Top Ten Tuesday: Books Set in Another Country

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

March 27: Books That Take Place In Another Country

Since I’ve read a lot of books set in other countries I had to narrow this one down a bit. So I’m looking at books that I read in the past year:

41044w47wfl-_ac_us218_1. The Lives of Shadows by Barbara Hodgson – Syria

This “Illustrated Novel” sounded really interesting. In 1914 a young British man goes traveling and falls in love with Damascus. He buys a house there but WWI leaves him wounded, and a war in Syria causes further damage. He finally returns to the house years later and discovers that someone else might be living there too. We also follow the journey of Asilah, the house’s previous (and maybe still current?) inhabitant. However, I felt like the author didn’t explore these stories as much as I would have liked because she was more interested in the illustrations and photographs that she included.

51vs6bzd8kl-_ac_us218_2. Hummingbirds Fly Backwards by Amy Cheung– China

To be honest, I decided to read this book because it was free on kindle. It wasn’t terrible but it wasn’t great either. It follows Chow Jeoi, a twenty-nine-year-old lingerie saleswoman in Hong Kong. She’s in love with Sam, a married man, and is willing to wait for him. Her friend, Chui Yuk, is willing to do anything to support her boyfriend’s writing career. Meanwhile, Yau Ying has been with her boyfriend for seven years and feels that their relationship is missing something. The biggest problem with this book for me was the fact that I didn’t like any of these women. Chow Jeoi is asked, late in the book, if she ever worries about hurting Sam’s wife. She’s honestly surprised. Like it might never have occurred to her that his wife had feelings otherwise! That made it hard for me to really feel anything for her. So while it was well written, I’m hesitant to recommend it.

51nmi7tdxfl-_ac_us218_3. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent- Iceland

I just finished reading this actually, and my overall impression was positive. It tells the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, a real woman who was executed for murder in Iceland in 1829. While awaiting her execution she was sent to a farm to stay. The family who owns the farm is (understandably) horrified and worried for their safety. But as Agnes spends her time on the farm, the family learns that she’s not the psycho that they’d been expecting. She tells them the story of her life, including what really happened the night that her boss/lover and his friend were killed. The Icelandic setting is really vivid here. I read it’s going to be made into a film soon, and I’m sure that it will look beautiful onscreen. Jennifer Lawrence is going to star in it, which doesn’t thrill me because I think she’s not quite right for the role.

51j2bc8fhbjl-_sl160_4. The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth- Germany

I read this for a few reasons. One is that I love Kate Forsyth. The other is that it’s a WWII story inspired by Beauty and the Beast. That sort of made me curious. Actually, it’s inspired by the Grimm’s brothers version of the tale, The Singing Springing Lark. But despite the source material, it’s not fantasy. It’s historical fiction, using a lot of real-life people, and the “beasts” are metaphorical. To save her family, Ava must marry Leo, a young Nazi officer. Ava hates the Nazi regime and is a member of an underground resistance movement. So she hides her activities from Leo even though she’s falling in love with him. But she gradually realizes that there’s more to Leo than meets the eye. He may wear a Nazi uniform, but he’s as opposed to what they’re doing as Ava is, and he’s using his position in the military to try to save who he can, and help the allies. Eventually, things reach a point where Ava and Leo are separated, and Ava must save Leo from deadly consequences.

51qcjqbtgll-_ac_us218_5. Troll: A Love Story by Johanna Sinisalo– Finland

This is a weird book.  It follows Angel, a young photographer, who encounters a group of teens harassing a wounded young troll. In the world of the book, trolls are real, but they’re an extremely rare species. He takes the troll in and does his best to care for it, despite the fact that there’s not much information about troll care that he can find. The troll releases Angel’s own animal instincts. It’s a wild animal and as it grows, it becomes more and more unmanageable, leading Angel to make a difficult, and disturbing choice. I felt like this book was strange. I appreciated the way the writer tied Finnish folklore in with the question of animalistic tendencies manifest themselves in “civilized” people. There were parts that definitely made me go “ick” but I think that is intentional.

51vtshbedl-_ac_us218_6. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery– France

Even though this book is set in a Paris apartment building I think it could take place almost anywhere. Renee is the concierge of an upscale apartment building. She’s short, cranky, and overweight. Unknown to the building’s tenants, she’s also extremely intelligent, well-read, curious, and passionate about art. Paloma is a twelve-year-old girl who lives in the building.  She’s also super smart, but she’s disgusted by what seems like the futility of life. She plans to kill herself on her thirteenth birthday unless she comes across a good reason not to. To put people off she pretends to be an average pre-teen. When Paloma and Renee get to know each other they form an unexpected friendship. The book is really about the unexpected connections that unite people. It’s about how hope can change someone’s life. It’s not an easy read. Both narrators spend a lot of time thinking and philosophizing. But I found it worth the effort.

41eeavstjfl-_ac_us218_7. The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan– Italy

I normally like Ian McEwan but this book disappointed me. It follows a couple, Colin and Mary, on vacation in Italy. Their relationship has problems. When they meet another couple, Robert and Caroline, they’re happy. It takes their focus off their relationship and each other. But things between the couples start to become uncomfortable, and when Colin and Mary want to leave, they encounter resistance. There’s a pervasive sense of dread in this book, and it plays out in the horrifying conclusion. The problem is that there’s very little context for anything. We don’t know enough about Colin and Mary to care about them, and we don’t know enough about Robert and Caroline to understand why they behave the way that they do.

41aqeleynnl-_ac_us218_8. Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala– India

Olivia is the wife of a British civil servant in India in the 1920s. She’s bored. She finds herself intrigued by Nawab, a minor Indian prince who is involved in some shady goings-on. Olivia’s attraction to Nawab results in an affair and a scandal that humiliates her husband and shocks everyone. Years later, Olivia’s granddaughter goes to India looking for information about her grandmother. How did Olivia’s affair happen in a society that was so segregated? What happened after the scandal? As her granddaughter explores letters, journals, and notable places, history begins to repeat itself in strange ways. I liked this book, but something about the writing put me off. There was a distance between the writer, the reader, and both protagonists. That kept me from investing as much as I might have.

51iehedn8ml-_ac_us218_9. Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch- The Netherlands– This is another book that takes place in the Netherlands but could really be set anywhere. The main character, M, was once a successful novelist, whose most popular book was based on a real-life disappearance. Now M’s career is declining. But his neighbor seems oddly obsessed with him. We follow these characters and alternate between them and the story that is told in M’s famous novel. Something links the events of the book, the real-life crime, M, and his neighbor. But what? This book is slow going at times, and none of the characters are particularly pleasant. However, if you like the reveal at the end, it’s worth reading. If not, you might resent investing so much time getting there.

10. Too many books to count set in England. I’m just including the ones I liked!

Silence For the Dead by Simone St. James

Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

The Wildling Sisters by Eve Chase

The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

Precious Bane by Mary Webb

The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Best of 2017

For the Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday:

December 12: Top Ten Favorite Books of 2017

I’m doing the best I’ve read in 2017 rather than the best that were published this year. I had no intention of just doing books by female writers but that’s how it worked out this year!

517p1odjdbl-_ac_us218_1. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery– It took me a while to start loving this book. The main characters initially aren’t all that likable. Renee is a concierge at a wealthy apartment building in Paris. She’s a fifty four year old widow with no formal education but a lifetime of reading under her belt. She conceals her intelligence from the tenants in her building to avoid curiosity. Paloma is a twelve year old girl who lives in the building. She’s highly intelligent but she considers her parents snobs and is convinced that life is meaningless. She plans to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday unless she can find a good reason not to. In each other, it seems that Renee and Paloma have found an unlikely kindred spirit.  As I said it was slow moving, but I came to care about these characters and invest in their future. I looked forward to the random, quirky events in which they both found a strange beauty.

“Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside she is covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary–and terrible elegant. ”

51u68hsyiml-_ac_us218_2. Play it As It Lays by Joan Didion I “discovered” Joan Didion last year, but this was the first time I’ve read her fiction. This narrative switches back and forth between the main character’s first person narration and a strangely detached third person narration. Set in Hollywood in the 1970’s, Maria Wyeth is a minor screen actress. Through her eyes, we see a culture of exploitation, built on open secrets. Just as the narration goes back and forth between Maria’s first person narration and that of others around her, the story itself is alternately shaped by Maria’s choices and the choices of others.  The word that comes to mind when describing this book is “lonely”. It’s a lonely book but there’s beauty in that loneliness.

“One thing in my defense, not that it matters: I know something Carter never knew, or Helene, or maybe you. I know what “nothing” means, and keep on playing.”

51dqnh9enml-_ac_us218_3. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye– My expectations of this book weren’t high (I’ve read some pretty disappointing Jane Eyre fan fiction!) so maybe it was the fact that it was a pleasant surprise that makes this book stand out. Maybe I just loved the gleeful, dark, slightly messed up humor of a homicidal Jane Eyre figure. In most gothic romance (Jane Eyre included) we see what is essentially a Bluebeard narrative. A young girl goes to live with/work for a wealthy man, who may or may now be a murderer. She usually falls in love with him regardless.  Rebecca, Dragonwyck, and Mistress of Mellyn, are other notable examples. Here Lyndsay Faye turns that narrative on it’s head. Yes, our hero, Mr. Thornfield, has secrets, but in this novel, Jane’s past is just as colorful.

“Reader, I murdered him…”

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_4. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara– I always feel the need to put a warning before recommending this book, because I feel like it’s such a hard read. It’s long (about 700 pages) and emotionally draining. When we learn about the main character’s background, the abuse and trauma that he endures may be triggering for some readers. Even though I wasn’t triggered,  I found it almost too horrible to be believed. I certainly didn’t want to believe that such abuse could be real. But I can’t deny that it most likely isn’t as fictional as I’d like to believe.  I could see the wrong person, picking up this book at the wrong point in their life might see it as an author saying that there are things too horrible to ever truly recover from. Maybe that is partially what she’s saying, but I feel like she’s doing something more. She’s depicting love in all its forms. She shows how people who love someone don’t give up on them just because it seems hopeless. She shows the beauty that’s a part of the struggle through life.  And ultimately the lesson that she leaves us with is one of compassion.

“But then again, he would think, what about his life- and about Jude’s life, too- wasn’t it a miracle? He should have stayed in Wyoming, he should have been a ranch hand himself. Jude should have wound up – where? In prison, or in a hospital, or dead, or worse. But they hadn’t. Wasn’t it a miracle that someone who was basically unexceptional could life a life in which he made millions pretending to be other people, that in that life that person would fly from city to city, would spend his days having his every need fulfilled, working in which he was treated like the potentate of a small, corrupt country? Wasn’t it a miracle to be adopted at thirty, to find people who loved you so much that they wanted to call you their own? Wasn’t it a miracle to have survived the unsurvivable?Wasn’t friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely? Wasn’t this house, this beauty, this comfort, this life a miracle?”

 

41wjujfmkyl-_ac_us218_5. Ex Libris: Confessions of A Common Reader by Anne Fadiman- Anne Fadiman is a creature that most bibliophiles will recognize. She’s the woman who will relish a really long word (or Sesquipedalian, which, as I’ve recently learned, means really long word)  rolling it over her tongue and savoring the taste. She’ll look forward to the opportunity to read aloud. She’ll challenge you to see who can find the most typos on the restaurant menu. These essays describe her lifelong love affair with language and books, from her childhood, building with books rather than blocks, or “marrying libraries” with her husband of five years. She takes us inside her “odd shelf” (“small, mysterious corpus of volumes whose subject matter is completely unrelated to the rest of the library, yet which, upon closer inspection reveals a good deal about its owner”) which is sort of a metaphor for her brain, I suppose.

“Books wrote our life story, and as they accumulated on our shelves (and on our windowsills, and underneath our sofa, and on top of our refrigerator), they became chapters in it themselves.”

61kl8q74sml-_ac_us218_6. The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff– This was actually the second Lauren Groff book I read this year (the first was Arcadia) but it stands out as a departure from her usual style. While Fates and Furies and Arcadia feature beautiful, poetic prose; this is more plot-based than either of those. It’s part contemporary novel, part ghost story, part historical fiction, and part magical realism. These different elements come together in ways that are occasionally messy, but that’s part of their charm. It’s somewhat less polished than Groff’s other work, and I love it for that reason too.

“Then, when we had done so, we put our hands upon the freezing cold monster, our monster. And this is what we felt: vertigo, an icicle through our strong hearts, our long-lost childhoods. Sunshine in a field and crickets and the sweet tealeaf stink of a new ball mitt and a rock glinting with mica and a chaw of bubblegum wrapping in sweet sweet tendrils down our throats and the warm breeze up our shorts and the low vibrato of lake loons and the sun and the sun and the warm sun and this is what we felt; the sun.”

41z63vm8bwl-_ac_us218_7. Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing And Life by Anne Lamott–  This memoir/writing advice guide has been recommended to me over and over again over the past several years, but something irrational in me was turned off by something about it. I finally pushed past whatever it was, and I’m really glad that it did. Lamott shows how difficult writing can sometimes be, from the discipline of actually doing it, to the fact that writing and anxiety go hand in had, to the understanding that by writing a book you’re essentially sharing yourself with strangers. There’s no way to separate the personal from the professional. But she gives her readers advice  with humor and  honesty.

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

51m2nd4g30l-_ac_us218_8. The Unfinished World and Other Stories by Amber Sparks-These short stories defy genre and description. They’re strange, inventive, weird, and uncanny. Though they draw on mythical sources and themes, there’s also something very modern about these stories. It’s hard to discuss some of these stories without spoiling them, but let’s just say that there’s a retelling of “The Wild Swans” a story about a space janitor, and a story about a time traveler desperately trying to stop an artist from creating a painting.

“It just goes to show, people said later. It just goes to show how fairy tales always stop too soon in the telling. Others said it was never a fairy tale at all. Anyone could see that. They were all too lovely, too obviously doomed. But the wisest said, that’s exactly what a fairy tale is. The happily-ever-after is just a false front. It hides the hungry darkness inside.

41xbvxm07hl-_ac_us218_9. Jane Austen: The Secret Radical by Helena Kelly– This is a unique look at Austen’s work that many Jane-ites would do well to read. It argues that in the twenty first century we frequently misread Jane Austen. Her work was more socially and politically aware than we realize. A 19th century readership would have been aware of many of the small references she makes to events that were then current, and they would have understood her work very differently from how we understand it now. Helena Kelly analyses Austen’s work, looking at several of the issues that Austen tackles explicitly and and subtextually. For example, Mansfield Park doesn’t just touch on the slave trade. References to cases and literature that a 19th century readership would know,  are pervasive and they make the book far more political than a 21st century audience realizes. I think that at times the author gets so caught up in her ideas that she reaches a little too far, but I also think that she makes some excellent points about reading Austen through the lens of her own time rather than ours.

And once we read like this, we start to see her novels in an entirely new light. Not an undifferentiated procession of witty, ironical stories about romance and drawing rooms, but books in which an authoress reflects back to her readers their world as it really is—complicated, messy, filled with error and injustice. This is a world in which parents and guardians can be stupid and selfish; in which the Church ignores the needs of the faithful; in which landowners and magistrates—the people with local power—are eager to enrich themselves even when that means driving the poorest into criminality. Jane’s novels, in truth, are as revolutionary, at their heart, as anything that Wollstonecraft or Tom Paine wrote. But by and large, they’re so cleverly crafted that unless readers are looking in the right places—reading them in the right way—they simply won’t understand.

61xeuwoxcl-_ac_us218_110. Night Film by Marisha Pessl– This is a weird book to describe. On one hand you can say that it’s about a reporter investigating the apparent suicide of a celebrated filmmaker’s daughter. On the other hand, you could describe it as an eerie, hypnotic adventure that gets better as the plot grows more convoluted. Throughout the pages we see props: newspaper clippings, website screenshots, a coffee stained transcript, and stolen police reports that are intended to blur the line between fiction and reality a bit more. It also blurs the line between film and literature a bit. The structure and the atmosphere of the book are very film noir. We learn about the victim’s father’s films in vivid detail. As we get into some possible theories regarding the girl’s fate, it starts to feel like the more outlandish possibilities are more likely than the realistic ones.

“The Shadow is what people are hunting throughout the tale. Or else it can dog the hero, refusing to leave him alone. It’s a potent force that bewitches as much as it torments. It can lead to hell or heaven. It’s the hollow forever inside you, never filled. It’s everything in life you can’t touch, hold on to, so ephemeral and painful it makes you gasp. You might even glimpse it for a few seconds before it’s gone. Yet the image will live with you. You’ll never forget it as long as you live. It’s what you’re terrified of and paradoxically what you’re looking for. We are nothing without our shadows. They give our otherwise pale, blinding world definition. They allow us to see what’s right in front of us. Yet they’ll haunt us until we’re dead.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Settings I’d Love To Visit

For the Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday:

December 5: Ten Bookish Settings I’d Love to Visit

I decided to keep this list to bookish settings that actually exist. So much as I’d like to visit Narnia, or Hogwarts, these can all be found on a map or globe. Also I decided it to limit to places where I’ve never been (yet).

1. Prince Edward Island, Canada as seen in the work of LM Montgomery– I’ve loved the work on LM Mongomery since I was a child and Prince Edward Island is a character that is consistent in her work. It sounds beautiful. It looks beautiful based on the pictures that I’ve seen. It’s definitely on my literary travel list!

prince-edward-island

“…the Lake of Shining Waters was blue — blue — blue; not the changeful blue of spring, nor the pale azure of summer, but a clear, steadfast, serene blue, as if the water were past all modes and tenses of emotion and had settled down to a tranquillity unbroken by fickle dreams.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of the Island

2. Scotland as seen in the work of Diana Gabaldon, The Lymond Chronicles by  Dorothy Dunnett, To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, Lady of the Glen by Jennifer Roberson,  the  Too Deep for Tears trilogy by Katheryn Lynne Davis, Island of the Swans by Ciji Ware- I’ve read a lot of books set in Scotland, that draw on the rich history and beautiful landscape. My third grade teacher was Scottish and had what sounded like the coolest accent to me at the time. In some ways it seems that Scotland is an enchanted fairy land more than a real place to me! But I do know people who have been there and assure me it’s real, and that while there are certainly the fantasy places that are described in books, there are many normal places too.

66c2b59e857d9a5f2446cde12fab45fc-scotland-travel-scotland-trip

“The sigh of all the seas breaking in measure round the isles soothed them; the night wrapped them; nothing broke their sleep, until, the birds beginning and the dawn weaving their thin voices in to its whiteness”
― Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

3. Cornwall, England as seen in the work of Daphne DuMaurier– The cliff-side mansion in Rebecca. The smugglers hideout in Jamaica Inn, the pirates of Frenchman’s Creek. Cornwall is a place of mystery, danger and romance in my eyes, thanks in large part to Daphne DuMaurier.

the-cornish-coast-of-rebecca-31

“The peace of Manderley. The quietude and the grace. Whoever lived within its walls, whatever trouble there was and strife, however much uneasiness and pain, no matter what tears were shed, what sorrows borne, the peace of Manderley could not be broken or the loveliness destroyed. The flowers that died would bloom again another year, the same birds build their nests, the same trees blossom. That old quiet moss smell would linger in the air, and the bees would come, and crickets, the herons build their nests in the deep dark woods. The butterflies would dance their merry jug across the lawns, and spiders spin foggy webs, and small startled rabbits who had no business to come trespassing poke their faces through the crowded shrubs. There would be lilac, and honeysuckle still, and the white magnolia buds unfolding slow and tight beneath the dining-room window. No one would ever hurt Manderley. It would lie always in its hollow like an enchanted thing, guarded by the woods, safe, secure, while the sea broke and ran and came again in the little shingle bays below.”

4. The Yorkshire Moors, England as seen in the work of the Bronte sisters, and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgden Burnett

moors-wuthering_heights

‘And what are those golden rocks like when you stand under them?’ she once asked.

The abrupt descent of Penistone Crags particularly attracted her notice; especially when the setting sun shone on it and the topmost heights, and the whole extent of landscape besides lay in shadow. I explained that they were bare masses of stone, with hardly enough earth in their clefts to nourish a stunted tree.

‘And why are they bright so long after it is evening here?’ she pursued.

‘Because they are a great deal higher up than we are,’ replied I; ‘you could not climb them, they are too high and steep. In winter the frost is always there before it comes to us; and deep into summer I have found snow under that black hollow on the north-east side!’

-Wuthering Heights- Emily Bronte

“Listen to th’ wind wutherin’ round the house,” she said. “You could bare stand up on the moor if you was out on it tonight.”
Mary did not know what “wutherin'” meant until she listened, and then she understood. It must mean that hollow shuddering sort of roar which rushed round and round the house, as if the giant no one could see were buffeting it and beating at the walls and windows to try to break in. But one knew he could not get in, and somehow it made one feel very safe and warm inside a room with a red coal fire.”
― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

5. Paris, France as seen in Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens- Yes, I am very aware that these are books that depict very different era’s in Paris’ history. Of the three the Paris in The Elegance of the Hedgehog is probably most like the Paris I’d visit today. But I also know that the Cathedral de Notre Dame , still stands, with it’s gargoyles even if Quasimodo isn’t hiding among them. And there are still shades of the reign of terror that Dickens depicted.  I’ve read about Paris in a lot of other books too. Books set in occupied Paris during WWII. Books depicting la belle epoque. In some ways that convergence of beauty and violence is what makes the city seem so appealing to me.

visuel-carrousel-dossier-ou-sortir-le-soir-a-paris-740x380-c-dr

“Admirable, however, as the Paris of the present day appears to you, build up and put together again in imagination the Paris of the fifteenth century; look at the light through that surprising host of steeples, towers, and belfries; pour forth amid the immense city, break against the points of its islands, compress within the arches of the bridges, the current of the Seine, with its large patches of green and yellow, more changeable than a serpent’s skin; define clearly the Gothic profile of this old Paris upon an horizon of azure, make its contour float in a wintry fog which clings to its innumerable chimneys; drown it in deep night, and observe the extraordinary play of darkness and light in this sombre labyrinth of buildings; throw into it a ray of moonlight, which shall show its faint outline and cause the huge heads of the towers to stand forth from amid the mist; or revert to that dark picture, touch up with shade the thousand acute angles of the spires and gables, and make them stand out, more jagged than a shark’s jaw, upon the copper-coloured sky of evening. Now compare the two.”

-Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo

“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out…”
― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

6. Barcelona, Spain as seen in The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon- The Barcelona seen in this novel is a twisty, Gothic place full of hidden secrets. In other words, it’s the kind of place I could really go for! Sure Zafon claims that some locations from the novel such as the rambling Hospice of Santa Lucia or the mysterious Cemetery of Forgotten Books are fictional, but it seems like the kind of place where one might turn a corner and unexpectedly find something strange and beautiful.gothic-quarter-barcelona

“Before we knew it, we were walking along the breakwater until the whole city, shining with silence, speak out at our feet like the greatest mirage in the universe, emerging from the pool of the harbor waters. We sat on the edge of the jetty to gaze at the sight.

“This city is a sorceress, you know, Daniel? It gets under your skin and steals your soul without you knowing it.”

-The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

7. The Greek Islands as seen in The Magus by John Fowles- The book’s setting, the island of Phraxos, is technically fictional. But the author based it on his time on the real Greek island of Spetses, so I think it still counts for this list. The island that Fowles describes is beautiful and mysterious and isolated. It’s the kind of place where it’s easy to be overwhelmed and see menace hidden in the beauty. That’s certainly what happens to our narrator, Nicholas Urfe, in the novel. But since his sanity is open to debate, I think it’s also the kind of place where I might enjoy going and getting away from it all.

greek-zante-ap

“The lifeless sea was ruffled here and there by a lost zephyr, by a stippling shoal of sardines, dark ash-blue lines that snaked, broad then narrow, in slow motion across the shimmering mirageous surface, as if the water was breeding corruption.”

-The Magus by John Fowles

8. India as seen in The Far Pavillions by MM Kaye- Actually, I think that parts of this novel also take place in what is now Pakistan and Afghanistan. While it’s set in the 19th century the beautiful mountains stand out to me as a strong setting. It’s what I remember most about the book, and what I’d most love to see if I ever visit that part of the world. 10717253

“They rode out together from the shadows of the trees, leaving the Bala Hissar and the glowing torch of the burning Residency behind them, and spurred away across the flat lands towards the mountains…
And it may even be that they found their Kingdom.”
― M.M. Kaye, The Far Pavilions

9. Egypt as seen in The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif- When I was a kid I think I imagined Egypt as being desert, pyramids, sphinxes, and mummies walking around wrapped in toilet paper (in retrospect I think my childhood perception of Egypt might have been largely based on an episode of Scooby Doo). The Egypt that this book depicts has none of that. Well, we do see desert and pyramids, but  we also see cities and the Nile. It makes Egypt seem like a vivid place that’s almost breathes and has a pulse.

wte-cairo-hero

“Fields and more fields on either side of the road.From where they are it looks as if the whole world were green.But from higher up,from a hill-if there were a hill in this flat country-or from a pyramid(one of the many that two thousand years ago lined this route from Thebes to Memphis,from the Delta to the Cataract)or from an aeroplane today,you would be able to see how narrow the strip green was,how closely it clung to the winding river.The river like a lifeline thrown across the desert, the villages and the town hanging on to it, clustering together, glancing over their shoulders at the desert always behind them.Appeasing it,finally,by making it the dwelling of their head.”
― Ahdaf Soueif, The Map of Love

10. Ireland as seen in the novels of Maeve Binchy, Cecelia Ahern, Marian Keyes, the Exit Unicorn series by Cindy Brandner, The Mermaid’s Singing by Lisa Carey- In some ways I think if Ireland in a way similar to Scotland; full of myths and lore. But I’ve also read enough Irish work set in contemporary times to have a better sense of what it is today. I’d still like to go, because I think that the richness of the lore pervades a place.

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But the sea, despite its allure, is not our destination. For we seek land- a land of myth and madness, of poets and politicians, rebels and raconteurs, of blood and brotherhood. A land unlike any other, half legend, half truth, wholly and terribly beautiful.

We fly through the night, until we see a line on the horizon, and we feel the relief of homecoming after such a very long voyage, after the faceless ocean undulating eternally beneath us. And so here we arrive, to the edge of a country of limestone cliffs, soft-faced with moss and nesting gulls . In we fly across a patchwork quilt of a thousand shades of green and low stone walls, with sheep dotting the dawn’s landscape. But do not let this enchantment fool you, for this is a land that has known much pain, whose fields are watered well and deep with blood. This is an old land, and our people have lived here long, some saying we were the small dark ones that dwelled in the trees, before the coming of the Celts, but we are older even than them. We knew this land before man, before God, before light.

-Flights of Angels by Cindy Brandner

11. Florence, Italy as seen in The Light in the Piazza by Elizabeth Spencer, A Room with a View by EM Forster- Florence in these books seems more alive than other places. It’s a place where people are able to get away from social notions of respectability, and really get in touch with their feelings.

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“It was pleasant to wake up in Florence, to open the eyes upon a bright bare room, with a floor of red tiles which look clean though they are not; with a painted ceiling whereon pink griffins and blue amorini sport in a forest of yellow violins and bassoons. It was pleasant, too, to fling wide the windows, pinching the fingers in unfamiliar fastenings, to lean out into sunshine with beautiful hills and trees and marble churches opposite, and, close below, Arno, gurgling against the embankment of the road.”