tereza at the time when the Prague Spring ends with the Soviet occupation of the Czech Republic. Kundera’s portrayal of his country under communist rule continues in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, where real places in Prague such as the old town square, Hradcany castle and Bartolomejska street are mixed with those that grow and live in the characters’ strange minds and within which everything is possible.
The best way to experience Prague in the sombre tones of Milan Kundera’s prose is to walk through the city and search for the relics of the communist era. While if you wish to do so yourself you will have no problems finding places of historical relevance, you can also simply book one of the many communist-themed walking tours available, such as this one.
Read more about literature and travel:
- 101 Top Travel Books for Indie Travelers
- 9 Trips Inspired by Travel Books that are Probably Too Crazy to Take
- 8 Great Travel Reads that Make You Want to Hit the Road
- 7 Famous People’s Homes Turned Museums