Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 9 December 2019

From 'Memoirs of a Geisha' to 'Shantaram': five amazing books that transport you to another country

These stories will make you forget where you are

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (1997)
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (1997)

I am lucky to have visited a fair few foreign lands, but my ambitions to travel have left a great many destinations unharmed by my presence. These books have taken me to places in such vivid and all-encompassing detail that I forget I was just sat on a sofa.

The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende (1982)

This got me reading again after a three-year hiatus. I was 15, I wasn’t enjoying teen fiction and my peers weren’t talking about reading. My mother’s appeals to lose myself in Thomas Hardy led to a self-imposed exile from literature. This was broken by my trip to 1970s Chile, living in a grand old house, with women with green hair, amid political turmoil.

The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende (1982)
'The House of Spirits' by Isabel Allende (1982)

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (2003)

I don’t recommend huge books to people due to the ratio of time invested to perceived gain but Shantaram is an exception. I long to visit India and Gregory David Roberts takes the sting out of never having done so. I believe I’ve already been transported to the vibrant cityscape of 1980s Bombay, heard the vendors selling their wares and smelt the street food wafting over children and motorcycles. I hope to visit again someday.

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (2003)
'Shantaram' by Gregory David Roberts (2003)

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (2009)

This book was recommended to me by a neighbour knocking on my door and insisting I read it. Suspicious, I gave it a try and there I was sailing the seas to Ethiopia. It is a beautiful and gripping story that captures a small section of a country with such a long, fascinating history. I am desperate to go to Addis Ababa, the hunger only contained by my feeling that I feel like I have.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (2009)
'Cutting for Stone' by Abraham Verghese (2009)

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (1997)

This book transported me at the first sentence. It is an account of a girl growing up in Japan and being sold to a geisha boarding house. The writer interviewed geishas for his research and then built up a story that took me to what I thought was Japan just under a century ago. The ensuing lawsuit, accusations of Orientalism and white male privilege meant perhaps it was not. But it’s still such an amazing read.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (1997)
'Memoirs of a Geisha' by Arthur Golden (1997)

The Mughal Throne by Abraham Eraly (2004)

This is the odd one out; a non-fiction book that transported me to a different time. I picked up this book in a tiny, definitely enchanted shop outside the Lahore Museum in Pakistan. Having been given a tour of the Lahore Fort, I was already halfway to the 14th century. The Lahore I know is a completely different place to the opulent life at the seat of the Mughal Empire. This book has it all: harems, jewels, astrology and details of the rulers’ preferences, passions and wars.

The Mughal Throne by Abraham Eraly (2004)
'The Mughal Throne' by Abraham Eraly (2004)

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Updated: July 27, 2019 09:34 AM

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