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When it comes to historical travel fiction or fiction travel books in general I like to focus on books where the place and setting is as memorable or sometimes more than the protagonist or main characters. These are books that while fictional are deeply rooted within a culture or place and inform the way we view a certain area of the world.
If you are after more travel book suggestions make sure to check the Travel Book Master List.
A haunting literary debut set in the forbidding remote tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Traditions that have lasted for centuries, both brutal and beautiful, create a rigid structure for life in the wild, astonishing place where Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan meet—the Federally Administered Tribal Lands (FATA). It is a formidable world and the people who live there are constantly subjected to extremes—both of geography and of culture.
Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.
Raimund Gregorius, a professor of dead languages at a Swiss secondary school, lives a life governed by routine. Then, an enigmatic Portuguese woman stirs his interest in an obscure, and mind-expanding book of philosophy that opens the possibility of changing Raimund’s existence. That same night, he takes the train to Lisbon to research the book’s phantom author, Amadeu de Prado, a renowned physician whose principles led him to confront Salazar’s dictatorship. Raimund, now obsessed with unlocking the mystery behind the man, is determined to meet all those on whom Prado left an indelible mark. Among them: his eighty-year-old sister, who maintains her brother’s house as if it were a museum; an elderly cleric and torture survivor confined to a nursing home; and Prado’s childhood friend and eventual partner in the Resistance.
A novel of remarkable depth and poignancy from one of the most acclaimed writers of our time.
This might not strictly be a “travel book” but there is something incredibly moving and powerful about the story of these two doomed lovers. You are guaranteed to finish it within a few hours and then ponder over it for the rest of the day.
Gaialands, a bucolic vegan commune in the New Zealand wilderness, is the only home fifteen-year-old Poppy has ever known. It’s the epitome of 1970s counterculture –a place of free love, hard work, and high ideals…at least in theory. The reality is complicated and sometimes fraught, especially as its children reach adolescence. Poppy is drawn to handsome sixteen-year-old Lukas, who’s increasingly skeptical of Gaialands and the adults who shape its rules.
A Thousand Splendid Suns is a breathtaking story set against the volatile events of Afghanistan’s last thirty years—from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to post-Taliban rebuilding—that puts the violence, fear, hope, and faith of this country in intimate, human terms. It is a tale of two generations of characters brought jarringly together by the tragic sweep of war, where personal lives—the struggle to survive, raise a family, find happiness—are inextricable from the history playing out around them.
A sweeping novel set in war-torn 1928 China, with a star-crossed love story at its center.
In a city full of thieves and Communists, danger and death, spirited young Lydia Ivanova has lived a hard life. Always looking over her shoulder, the sixteen-year-old must steal to feed herself and her mother, Valentina, who numbered among the Russian elite until Bolsheviks murdered most of them, including her husband. As exiles, Lydia and Valentina have learned to survive in a foreign land.
Published to international critical and popular acclaim, this intensely romantic yet stunningly realistic novel spans three generations and the unimaginable gulf between the First World War and the present. As the young Englishman Stephen Wraysford passes through a tempestuous love affair with Isabelle Azaire in France and enters the dark, surreal world beneath the trenches of No Man’s Land, Sebastian Faulks creates a world of fiction that is as tragic as A Farewell to Arms and as sensuous as The English Patient. Crafted from the ruins of war and the indestructibility of love, Birdsong is a novel that will be read and marveled at for years to come.
The novel’s preeminence derives from its wonderfully imaginative re-creation of boyhood adventures along the Mississippi River, its inspired characterization, the author’s remarkable ear for dialogue, and the book’s understated development of serious underlying themes: “natural” man versus “civilized” society, the evils of slavery, the innate value and dignity of human beings, and other topics. Most of all, Huckleberry Finn is a wonderful story, filled with high adventure and unforgettable characters.
The Khao San Road, Bangkok — first stop for the hordes of rootless young Westerners traveling in Southeast Asia. On Richard’s first night there, in a low-budget guest house, a fellow traveler slashes his wrists, bequeathing to Richard a meticulously drawn map to “the Beach.”
The Beach, as Richard has come to learn, is the subject of a legend among young travelers in Asia: a lagoon hidden from the sea, with white sand and coral gardens, freshwater falls surrounded by jungle, plants untouched for a thousand years. There, it is rumored, a carefully selected international few have settled in a communal Eden.
A beautiful and epic novel that spans nearly a hundred years, The Thread is a magnificent story of a friendship and a love that endures through the catastrophes and upheavals of the twentieth century—both natural and man-made—in the turbulent city of Thessaloniki, Greece. Victoria Hislop, internationally bestselling author of The Island and The Return, has written a wonderfully evocative and enthralling saga enriched by deep emotion and sweeping historical events, from fire to civil war to Nazi brutality and economic collapse.
A woman in her forties is a victim of a suicide bombing at a Jerusalem market. Her body lies nameless in a hospital morgue. She had apparently worked as a cleaning woman at a bakery, but there is no record of her employment. When a Jerusalem daily accuses the bakery of “gross negligence and inhumanity toward an employee,” the bakery’s owner, overwhelmed by guilt, entrusts the task of identifying and burying the victim to a human resources man….
Raskolnikov, a destitute and desperate former student, wanders through the slums of St Petersburg and commits a random murder without remorse or regret. He imagines himself to be a great man, a Napoleon: acting for a higher purpose beyond conventional moral law. But as he embarks on a dangerous game of cat and mouse with a suspicious police investigator, Raskolnikov is pursued by the growing voice of his conscience and finds the noose of his own guilt tightening around his neck.
Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.
Do you enjoy fiction travel books? What book from this list would you start with?