It’s looking like 2021 will be another year when our yearnings for foreign shores will have to be assuaged with some vicarious travel. For me that’ll take the form of some fascinating new travel writing, some novels atmospherically set abroad, and some old favourites. I might re-watch (and re-read) Long Way Round, Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s documentary series (and its accompanying book) of their motorbike trip from London to New York via Europe, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia, and finally the USA. I find the Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and eastern Russia episodes in particular absolutely fascinating. Here’s what I’ll be reading to get my travel fix this year.
The Land of Maybe by Tim Ecott
Following the natural cycle of the year, this book captures the essence of the 18 mysterious Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic. Here, a fast-disappearing world is home to a close-knit society where just 50,000 people share Viking roots and a unique language. I’ve been fixated on the Faroe Islands as a destination for a year or two now; this book will have to do for the moment.
Mary Lavelle by Kate O’ Brien
Mary Lavelle, a beautiful young Irish woman, travels to Spain to see something of the world before returning to Ireland to get married. She works as a governess to a wealthy family, but she’s lonely and homesick. An old favourite of mine that I’ll re-read this year, this is a fascinating insight into Spanish history and culture – it’s set in 1922 at a time of growing political and cultural unrest – as well as gorgeously vivid portrait of young womanhood and love.
Eat the Buddha by Barbara Demick
In 1950, China claimed sovereignty over Tibet, leading to decades of unrest and resistance that define the country today. Demick paints a riveting portrait of recent Tibetan history and of the challenges Tibetans face today while locked in a struggle for identity against one of the most powerful countries in the world. If you’ve read Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea by the same author (and if you haven’t, you should!), you’ll know that Demick, as a reporter, has a real talent for finding the particular story that illuminates the larger picture.
And for a little something to look forward to, a very exciting forthcoming title: Still Life by Sarah Winman will be published on the 10th of June. Told over the course of four decades from 1944 and moving from the Tuscan Hills and piazzas of Florence to the smog of London’s East End, Still Life is a sweeping, joyful, richly-peopled novel about beauty, love, family and fate. Winman’s previous novel Tin Man is another favourite, short and sweet and heartbreaking, and featuring a little armchair travel to the south of France.