Well, anybody that knows me knows I love reading. I’ve always loved books and the way that can transport you to different places if only for a short time. I’ve started reading really early and during my summer vacation when all the kids were sent in the countryside at their grandparents, my only friends that stuck with me were the books to spark wanderlust.
Moving forward in life, I’ve always gone through different stages, and every now and then I have periods when I read book after book. Especially when I cannot travel, but mostly when I do.
So I’ve come up with a list of favorites to read when you’re stuck at home and want to daydream about some distant location, or when you have a trip planned and want to learn something about that place.
I’m a huge fan of books that talk about culture and show us the real life of a place through the eyes of its characters. I also love reading books about a certain country or continent whenever I have an upcoming trip there. Or even if I am curious about a certain historical topic.
So, without further ado, here are my top picks for a good read that will spark wanderlust and will make you travel without actually traveling.
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Books to spark wanderlust
Behold the dreamers by Imbolo Mbue – New York and Cameroon
I honestly don’t remember how I found this book or who recommended it, but I am sure happy I did.
The story of Jende and his family who managed to leave Cameroon behind and build a life in New York City. But will they make it? A book that kept me guessing until its final page, wishing a great ending for this lovely hard-working family.
I was touched by the struggle, by how real the problems are in today’s society, even if the action takes place in 2008. An immigrant’s story torn between the love for his home country, and the love for this new amazing place called New York.
“People in this country, always worrying about how to eat, they pay someone good money to tell them: Eat this, don’t eat that. If you don’t know how to eat, what else can you know how to do in this world?”
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante – Naples, Italy
I’ve read many reviews about the 4 books in the My Brilliant Friend series, but I wasn’t influenced by any of them. I think it’s hard for people that haven’t lived in a “dark” society as Naples was (and maybe still is in certain places) to understand how real everything is.
Turning one page after the other, I really went back on the narrow streets of Naples, the shriveled buildings, the lack of optimism, poverty and the lack of desire to change something.
I went back on the streets of Florence, on a beach south of Naples, in Ischia. All through the pages of Elena Ferrante’s books, and the stories of one long friendship. A difficult friendship, one that you cannot explain, and you probably shouldn’t even try.
I loved it and I hated it all at the same time. The characters made me angry, but I also understood them somehow. As always, I’ve loved the books more than I liked the HBO tv series. But you should make your judgment after reading the books to will spark wanderlust for sure.
“At that moment I knew what the plebs were, much more clearly than when, years earlier, she had asked me. The plebs were us. The plebs were that fight for food and wine, that quarrel over who should be served first and better, that dirty floor on which the waiters clattered back and forth, those increasingly vulgar toasts. The plebs were my mother, who had drunk wine and now was leaning against my father’s shoulder, while he, serious, laughed, his mouth gaping, at the sexual allusions of the metal dealer. They were all laughing, even Lila, with the expression of one who has a role and will play it to the utmost.”
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert – Italy, India, Bali
A classic and I’ve written about it in the past. I’ve read it while I was in university and before I’ve traveled through all the places I’ve been to since then.
The book made me think it was possible to leave everything behind and just travel to find yourself. The Italy part, in particular, caught my attention and maybe was one of the reasons I applied for an Erasmus scholarship in Italy. It might have been the impulse I needed to make a change and that transformed my life forever.
“A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave.
A soul mates purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you have to transform your life, then introduce you to your spiritual master…”
You still haven’t read it, get the book here!
The Traveling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa – Japan
A beautiful friendship story between a man and its cat. They travel together through the whole of Japan and living stories of good things and bad things, friendships and jealousy, family and heartbreak.
A book anyone should read.
“My story will be over soon. But it’s not something to be sad about. Remembering those who went ahead. Remembering those who will follow after. And someday, we will meet all those people again, out beyond the horizon”
Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig- Myanmar
A novel of love and war, colonialism and ethnicity, taking place during the most violent period of world history.
You’ll be transported to Southeast Asia and live alongside Benny and Khin and learn a whole lot about the country’s recent past through their eyes.
“Their crime was their existence, Louisa had obliquely understood, and she had heeded Mama’s plea that they must not make a noise, taking each blow soundlessly, keeping her tears on the inside, until the lake of her grief had become so wide it had seemed almost inviting, a thing into which she could escape.”
The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak – Turkey
I emerged in a crazy hectic Istanbul right from the first pages and I almost smelled the spices in the Turkish kitchen once we got inside.
Turkish cuisine is one of my favorites and the fact that the characters have the names of ingredients won me over and gave the book a special flavor.
However, the novel is not breezy and discusses hard topics as the Armenian genocide or Turkey’s current regime. I’ve read all the books written by Shafak, and I always loved the way she tells charming stories, how she creates her characters, and how she hooks you with the local culture.
“Because time is a drop in the ocean, and you cannot measure off one drop against another to see which one is bigger, which one is smaller.”
In a sunburned country by Bill Bryson – Australia
Bill Bryson takes the reader through an unbeaten path towards discovering Australia. Home to many things and creatures that might kill you, he explores it and loves every step of the way.
“As the saying goes, it takes all kinds to make the world go around, though perhaps some shouldn’t go quite so far around it as others.”
See why and read the book by ordering it here!
Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam by Andrew X. Pham
The story of a Vietnamese – American man that sets off on a bicycle initiatory trip in pursuit of his adoptive homeland and his motherland, in the search for cultural identity.
A man who sells everything and sets to find himself and his origins, only not to feel part of any of the two.
“Nobody gives way to anybody. Everyone just angles, points, dives directly toward his destination, pretending it is an all-or-nothing gamble. People glare at one another and fight for maneuvering space. All parties are equally determined to get the right-of-way–insist on it. They swerve away at the last possible moment, giving scant inches to spare. The victor goes forwards, no time for a victory grin, already engaging in another contest of will. Saigon traffic is Vietnamese life, a continuous charade of posturing, bluffing, fast moves, tenacity and surrenders.”
The Mango Season by Amulya Malladi – India
I’ve read this book while I was on vacation in Vietnam for the first time, without any relation to the country. However, the book is all about passion and controversy, cultural differences, and traditions that are still stuck in modern days of Indian society.
An Indian girl from the upper cast studying in the US traveling home during the mango season to inform her family about her desire to marry an American.
Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen – Nairobi, Kenya
Isak Dinesen’s memoir of her years spent in Africa, on a coffee plantation in the hills near Nairobi, Kenya. If the title sounds familiar, it might be because a movie starring Merryl Streep was made based on the novel.
“Perhaps he knew, as I did not, that the Earth was made round so that we would not see too far down the road.”
Last train to Istanbul bu Ayşe Kulin- France and Turkey
From Ankara to Paris, Cairo, and Berlin, Last Train to Istanbul is an uplifting tale of love and adventure during tumultuous times when the Nazis invade Paris.
“After all is said and done, what is life anyway? Aren’t we all going to die in the end? I believe life is only worth living if, while we are on this earth, we can do honorable things.”
Escape from the Ordinary by Julie Bradley
Glen and Julie sail around the world and tell their amazing personal true story. From the Caribbean to Fiji, to South American countries and much more.
The Temporary Bride: A Memoir of Love and Food in Iran by Jennifer Klinec – Iran
The writer leaves her corporate job in order to open a cooking school in her apartment. Her quest for original recipes takes her to Iran where she wants to learn about the Persian kitchen from a local woman. Needless to say, it all ends with a love story that will fight cultural differences and the harsh Iranian laws.
“Herbs carried in special baskets, bread wrapped in knotted, muslin cloths, thick stews soured with unripe grape juice, carrots boiled with sugar and rosewater, yoghurt hung from dripping bags, its whey dried in sheets on trays in the sun.”
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – USA and Nigeria
The book that started my passion for Chimamanda’s writing. Ever since I read about “Americanah” in an in-flight magazine, I’ve devoured every book I could find written by the Nigerian writer.
A Nigerian immigrant story about feeling an outsider in the US, but also back home in Lagos once she returns. Characters talk about race, nationality, and many other hot topics.
“The only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it’s a lie. I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America. When you are black in America and you fall in love with a white person, race doesn’t matter when you’re alone together because it’s just you and your love. But the minute you step outside, race matters. But we don’t talk about it.”
Marrakech Express by PeterMillar – Morocco
A great memoir based on a train journey back in 1969 in Morocco.
“Nothing in the world is quite like Morocco. Research for Marrakech Express took a year and covered everywhere from the Algerian border to magical Fez, cosmopolitan Rabat and crazy Casablanca, not to mention Eid el Adha in Larache” (Peter Millar on TripFiction Facebook).
Lands of Lost Borders – the Silk Road by Kate Harris
Kate sets off to explore the Silk Road on her bicycle together with a childhood friend.
“Beyond avenging my childhood ideals of explorers, and figuring out how to be one myself, I wanted to bike the Silk Road as a practical extension of my thesis at Oxford: to study how borders make and break what is wild in the world, from mountain ranges to people’s minds, and how science, or more specifically wilderness conservation, might bridge those divides. So there I was, rich in unemployable university degrees, poor in cash, with few possessions to my name beyond a tent, a bicycle, and some books. I felt great about my life decisions until I felt terrified.”
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