They say that a book is the cheapest kind of travel ticket. Good books can transport us to amazing places, without even requiring us to leave the comfort of our armchairs. To celebrate World Book Day on April 23, we wanted to pay tribute to titles that opened our eyes to fantastic settings we could only dream about.
Then we discovered that list would be never-ending…. So we decided to add a little twist to our criteria by featuring books that have countries or place names in their titles. Might one of these might be the inspiration for your next holiday, perhaps?
A Passage To India by EM Forster (1924)
Set against the backdrop of the British Raj and the 1920s Indian Independence movement, this novel is the tale of a young British schoolmistress, Adela Quested, who believes an Indian physician, Dr Aziz, assaulted her in a cave. Dr Aziz’s trial causes tensions between the British and Indians. The book has been named in Time magazine’s “All Time 100 Novels List”, and won the 1924 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction.
Congo by Michael Crichton (1980)
An expedition searching for diamonds deep in the rainforests of the Congo comes to an abrupt halt when the eight geologists are mysteriously and brutally killed by unknown creatures. Ten thousand miles away, supervisor Karen Ross watches a video transmission of the bloody aftermath and swears she will get to the bottom of this mystery. Elsewhere, primatologist Peter Elliot works with Amy, a gorilla who likes to finger paint … and who is now reproducing, with startling accuracy, an ancient Portuguese print dating back to the 15th century.
From Russia, With Love by Ian Fleming (1957)
British secret agent James 007 Bond is being targeted for elimination by Russia’s lethal SMERSH organisation. As bait, it offers the beautiful Tatiana Romanova, who lures 007 to Istanbul promising the top-secret Spektor, a Soviet decoding device that is much coveted by Bond’s agency, M16. Bond’s superior, M, orders him to go to Turkey to retrieve the device. But will Bond be able to escape the clutches of the assassin, a psychopath whose homicidal urges coincide with the full moon?
Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier (1936)
The Jamaica Inn in Daphne du Maurier’s book exists in real life in Cornwall, Britain, proudly touting itself as “the most famous smuggling inn” and is open all year. Du Maurier’s novel is a period story set in the early 17th century about a group of wreckers who are out for blood. Wreckers run ships aground in the shallows by placing lights in the wrong places along the coast, kill the sailors as they attempt to swim to the shore, and steal the cargo on board. Mary Yellan finds herself in this godforsaken place after the death of her mother, an inn where there are no guests and where an almost-seven-foot-tall bully seems to have everyone under his thumb.
Looking For Alaska by John Green (2005)
We are stretching it a bit with this one, where Alaska here does not refer to the place, but to a girl. Alaska Young, no less. Way before the very popular The Fault in Our Stars, John Green wrote Looking for Alaska. His first novel, published in 2005, is a story told through teenager Miles Halter’s eyes as he enrols in a boarding school to gain a deeper perspective on life – and as it turns out, also love. He is tired of his boring life and hopes that this new place will provide him with a much-needed thrill boost. But when the drama comes fast and furious, he knows that life is not only more eventful here, but that his will never be the same again.
Mexico by James A Michener (1992)
When an American journalist travels down south to report on the upcoming duel between two great matadors, he is ultimately swept up in the dramatic story of his own Mexican ancestry. The book’s scope is vast, going from the brilliance and brutality of the ancients, to the iron fist of the invading Spaniards, to modern Mexico, fighting through dust and bloodshed to build a nation upon the ashes of revolution.
Pearl Of China by Anchee Min (2010)
In the southern town of Chin-kiang, China, in the last days of the 19th century, two young girls become great friends. Willow is the only child of a destitute family, while Pearl is the headstrong daughter of Christian missionaries. She will ultimately become the renowned author Pearl S. Buck, but for now she is just a girl embarrassed by her blonde hair and enchanted by her new Chinese friend. The two embark on a friendship that will last through one of the most tumultuous periods in Chinese history.
Salmon Fishing In The Yemen by Paul Torday (2007)
Dr Alfred Jones is a shy fisheries expert stuck in a loveless marriage. One day, a rich and eccentric Yemeni sheik offers to fund a scheme to bring salmon fishing to his dry, desert country. Alfred originally rejects the idea as impossible, but ends up getting involved anyway. What follows is an uplifting journey that changes his life completely. This novel won the 2007 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction and was made into a 2011 film with Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt.
The Boys From Brazil by Ira Levin (1976)
Is it a prank, Jewish Nazi hunter Yakov Liebermann wonders when he receives a phone call from an investigative journalist in Brazil with information on concentration camp doctor Josef Mengele who performed horrific experiments on people during WWII. The journalist claims that Mengele, the “Angel of Death” of Auschwitz, is very much alive and hiding out in South America, and is planning to kill 94 men over several years. He is gathering a group of former colleagues for this project and the targets will all be 65 years old at the time of their murders. But before the phone conversation is over, the journalist is killed.
The Last King Of Scotland by Giles Forden (1998)
Put away your kilts and your haggis! This book does not take place in Scotland, but in Uganda. Nicholas Garrigan is a young Scottish doctor who goes to work in Uganda out of a sense of adventure. He somehow becomes the personal doctor to Idi Amin, the country’s president, who becomes a brutal dictator. Amin gives himself fanciful titles, including the King of Scotland, and Garrigan must come to terms with some of Amin’s extreme actions. The book won the 1999 Somerset Maugham award and was made into a 2006 film with James McAvoy and Forest Whitaker.
The Tailor Of Panama by John Le Carre (1996)
Harry Pendel is a British expatriate living in Panama, who specialises in supplying suits to the wealthy. He is actually an ex-convict who learnt tailoring in prison – a fact he keeps secret through a web of fabricated lies. This attracts the attention of Andy Osnard, a young agent with British spy service MI6, who has been sent to recruit agents in Panama; Andy decides to use Harry for his own gains. This novel was also made into a 2001 film with Pierce Brosnan.