I travel like crazy, not only within my country (India) but also any chance I get to go abroad. However, unlike most others, who carry guidebooks or scour the internet to study a country, I prefer to read mystery fiction or suspense fiction set in the country. Better if it’s a translated work of fiction, because such a book helps to understand the country better, to understand its genesis, its people, its cultural nuances. Travel themed fiction keeps me interested and gives me a unique perspective from a local author’s point of view.
I’ve found a few gems through the years. I list below my favourite countries and the treasured fiction novels I took there. Maybe the list will motivate you to visit, too.
I hope you enjoy my list of top five fiction books to carry while traveling to these countries.
Italy is worth every bit of the travel hype. I’ve traveled to all corners of Italy and Naples and the Amalfi Coast remain my favorite regions. In summer, the sight of Sorrento lemons, the sparkling beaches, the quaint colourful homes, and the feel of gelato on my tongue are experiences I cherish and fondly remember.
Elena Ferrante's four-book Neapolitan series, originally published in Italian, and translated into many languages, brings Italy, and especially Naples, alive for the reader. The book is a portrait of the coming of age of two girls and a meditation on friendship itself. The first book of the series, My Brilliant Friend, is now also an HBO series.
Birds Without Wings is a novel by Louis de Bernières, written in 2004. I picked this book up with no real expectations before my trip to Turkey, and it turned out to be a fascinating read. The story is essentially about the Greek-Turkish exodus (1964-65) and the rise of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the ‘Father of the Turkish Nation’ to build modern Turkey. I’d never heard of the book before, but I now count it amongst my top travel themed fiction.
Out, penned by the talented and underrated author Natuso Kirono, is a mystery suspense masterpiece set in a staid Tokyo suburb. It tells the tale of what happens after a young mother who works a night shift making boxed lunches brutally strangles her deadbeat husband and then seeks the help of her co-workers to dispose of the body and cover up her crime. Phew! What a premise, isn't it? I found the book and all its characters fascinating. My heart was in my mouth the entire time I read it, burning the midnight oil, wondering each second if now the women were going to be outed. A gory page turner if ever there was one.
I list Iceland among the top countries I’ve visited. I was lucky to go in the summer. And, let me tell you, you’ll be hard pressed to see landscapes that gorgeous. There was a jaw-hanging change in scenery every few minutes. Jar City, featuring the enigmatic Inspector Erlendur, is a typical Nordic noir murder mystery set in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík. It has everything that makes Nordic noir novels great: atmosphere building, great pacing, a detective you can root for, and a unique mystery in the biting cold.
Kiss of Salt introduces Darya Nandkarni, an amateur and accidental detective, in the beachside state of Goa, India. Darya is clever, spirited, resourceful, yet troubled and vulnerable. Her adventures will make you laugh, cry, gape, and marvel, and you won’t be able to put down the book until you’ve solved the mystery along with her on the beautiful side-streets of Goa. I’d written this book during one of my many holidays in the gorgeous Indian beach state of Goa (where I now live half the year). Pick up the series if you want a taste of a spunky heroine in exotic locations.
SMITA BHATTACHARYA writes atmospheric cosy and psychological mystery fiction. She is also a management consultant, coffee lover, and gipsy-in-her-head. She lives in Mumbai but has solo travelled to 42 countries and thus, her stories are heavily inspired by her travels and by those she meets. Smita has six published books and counting. Her latest, Shut the Lights, released in August. She has worked in a vineyard, in a newsroom, in a school, in a library, in a bank, in an audit firm. She has too many stories to tell and not enough time. You can read her colourful travel and life stories at www.smitabhattacharya.com.