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There are so many great books out there but sometimes you just read a book that completely engulfs you in the sights and sounds of a certain location. These are my favorite books to pick up when I am wanderlusting (and yes it is now a verb) and cannot go anywhere. I find that these books have a way of transporting me to another destination and several of them have even inspired me to travel to certain places because I was so enamored with the settings. So while they are not traditional travel books these are books that always transport me somewhere new.
I discovered Carlos Ruiz Zafon when I went to Barcelona for the first time in February of 2008. My roommates and I were going to Barcelona for our winter break and Nicole brought along The Shadow of the Wind. She finished it halfway through the trip and then I picked it up. I immediately devoured it. In the novel Barcelona comes alive; the city is not just the setting but also a character. The shadowy gothic streets Daniel and his father take to the cemetery of forgotten books is as much a part of the book as the characters and each neighborhood reflects the different characters.
After I finished The Shadow of the Wind I turned to the other novels in the series; The Angel’s Game is the prequel and The Prisoner of Heaven is the sequel. Each of these books drag you deeper into the gothic heart of Barcelona and you see it not just in the 1940’s but also during the Spanish civil war where Barcelona and Catalonia were overrun and subjugated by Franco. In these novels the intertwining characters are affected by the politics and goings on of the city which in turn influences the major plots of the novels.
I was lucky enough to have a chance to read these books while in Barcelona and today whenever I reread the books I am instantly transported back. We will be spending the month of July in Barcelona and I cannot wait to explore Las Ramblas and the Gothic Quarter with Daniel Sempre by my side.
The Woman Who Heard Color is a fantastic novel by Kelly Jones that introduces us to a city reveling in artistic freedom and at the same time on the brink of war. The novel begins in modern day Manhattan, as “art detective” Lauren O’Farrell hunts down a Wassily Kandinsky painting that was lost during WWII which leads her to Isabella Fletcher. Isabella Fletcher then reveals the story of her mother, Hanna, who, through synesthesia, could hear colors and lived in Vienna during the 1940s and was an important art critic and gallery owner. The art and the architecture of Vienna come alive as we are introduced to the eccentric modern artists who lived in Vienna just before the outbreak of WWII. I love art and Kandinsky is one of my favorite modern artists so I was immediately wrapped into this story which revolved around him and his adopted city. I am also fascinated by how much “degenerate” art was lost during WWII and how a few brave souls tried to protect it. Next time I visit Vienna you can bet that I will be snooping around trying to find a glimpse of Kandinsky’s world.
The Painted Kiss is another novel set in Vienna between the 1920’s and 1940’s and centers around the artists of the time. This time the focus is Gustav Klimt and his lifelong friend, the subject of Klimt’s most famous painting “The Kiss”. The relationship between the two is the focus of the novel starting with Emilie at a young age and Gustav Klimt as her tutor and ends with Emilie’s life after Klimt’s death. The story follows the two through the glitz and glamour of Vienna at the turn of the 20th century. We are introduced to the artists, politicians and aristocrats who shaped Vienna at the turn of the century and the city’s setting is the perfect backdrop to show the dichotomy between the two characters. Through the novel and its characters we are introduced to all facets of Viennese life; the coffee house inhabited by the artists, the aristocrats’ homes, the studios of struggling artists, the fashion salons, and the opera. Vienna sets the stage for this opulent novel and I cannot wait to return to Vienna, sit in a cafe and soak in the atmosphere.
Ah, Dracula, is there another novel that is a perfect portrayal of Victorian life? I really don’t think so. The way the novel is composed of letters and diary entries makes Victorian England come alive and I love how the social interactions are shown as well. Dracula by Bram Stoker has made vampire lore so popular that you can find facets of it everywhere. I mean even 50 Shades of Grey was inspired by vampires. But that is neither here nor there, especially as I have no interest in watching or reading it. But what Bram Stoker truly did was encapsulate a bit of Victorian life and preserve it for us. The beachside town of Whitby sets the stage for this Victorian drama to unfold and it made me want to whisk off to Victorian England and take tea by the seaside. And avoid vampires…..
Outlander is a series that truly captured my heart. I
am pretty sure know there is a library out there mad at me for not paying my library fines because I would horde these books until I was finally able to read them all in order. The first novel begins in Scotland in the 1940’s but we are quickly transported to the highlands of Scotland in 1743. I won’t go into a ton of the plot because, well it is awesome and you should read it for yourself, but in these books the locations are just as important as the characters, there is time travel after all. These novels are HUGE and take you from the Jacobite Rising in Scotland, to the court of Louis XIV and Versailles, to the West Indies, the English Colonies and through the American Revolution. These novels have truly inspired me to spend June gallivanting all over the Scottish countryside and while I may not need to look for my own Jamie Fraser, it doesn’t mean I can’t go cavorting off around the highlands in search of my standing stones 🙂
The Bones of Paris is a gritty novel that takes place in Paris in the 1920’s. The novel follows Harris Stuyvesant, a private detective, who has been hired to find a missing flapper from America who spent her time in the company of the modern artists. The stage of this novel is Paris and the artists, performers, prostitutes, aristocrats and even Harris all must pay homage to Paris. Paris in the 20’s must have been something to see. There was a vibrancy and gaiety there after the war but the city also had a dark side. This is the Paris that Harris must navigate from interviewing artists, meeting up with Sylvia Beech (the founder of Shakespeare and Company), and dealing with those who had faced death in the trenches. I always want to go to Paris but when you read this novel you can just imagine Paris in your mind’s eye. I wish time travel was real.
The Agony and the Ecstasy is remarkable for the fact that it is historical fiction but it is also a biography of Michelangelo’s life. This book spans Michelangelo’s beginnings being from a poor semi-aristocratic family who are against his dream of being an artist, his first apprenticeship in a studio, tutelage under the Medici family and subsequent fame in Renaissance Italy. The novel evokes in me a desire to be an artist. I want to go to Florence (a city I like but eh… It’s not that great except for the art) but not only that; I want to soak in the art and the heart of the city. Florence has such a gorgeous history and it is reflected in the streets. The influence of artists can be seen throughout the city. If you can escape the tourist hordes you can really discover a vibrant and historical city which was shaped by the republic, the Medicis and artists like Michelangelo. Florence is slowly growing on me and you can thank The Agony and the Ecstasy for that.
And of course I cannot forget my most beloved travel book, The Historian. As it is my favorite travel book I have already written probably waaayyy too much on it but suffice to say it has inspired me to travel to Romania and Turkey because of how vividly these cities were portrayed.
So there you have my favorite travel books that evoke a country. What books transport you to somewhere new?
*There are affiliate links in this post because who doesn’t want to buy books? There is no difference to you if you buy through those links it just means that we get a little something towards our travels 🙂