In an attempt to keep track of all the random books that I’ve found and loved on my trip here are the best ones…
Black Swan Green By David Mitchell (read in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap) One of my favourite authors and a completely different type of book from Cloud Atlas or Number9dream but really really enjoyable and his style of writing was just as captivating. It encapsulates the frustration of being a teenager and life in the early eighties so cleverly, incredibly easy to read but the language and characters really bring it too life and drag you beneath the surface.
Papillon by Henri Charierre (read in Hanoi and Halong Bay) The epic true story about a Frenchman condemned to life hard labour in the islands off South America for a murder he was innocent of in the 1930s. The book is his tales of repeated cavales (escapes) and the difficulties, atrocities and camaraderie of the penal colonies of the time.
First They Killed my Father by Loung Ung (read in Si Phan Don, Laos) The first book I’ve read that deals with the five year terror imposed upon Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Harrowing and upsetting but retains a readable and more upbeat feel as told through the eyes of a young 5 year old middle class girl living there at the time.
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (read in Si Phan Don, Laos) This is actually the second time i’ve read this book and found it just as intriguing, captivating and obsessive as the first time. It’s a historical, thrilling, investigation of the the myth of Vlad Tepes, Drakula, and blends the mythological very convincingly with the real. Not a good book to finish in a pitch black room at midnight!
The Collected Short Stories of Roald Dahl by Roald Dahl (read in McLeod Ganj & Varanasi, India) Roald Dahl’s children’s stories are fairly dark in a way and I’d forgotten how dark and twisted most of his short stories are. Most interesting and in a way, most moving, are the ones based upon his experiences in the RAF during the Second World War. Weird but wonderful.
Confessions of an Indian Woman Eater by Sasthi Brata (read in Rajasthan, India) I absolutely loved this book. Written in the 1970s there are unmistakable similarities between Harif Kureshi’s Buddha of Surburbia. In takes in a young man’s journey from middle class Bengal through Delhi to the UK and France and his romantic and literary pretensions.
The Bone Woman by Clea Koff (read in Bundi, India) An interesting and sometimes harrowing account of a young forensic archaeologist working on exhuming and identifying the victims of genocides in Rwanda, Croatia,Kosovo and Bosnia and her struggle to stay focused on her work and not become swept away with the emotions evoked by the atrocities.
Animal’s People by Indra Sinha(read in Pushkar and Jaisalmer, India) A wonderful twisted tale of despair and love, resentment and political games, loss and friendship set in the plagued town of khaufpur in the heart of India. Told from the point of view of Animal, a sex-obsessed cynical boy, whose crippled back forces him to walk on all fours and view the world from crotch height.
On the Road by Cormac McCarthy (read in Pune) Amazing, moving, wonderful post apocalyptic father and son journey across a ravaged landscape of America. So so good. Don’t let the Oprah’sBookCLub recommendation put you off!
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri(read in Pune, India) A beautiful collection of short stories set in Bengal and Boston looking at the lives of those still living in India or those displaced to the US and their relationships with the country and people they left behind.
Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner(read to and from Hampi, India) Really enjoyed this which considering economicsas a subject is usually guaranteed to to send me to sleep is probably testamount to unlike a book of economics this really is. Full of interesting facts to bore everyone with next time I go out to dinner…
the ground beneath her feet by Salman Rushdie (read on the 12 day trek to Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal) Probably the most unlikely book to be reading whilst trekking in the Himalayas but a welcome immersion into another world when the rain and leeches were starting to piss me off, and more importantly well worth the extra weight in my rucksack. All about passion, love, music, mystism and the strange beast that is modern celebrity. I am constantly amazed by how quickly you can become completely involved in Rushdie’s world, so much so, that when you stop reading, the re-introduction of the real world seems a sudden surprise. Really, really good.
Eldest by Christopher Paolini(read on the way back from rafting in Nepal) I read the first in this trilogy in Sri Lanka so got very excited when I found the sequel in a bookshop in Kathmandu. I love children’s stories, they use magic and imagination in an unashamed way that sometimes adult books lack, beside who doesn’t want to read a beatifully engaging tale of dragons, elves, evil flying beasts and dwarves?
I, Lucifer by Glenn Duncan (read on the buses from Kathmandu and Bandipur to Pokara in Nepal)This book was a birthday present from my friend Kristy and just about the most witty, amusing and wrongly entertaining thing that I have ever read. Definitely not one to causually leave on the hallway table when the jehovah’s witnesses come knocking, or maybe it is? Here is the opening paragraph which I think is justification in itself to read the book.
“I, Lucifier, Fallen Angel, Prince of Darkness, Bringer of Light, Ruler of Hell, Lord of the Flies, Father of Lies, Apostate Supreme, Tempter of Mankind, Old serpent, Prince of this world, Seducer, Accuser,Tormenter, Blasphemer, and without doubt Best Fuck in the Seen and Unseen universe (ask Eve, that minx) have decided – oo-la-la! – to tell all.”
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (read whilst bussing and training around Sri Lanka) I really loved this book, and I think it says a lot that an author can keep you absorbed for 900 pages of such rich and varied content and then make you want to read the book straight away a second time. It seems incredible that so much could happen to one person; heroin addiction, armed robbery, jail, slum doctor,bombay mafia, afghanistan war but but never once did I find myself questionning the authenticity of the story but just let myself be swept along, fascinated.
Pushing Ice by Alistair Reynolds (read on a very long bumpy ride into Brazil’s Pantanal)Just one for the sci-fi fans (nb: fans I said not nerds, really it’s totally normal to like books set in deep space, honest!), absorbing, engaging and just a lot of fun to read. I love SciFi but I can be a terrible snob about it aswell, I usually only really enjoy it when the characters are strong enough to anchor the other world/other time/other reality settings and make youbelieve in the story for the duration of the tale.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver(read in between spanish lessons in Buenos Aires)I read this for the second time several years after my Mum brought it for me and the book was every bit as incredible and moving as I’d remembered. Told through the eyes and experiences of four daughters whose zealous missionary father drags their family off to live in the Congo in the 1960s and how there lives are changed and torn apart by the experience.