Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Around the World in 7 books: Contemporary Classic Fiction

As a book lover and a book blogger, I get many requests for reading suggestions. I have an "armchair travels" project where I am trying to read a book from every single country in the world. It is, of course, an ambitious life long project. Many have been inspired by it but request a "lite" version of the project. So I decided to put together this list of 7 books which will take you on a whirl wind tour around the world - with just one stop in each continent. Well, not exactly whirl wind - since this is a list of 7 contemporary classics (published in the mid to late 1900s). 7 fictional books that would leave a lasting impression in your mind. 7 books that will transport you effortlessly to the place it is set in. 7 books that I have really enjoyed.

1. Africa - From Africa, I decided to go with a nigerian classic - Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart (1958). Readers will follow the life of the unforgettable Okonkwo - an Igbo leader in Nigeria.The book is divided into three parts - the first describing his personal background and the latter two dealing with the british colonialism and the arrival of christian missionaries in Nigeria and how "things fall apart" with these changes.

2. Asia - One of the most memorable books I have ever read is Jung Chang's Wild Swans (1991). The book is almost a saga - a detailed family history of sorts detailing the lives of three generations of women - a grandmother, a mother and finally the daughter. It is set in China. It is biographical in the descriptions of the lives of Chang's mother and grandmother; and autobiographical in Chang's narration of her own life.

3. Europe - After much deliberation, I picked Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984). Against the backdrop of Czechoslovakia in the 1960s and 1970s, the book tells the complicated tangled romantic relations between a womanizing surgeon, his wife whom he dearly loves, his mistress and the man who faithfully loves her (the mistress). Kundera's writing effortlessly sweeps you in to the book and merges the political background with the storyline so seamlessly that it becomes difficult to differentiate the two.

4. North America - I might be prejudiced since I live in Atlanta, Georgia, but my first pick for a contemporary classic set in North America is Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind (1936). The unforgettable romance between Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler needs no introduction. The book is set against the backdrop of the american civil war and its aftermath in the south. It is a pulitzer prize winning novel.

5. South America - Gabriel Garcia Marquez. One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967). This colombian masterpiece is an epic. a saga of seven generations of one family - the Buendias. The patriarch of the family Jose Buendia establishes the fictional town of Macondo and the book follows his life and the lives of the six following generations. Marquez sprinkles magical realism generously throughout the book and amidst ghosts and misfortunes plaguing the family, he tells us the story of Colombia.

6. Oceania - Colleen McCullough's Thorn Birds (1977) is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the vast wilderness that is Australia. When she is really young, Meggie Cleary moves to Australia with her parents and older brothers to live with her aunt. The book follows Meggie's life from childhood all the way to old age in Australia - the happenings on the ranch, the complicated relationships, some life long friendships and love. This is another epic saga spanning three generations.

7. Antarctica - Alfred Lansing's Endurance : Shackleton's Incredible Voyage (1959). In 1914 Sir Ernest Shackleton leads a group of people on an ambitious expedition - an attempt to cross the antarctic continent. The ship they were on, Endurance, crashed in the violent waters and stranded the entire crew on ice. This is the story of how Shackleton sends most of the crew safely to Elephant Island, continues with a smaller subset to Saint George Island and eventually rescues the ones in Elephant Island. Endurance is one of the most gripping novels I've read!