Hundreds of nations around the world have closed their borders to American tourists which is hard news for would-be travelers. Those with wanderlust are left wondering how to get that “I’m going abroad” feeling without ever leaving home. With a little imagination and help from some spectacular authors, globetrotters can still see the world, but this time with their mind’s eye.
Explore the World Without Leaving Home
Be whisked away to Africa and Europe with these incredible books.
France is one of the most romanticized settings in all of Europe, so it’s no wonder author Peter Mayle nurtured a lifelong dream of moving to Provence. A Year in Provence chronicles Mayle’s year living in a 200-year old French farmhouse in Lubéron with his wife and 2 dogs. This witty and endearing memoir beautifully illustrates a lifestyle based on the seasons instead of a schedule. Mayle and his wife encounter surprisingly rough weather (Lubéron is nestled between 3 mountains), underground truffle dealers, and discover the joys of goat racing in the town square. Through his prose, it’s easy to see why a provincial lifestyle can be idealized for its simplicity and rustic charm. This book is a treat and a delightful mental vacation.
Set in 1992, the communist era has just ended in Warsaw, Poland. A string of horrific murders becomes international news when it’s believed the victims could be couriers smuggling nuclear secrets out of the Soviet Union. And now, a Russian physicist that invented a portable atomic bomb is missing (along with his dangerous weapon). Before anything can end up in the wrong hands, a straight, white FBI agent and a black, gay CIA officer team up to save the world. The backdrop of 1990s Warsaw feels like an active character in The Fourth Courier, a heart-pounding, LGTBQ+ espionage thriller. Timothy Jay Smith’s description of a stark, mid-winter Poland presents a city on the precipice of dramatic change.
Egyptian-born journalist and writer, Ahdaf Soueif, brilliantly captures the feel of modern Egypt both physically and culturally in her novel In the Eye of the Sun. Even though the novel is set in the late 1960s and early 1970s, politics are not an overarching theme. Instead, the novel focuses on the young heroine, Asya, and her coming of age among the bourgeois class in a country with strict rules for women. The rules seem to bend willingly for Asya as a love story unfolds beneath the hot African sun and, ultimately, the fog of London. Asya’s journey feels very private and personal juxtaposed against an Egyptian setting bustling with life and sound.
The Old Drift is a colonial settlement on the banks of the Zambezi River in 1904. Sick with a horrible fever across the river from the settlement, Percy M. Clark makes a mistake that will forever entwine the lives of an Italian hotelier and a Zambian busboy. The aftershock sets off generations of retribution between 3 Zambian families (black, brown, and white) that will continue for a century. Part historical fiction and part sweeping fairytale, Namwali Serpell’s prose deftly mirror the changes occurring in Zambia with those happening in her richly painted characters. The unstoppable waters of nearby Victoria Falls are the perfect local metaphor for her characters’ inability to escape the hands of fate.
Love Notes from a German Building Site is a captivating debut novel from Adrian Duncan. The narrator, Paul, follows his love Evelyn to Berlin where he finds work on a building site. He is struggling to learn a new language, trying to keep up with a site that is behind schedule, and slowly becoming untethered as he pines for Evelyn. Berlin itself is evolving as a city throughout the novel and Paul’s mental state is illustrated in the building site’s physical reality. As he grapples with the onslaught of life changes, Paul begins keeping a diary (or ‘love notes’). As unlikely as it seems, an unfinished German building becomes a character to root for in this story of love and loneliness.
Journalist Helen Russel was offered the opportunity to move to Jutland for a year. While preparing for her move, she discovered that Denmark is consistently considered the happiest place on Earth. In her book, A Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World's Happiest Country, Russell explores whether Danes are just born happier or if its something more. Is it the shorter workweek? The government-sponsored childcare? Or is it something written into their genetic code? Russell’s account of her year abroad is both funny and enlightening, a lovely tribute to a beautiful nation.