BY NOW, you know me well enough to guess what is coming: my plug for holiday reading. The holidays are the perfect time to discover reading or indulge in the habit of reading already formed. It’s a cheap way to discover new places if you can’t afford to travel. Most of all, reading helps students with their academic development. Some fun reading will ensure your children return to school in September four months ahead of their non-reading peers.
This week’s summer reading list presents some of my favourite books that stand out because of their setting. For a few hundred dollars you could explore many of these places that would cost you thousands of dollars to visit.
1. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – The story of Macondo’s rise and ultimate demise when the US-based United Fruit Company arrives is the novel that established Nobel laureate Garcia Marquez as a master of magical realism.
Garcia Marquez described himself as a Caribbean writer in The Fragrance of Guava because of his roots in Aracataca on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. This, he said, is why his writing differed so much from other Caribbean writers.
2. Isabella: The Warrior Queen by Kirsten Downey – Follow Queen Isabella on her 15th century conquests through Spain in this spellbinding biography of the queen who launched Christopher Columbus’s exploits.
Politics aside, you can’t live in the Caribbean and not read this biography of the woman who arguably most influenced the western hemisphere. The biography reads like a novel. It’s filled with love, intrigue and chivalry. Most amazing is how Isabella managed to stay alive. This biography is one of my top ten, all-time favourite books.
3. The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz – The magic of the Middle East comes alive in this Egyptian Nobel laureate’s novels set in Cairo, Egypt. Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street follow a Muslim family through colonial Egypt and a few decades after independence.
Vivid descriptions and colourful characters evoke a sense of time and place in these novels, which you can become deliciously lost inside.
4. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Olympics by Daniel James Brown – Still the number one book on my personal list of favourite books, this biography of nine poor, young men who made the US Olympic rowing team and travelled to Germany to face Adolf Hitler’s rising Nazi government is an amazing combination of history, journalism and biography.
Brown brings Seattle, in the US northwest, alive. Each chapter starts with some philosophy from the great boat builder George Bocock. This is the most inspirational book I ever read. I love how Brown weaved the history of Germany’s rise to a Nazi state between the chapters.
The Boys…has nearly 21,000 reviews with an average of five stars on Amazon. On Goodreads, where reviewers tend to be quite mean and stingy, it has over 181,000 reviews with an average of 4.35 stars.
5. The Far Pavilions by MM Kaye – This magical love story set in India begins like this: “Ashton Hilary Akbar Pelham-Martyn was born in a camp near the crest of a pass in the Himalayas, and subsequently christened in a patent canvas bucket.” Ashton, raised in England, returns to India and falls in love with an Indian princess.
Lush descriptions, compelling characters and a hair-raising plot that often had me gasping aloud make this a perfect holiday read.
6. The Tale of Aypi by Ak Welsapar – This book set in a Turkmenistan village on the Caspian Sea is one of my latest discoveries. It’s a short, beautifully written novel about a fishing village where everyone is being forced to leave so that the Russians can build a hospital. One fisherman decides he will not abandon his traditions.
Woven in-between his story is the legend of Aypi, a beautiful young woman who was taken away and killed after she accepted a ruby necklace from strangers who rewarded her for giving away the village’s secrets. The Tale of Aypi raises important questions about tradition and “progress” in this entertaining read.
7. Brown Sugar and Spice by Betty Peter – For children, I recommend this Trinidadian writer’s historical fiction of a British family living in the West Indies during World War II. This is one of the few truly Caribbean novels because the story is set in Grenada, St Lucia and St Vincent.
So, lose yourself in a world of reading this holiday. There’s no better way to spend the holidays.
Next week: The authors you should read this summer