On a Sunday evening I often find myself polishing my children’s shoes in readiness for school the next day. It is not something that I took pleasure in when I was younger but bizarrely I do so now. How times have changed?
Polishing their shoes gives me time for quiet reflection. I think about them, their future, what lies ahead. I notice small things. They do not untie their laces. How have they managed to get mud inside the shoe? Why are there drawing pins in the heel of their shoes? For clicking effect? I did exactly the same some forty years ago.
Moments beautifully observed. That is the skill of writers that we should be celebrating today on International Book Day.
Yes, there are some great travelogues – Patrick Leigh Fermor’s ‘Time of Gifts’, Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s ‘The Worst Journey in the World’, Kapucinski’s ‘Shadow of the Sun’ and Colin Thubron’s ‘Behind the Wall’ to name but a few – and historical and biographical books: Nien Cheng’s ‘Life and Death in Shanghai’, Palden Gyatso’s ‘Fire under the Snow’ Harry Thompson’s ‘This Thing of Darkness’. But I would rather celebrate fictional novels that are evocative of places around the world.
In celebration of World Book Day here are eight of my favourite fictional novels written within the last fifty years (well almost) that are evocative of places around the world.
A Gentleman in Moscow
On 21st June 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is escorted out of the Kremlin, across Red Square and instead of his usual luxury suite at the Metropol hotel is taken to an attic room with a window the size of a chessboard. Deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the Count has been sentenced to house arrest indefinitely…
Part love story, part political thriller set in the time of the Congo Independence and the end of Belgian colonialism. Ronan Bennett writes with insight, depth and clarity about the complexities of both love and betrayal.
Discover the Republic of Congo
Cutting For Stone
An epic story of conjoined twins, orphaned by their mothers death in childbirth and abandoned by their surgeon father. It is a tale of struggle, reconciliation and the changing political backdrop of Ethiopia.
Ultimately it is a story about empathy and the gift a great physician can have – that of “words of comfort.”
Power of One
No stranger to the injustice of racial hatred, five-year-old Peekay learns the hard way the first secret of survival and self-preservation – the power of one.
An encounter with amateur boxer Hoppie Groenewald inspires in Peekay a fiery ambition to become welterweight champion of the world.
Discover South Africa
Half of a Yellow Sun
Set in Nigeria, both before and during the Nigerian Civil War in the late sixties. It shows the ever-reaching effects this unrest has on several peoples lives from different backgrounds and different perspectives. A sometimes harrowing narrative that is a searing portrait of the tragedy that took place in Biafra.
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Widely acclaimed as one of the most significant and influential works of the magical realists. Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells a story of seven generations of one family. A fantastical novel with an expression of both reality and mythical character entwined at its revolutionary heart.
Saleem Sinai, the main protagonist and narrator is born at the exact moment when India gains independence – midnight on 15th August 1947. Dealing with major themes of colonialism, partition and independence. It encompasses, lyrical, tragic, comic, surreal and moving moments. An allegorical fairy tale of modern times.
The Shadow of the Wind
Set in Barcelona in the period following the Spanish Civil War this is multi-layerd story within a story which is a must for any avid reader. A huge library of forgotten titles lovingly preserved by a few dedicated individuals is hidden in the heart of the old city. Everyone initiated to this secret place is allowed to take one book and protect it for life. As a 10-year-old boy Daniel is allowed to do just this and ‘La Sombra del Viento’ by Julian Caraz changes the course of his fate.