The world is in a strange place. Many of the things we have taken for granted – our health, freedom, ability to travel – have been pulled out from under our feet and if you are anything like me, you might be feeling a little lost. At the best and worst of times, books are my most reliable companion, a comfort, solace, and escape. Your travel may have been suspended, your holidays and trips abroad cancelled. For those staying at home for the next few weeks, here are some reads to airlift you beyond your living room - and remember your local independent bookshop will be happy to deliver any book to your door.
Red Dirt by E.M. Reapy
Nothing so accurately transports me to the dusty heat of rural Australia as E.M. Reapy’s Red Dirt. Set against the backdrop of the global financial crash in 2008, three young Irish backpackers relocate to Australia full of hope and a sense of adventure. It’s dark and thrilling, at times extraordinarily moving, and an amazing evocation of the loneliness, bravado and folly of youth. Anyone whose plans to backpack around Australia have been scuppered may be pleased they stayed at home after reading this.
Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar Goshen
When a distinguished doctor runs over a man on the way home from a nineteen hour shift, he knows he has killed him. Weighing up the impact of reporting his crime, knowing the man cannot be saved, and leaving him in order to save himself, he makes a decision that will change his life forever. It’s full of moral complexity that cuts to the bone of the human condition, and the Israeli setting is fantastic.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
There are many books that I could recommend that would transport you to the buzzing, scorching culture of Nigeria, from Ben Okri’s Booker Prize-winning novel The Famished Road, to the darkly comic My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. Where The Famished Road is full of folklore and mysticism and Braithwaite’s novel pulsates with the modernity and heat of present day Lagos, Half of a Yellow Sun paints a portrait of Nigeria at its most turbulent time. Telling the story of three characters living through the Biafran War during the 1960s, it’s a transportive novel that ought to be read by anyone who wants to understand the evolution of Nigeria.
Japan and Korea
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
‘History has failed us, but no matter.’ So opens this multi-generational epic, spanning eight decades and four generations of one Korean family living in Japan. It’s an incredibly heartfelt tale about family, immigration, and the impact of racial oppression on communities and individuals that also taught me a lot about the relationship between these two nations.
The Neapolitan Quartet by Elena Ferrante
Beginning in the 1950s with My Brilliant Friend, this series of four novels follows two friends, Lena and Lila, as they navigate their childhood, adolescence and adulthood in an impoverished part of Naples. Depicting the social workings of a small, poor community, and the joys, jealousies and evolutions of friendship, you’ll find yourself transported to Naples through Ferrante’s warm characters and addictive prose.
The Lucky Ones by Julianne Pachico
One of my favourite short story collections, The Lucky Ones is a series of interconnected short stories that reveal the dark heart of Columbia. A young woman waits in an empty house whilst an insurgency rises outside, and an incarcerated teacher recites Shakespeare to a class of leaves and twigs as he descends into madness induced by his captivity. These stories are both bizarre and blisteringly real, a gasping, gritty collection that shocks and simmers.