Which books to read whilst travelling

What to read whilst you travel around the world?

I have always been a reader, especially when travelling I find it educational and suggestive to read famous books and novels set in the country I am discovering: to learn more about the culture and history, or even just to complement my impressions with the ones of a local author that knows what he is talking about in much more depth than me. It always makes the experience somewhat more complete, and it brings to life small and huge details about a country’s nuances that my senses alone wouldn’t perceive.
In this round the world trip I managed to read 10 books, and I wanted to share my impressions and recommend them should you travel in these countries. Most of them were recommended to me by locals, friends that have been to the country before, or by other travellers met along the way. I am very grateful for the tips and I can only give them back to the rest of the world by sharing them myself. A big traveller is often a big reader too and viceversa, so I am sure some of you will find some use in reading this.

The healing land: a Kalahari journey by Rupert Isaacson
A book to learn more about the bushmen, the real owners and sole solitary protagonists of the incredible land of landscapes that is Namibia.

South Africa
The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
A book that helps you see the contrasts of South Africa, it’s a book for boxers: real ones and metaphorical ones. It’s a book you won’t forget, that you will struggle to let go when it’s finished.
The Pickup by Nadine Gordimer
Story of love, racism and immigration in a country where a lot of it is still ongoing in the background even if huge progress has already been made.

First they killed my father: a daughter of Cambodia remembers by Loung Ung
Hard to read, one of the most sad and violent novels I have ever read, but if you go to Cambodia and go and visit all the Khmer rouge horrendous historical sites, you have to read this. It’s a must, a duty more than a pleasure when you visit this fantastic country that had to suffer so much and not long ago.

Beauty and sadness by Kawabata Yasunari
Japan’s unavoidable dramas are perfectly explained by Nobel prize winner Yasunari through the eyes of the writers and artists that are the protagonists of this novel set in a dreamy beautiful Kyoto.
God Hates Japan by Douglas Coupland
The sense of ineptitude that represents the teenage years is greater in Japan than in any other country, or at least you will think so after reading this crude book.

Nostra signora della solitudine by Marcela Serrano
No translation in English that I could find, but for the Italians or for who wants to practice their Spanish this book is a little gem. A delicate thriller full of the complicacies of being a woman.

Marching powder by Rusty Young
The harsh and sometimes unbelievable truth of the drug trafficking in this infamous Bolivian prison that ended up as a must visit in the Lonely Planet thanks to Thomas McFadden’s tours.

Of love and other demons by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
One of my favourites by Marquez, after 100 years of solitude. If you go to Cartagena you have to read this novel and time travel to see this town when it was Latin America’s biggest slave port. If you see it as beautiful as it is today you might forget this fundamental part of its colourful history.

Ok, this is a bit cheating since Italy is not part of the travel but it’s the come back. Although I feel like I had to add this tetralogy by this mysterious Italian novelist since I have heard of her a lot during my travels. As soon as I met someone that loved reading and that realised I was Italian they immediately asked me if I read her. Not only my answer was no, but also that I hadn’t heard of her! This made me realise that she is much more famous abroad than back home. Anyway, now I can say I have read the books, and they are incredible. And I cannot wait to go and visit Naples to see more of what she describes in this incredible, epic friendship that unfolds in the four books.

My brilliant friend (L’amica geniale)
The story of a new name (Storia del nuovo cognome)
Those who leave and those who stay (Storia di chi fugge e di chi resta)
The Story of the lost child (Storia della bambina perduta)

by Elena Ferrante

Please let me know if you recommend other books worth reading set in any of the countries you have visited!

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