One reason I love reading is that a good book can transport me from my living room to anywhere in the world. Through books, I’ve traveled to the Australian outback, the African jungle, and further. If you’re looking for a good book to read over the holidays, here’s a few of my favourite books to take you far away.
All of these books are set in places around the world within the last century. I picked them for their strong sense of place, so that you can almost taste or smell or see the setting described by the author.
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
The Inheritance of Loss is set in Kalimpong, India, in the 1980s. It won the Man Booker Prize in 2006.
Sai is a teenage girl growing up with her grandfather and in love with her tutor. Gyan has finished university, but the only job he can find is tutoring Sai, until he gets mixed up with the revolutionaries. Sai’s grandfather reminisces about his loveless relationship with his wife and his education in England to become a judge. Their cook lives for his son who has emigrated to America. Biju is an illegal immigrant, hopping from one poorly-paid job to another until finally returning to India.
Their stories twist together with those of others in their small village.
We of the Never-Never by Mrs. Aeneas Gunn
We of the Never-Never is the story of Mrs. Aeneas Gunn’s year (1902) in the outback of Australia’s Northern Territory after she marries the boss of a large cattle station.
With poetic language and gentle humour, Mrs. Gunn writes about being the only white woman in a remote area. Even when Mrs. Gunn talks of the loneliness and hardships she endured in the isolation of her cattle station home, she does so with such beauty and poetry that I wanted to be there. Each place is made a character in itself, from the tiny settlement of Katherine which they pass through on the way to their new home, to the cattle station itself.
Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan
Say You’re One of Them is a collection of five short (or not-so-short) stories set in Akpan’s native Africa.
All the stories are written from a child’s perspective, telling of events and every-day life that most North Americans can’t even imagine. The first story is reminiscent of the movie Slumdog Millionaire, while others delve into the Rwandan genocide, child slavery, and religious/cultural wars in Africa. The stories reveal a sense of sadness that just because of a different language, a different skin colour, a different way of doing things, people would hate and kill each other. Uwem packs his stories with the variety that is Africa: different tribes, different religions, different countries.
The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
The Power and the Glory is set in Mexico during the government persecutions of the Catholic Church in the early 1900s.
As the story opens, the priest is attempting to get out of Mexico when he is called to help someone. He answers the call, as he always does, and misses the boat. From there, he travels through the state, trying to stay one step ahead of the police while hearing confessions and offering Mass. He has two close encounters with the police, including one in his home parish. The priest is well aware of his failures as a priest, yet also aware he is the only one who can bring God to his people. The pain of death keeps him running just as much as the knowledge of how much his people need the Sacraments.
Snowdrift by Lisa McGonigle
Snowdrift is a nonfiction book that follows the author’s ski jobs to western Canada and New Zealand.
Lisa is an Irish girl who discovers a love for snowboarding during university. At first, she simply hops across to the Alps or other European ski hills. Then, at a crossroads in her university career, she makes the big leap and decides to take a working holiday year in Canada. She lands in Fernie, BC, for what will be the first of several snow seasons there.
While Lisa has a humorous, engaging writing style that kept me wanting to know what happened next in her adventures, I also enjoyed her commentary on Canada.
The Order of Good Cheer by Bill Gaston
The Order of Good Cheer is set in New France (eastern Canada) in the 1600s and in Prince Rupert, BC (western Canada) in the present day.
Samuel de Champlain and his fellow Frenchmen have arrived at l’Habitation, their home for the next winter as they attempt to establish a French settlement in this strange land. Champlain is the veteran of a previous attempt to do this at Port Royal—an attempt that ended in disaster when most of the men died of scurvy. Andy Winslow is a resident of present-day Prince Rupert, BC, a town which bears remarkable similarities to l’Habitation. Winter has set in, and along with it, boredom, as people struggle to live in a town whose economy is failing. The stories come together in Andy’s reading about Champlain’s Order of Good Cheer.
City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell
City of Tranquil Light is set in China, where the main characters are missionaries during the early 1900s.
Will begins with looking back upon his life in China. He then takes us back to his youth on a Mennonite farm in the rural United States and how he felt called to go to China as a missionary. On the way, he meets his wife, Katherine, a nurse who is going to China to join her sister and brother-in-law in serving the Chinese. They are married in China and soon move away to set up their own mission.
Will’s narrative of the events of his life is interspersed with segments from Katharine’s diary, balancing and adding to his account.
Penny Loves Wade, Wade Loves Penny by Caroline Woodward
Penny Loves Wade, Wade Loves Penny spans the province of BC, looking at a few days in the life of a modern couple.
Wade’s and Penny’s ranch sits in northern BC, in a small town where everyone knows everyone and Penny’s debts are the subject of cafe conversations. Wade’s trucking business takes him to Vancouver Island and the Okanagan and back again. Penny Loves Wade, Wade Loves Penny grabbed me from the very first sentences. I wanted to see how Penny made a go of it on the farm, when Wade figured out what Norman was up to and how he made it back again. Both are intensely likeable, unique characters, struggling to navigate life after a huge change.
Borders of the Heart by Chris Fabry
Borders of the Heart is a story about illegal immigrants and the drug trade set on the Texas-Mexico border.
Working on an organic farm in Texas gives J.D. Jessup a chance to hide from his past—until he finds Maria, a young Mexican woman on the wrong side of the border with a gunman after her. Soon, J.D. and Maria are on the run together, trying to stay three steps ahead of the gunman. Fabry’s descriptions brought alive the Texas setting of the novel and drew me into the characters’ and their struggles.
The Whirling Girl by Barbara Lambert
The Whirling Girl is set in modern-day Italy.
Clare arrives in Italy to claim her inheritance and to find answers from her uncle. She soon makes new friends and learns more about the local archaeology and culture. As Clare explores her property and paints the local flora, she has to deal with her memories of her uncle—and the scandal of her Amazon book. Lambert paints a beautiful picture of Italy, complete with a host of local characters. I loved the descriptions of Italy and learning more about its history and how archaeologists work.
Come Sunday by Isla Morley
Come Sunday begins in Hawaii and then takes readers to South Africa.
I picked up Come Sunday because the Hawaiian/South African setting intrigued me. It was also a story about a mom like me—at least, she’s a mom like me until her daughter is killed. Abbe is a pastor’s wife, magazine editor, and Cleo’s mom—not necessarily in that order. Interspersed through Abbe’s telling of her loss and grief are her memories of growing up in South Africa. The memories of her childhood are triggered by something in her present-day story, pulling both stories together until, at the end of the novel, they become one story.
Delivery by Betty Jane Hegerat
Delivery is set on Quadra Island, BC and explores how a mother and a daughter feel about the arrival of the daughter’s out-of-wedlock baby.
Lynn arrives at a friend’s cabin on Quadra Island, BC, with her baby granddaughter in a laundry basket and no plan. All she knows is that she cannot hand the baby over to the adoptive parents as her daughter Heather asked her to. Back in Calgary, Heather is trying to deal with her post-baby body and her decision—until she realizes what her mother has done. Eventually, nearly everyone in the novel arrives out at the cabin on Quadra Island. The novel revolves around Lynn and Heather, though other characters support or challenge them.
What great books to take you far, far away would your recommend adding to this list?
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