Books Set in Spain – Five Novels to Read Before You Travel

If you are planning a trip to Spain, you might be thinking it is all about the sun, sand and Sangria.

That is the side of Spain that is often portrayed in the popular media, but if you’d like to know a little bit more about the country you are traveling to then it might be time to turn to some books set in Spain that delve into Spanish life and tell us something of the country’s difficult history.

It has not been such a long time since Spain was divided by a bitter civil war and the subsequent years of fascism. It wasn’t until General Francisco Franco died in 1975 after a forty year reign, that the country was able to embark on becoming the democratic country it is today.

You can find out what it was like for Spaniards in those years by reading the following novels.

‘Guernica’ by Dave Boling

The town of Guernica is in the Basque region of northern Spain. In 1937 hundreds of residents were killed when the town was bombed by German and Italian war planes. This inspired Pablo Picasso to create a painting of the event — the horror of the images helping to bring attention to the Spanish Civil War. This novel is the story of that painting and the people depicted in it We become immersed in the lives of the Ansogegui family in the lead up to the war, as well as the devastating years of the war itself — following them as they try to come to terms with the impact the conflict has on themselves and their loved ones. If you’d like to know more about the Basque people and this particular slice of history, then this novel is ideal.

‘The Time of the Doves’ by Merce Rodoreda

Set in Barcelona before, during and after the Civil War, this novel follows the life of Natalia through her suffering and depression. It may be a tear-jerker, but it is also a tale of hope and survival. And when you go to Barcelona, you can visit La Placa Del Diamant, the original Catalan title of the novel, and a crucial location in the novel.

‘A Manuscript of Ashes’ by Antonio Munoz Molina

This novel begins during the latter years of Franco’s reign, in the late 1960’s. Minaya is a university student who has been imprisoned for his role in a demonstration. He flees to the countryside to work on his thesis and becomes absorbed in a story from the past. It’s a mystery, a love story, and a portrayal of the complexities and tumult of the Civil War.

‘Winter in Madrid’ by C.J. Sansom

As the title suggests, the location of this novel is the Spanish capital. Englishman Harry Brett has been sent to Madrid by the British Secret Service to spy on an old friend. It is 1940, and Harry is soon immersed in the political complexities of post-Civil War Spain. There is also of course, a love story or two…

‘The Return’ by Victoria Hislop

This novel is a curious mix of chick-lit and historical fiction. And while the style of the writing could be considered ‘beach read’, the subject matter is not. Told in a mix of past and present, the novel gives a frightening portrayal of the war in the city of Granada. It shows how civil war pits neighbors and even brothers against each other, while the chaos that follow destroys the dreams and relationships of those who are left behind. If you are planning on visiting Granada, then this book is a must.

By all means enjoy the fantastic lifestyle and culture that you will experience on a trip to Spain today, but if you want to really understand the people that you meet on your journey, then any of these books will help you to do that. Immersing yourself in the history of a city or country does much to enhance your travels, so why not read these novels and take that first step. And once you have done that, there are plenty of more books set in Spain to explore….

Books Set in Vietnam – Five Novels to Read Before You Travel

If you are traveling to Vietnam, then it is pretty much impossible to ignore the fact that the country was at war for more than 20 years, and when looking at books set in Vietnam, it is just as difficult to escape the impact of the war on most literary endeavors. There are many fine novels written about Vietnam, but this selection attempts to present a range of views, giving you a wide perspective on the country and its history before you make your journey.

‘Matterhorn’ by Karl Marlantes

Written in 1977, but only published in 2010 after more than thirty years of rejections, this novel is being described as an ‘epic’ and the first ‘great’ novel of the Vietnam War. There is no getting away from the realities of the war in this book, as Second Lieutenant Waino Mellas and his Bravo Company face their fears of combat and the harshness of the jungle highlands of South-East Vietnam.

‘The Man from Saigon’ by Marti Leimbach

Books about the Vietnam War are often written from a male perspective, but with this one we meet Susan Gifford who is sent to Vietnam to write human interest stories about the war for a women’s magazine. While she may be quite naive to begin with, Gifford is soon covering the actual conflict, and finds herself in love with Marc, a fellow journalist. But if you think this books is going to be some kind of soppy romance, then you are wrong — there are very few books I have read that so completely immerse you in the horror and fear of war as this one. And while there is romance – the complications of Gifford’s relationships, both with Marc, and her Vietnamese photographer, Son, give this novel real emotional depth.

‘Novel without a Name’ by Duong Thu Huong.

And what of the North Vietnamese soldier? In this novel we share the story of Quan a soldier who has been at war for ten years, only to return to a village much changed in his absence. Written by a woman who has been imprisoned for her political beliefs, the novel captures Quan’s disillusionment and loss of innocence, giving us a side of the war which is rarely revealed. Here we see the ‘glory’ of the cause giving way to displacement of civilians, the hunger of villagers and the inevitable breakdown of families and relationships that are a result of sustained conflict.

‘Dragon House’ by John Shors

And now to modern day Vietnam, where two Americans try to deal with their own past by setting up a center to look after Vietnamese street children. On arrival the duo are confronted with the corruption and chaos of Ho Chi Minh City, and as readers we are treated to all the sounds and smells that bring the streets to life. But it is the children who will steal your heart in this novel, taking you with them as they battle the squalor in which they live. This book is a story of love, hope and redemption which is a stark reminder of the legacy of conflicts past.

‘Daughters of the River Huong’ by Uyen Nicole Duong

Spanning four generations, this is a book which takes us far back into the richness of Vietnamese history, before leading us through colonization and war to the country we know today. Written by a political refugee who arrived in the United States when she was just sixteen, this novel tells the story of one family of Vietnamese women, and in doing so reflects the struggles of a nation.

If you are about to visit Vietnam, you are visiting a country which has a particular fascination for those of us from the West – it is impossible to travel through Vietnam without being confronted by the roles colonization and war have played in its history. Arm yourself with these novels and you will be able to understand just that little bit more about the people who walk the roads of Vietnam today.

6 Good Books to Read On Your Travels

Nothing could be more arbitrary than deciding what are the best books to read while traveling. Reading is such a subjective activity, based on personal preference, that telling anyone they should take Janna Gray’s Kilingiri or Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code with them on the plane borders on nervy. On the other hand, suggesting good reading is as common as suggesting where you can get the best sandwich.

The actual physical transfer for a trip is often enhanced by a good read. It instills the journey with an extra sensory push that can make the trip that much more enjoyable and memorable. So it’s not just about killing a few hours to avoid going stir crazy while waiting to reach your destination. It can be about entertaining yourself, learning and challenging your perception of the world. Whether you do that through fiction, non-fiction, historical or police procedurals, if there were a reason to reach for a good read, it’s while traveling.

So, though we take the risk of being nervy, here are a few books that won’t just pass the time during transit. They will remind you why you enjoy the written word so much in the first place.

The Harry Potter Series (J.K. Rowling)

Has any other collection of books provided so much entertainment and inspiration? With seven volumes in its catalog, it will more than keep you busy through the longest ride. The entire world marveled at a young, na├»ve boy’s transformation to smart adulthood and wizardry.

Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963, Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-1965, At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968 (Taylor Branch)

This award-winning trilogy was a life goal for the author, dutifully chronicling the history of the civil rights movement in general and the story of Martin Luther King, Jr. in specific. Non-fiction and history buffs will find these books thrilling as segments can read like a page turner. These books will definitely keep the mind spinning during even the longest trip.

Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)

Already considered a classic piece of literature, this debut novel is a finely etched and detailed story set in the Gion district of Kyoto during pre-war Japan. It focuses on a young girl’s journey from an impoverished fishing village to becoming a celebrated entertainer. Memoirs is a lively story of hope, courage and love that has been reminding readers that the life experience is fragile and beautiful.

Hollywood Babylon (Kenneth Ager)

Some of us like reading about sordid scandals. Peeking behind the curtain and seeing that it isn’t all bright lights and champagne. There are many books like this one, but this was the first. Released in 1965, it was banned and not republished until 1975. There’s nothing to learn here that will make your life better. But for us gossip mongers, it’s the cat’s meow!

A Painted House (John Grisham)

Actually, anything by Grisham would make a good read on a speeding train, boat or airplane diving in and out of the clouds. They are all deliberately fast paced and engaging. This one, about a young boy caught up in a brutal murder, is no slacker in the Grisham department.

Shantaram (Gregory David Roberts)

Captivating, it’s loosely based on real events. A man escapes from an Australian prison and flies to India, passing himself off as a doctor. From there it’s a series of adventures that take our protagonist from the tumultuous slums of Mumbai to the likes of New Zealand, Afghanistan and Germany. Don’t let its size deter you. This is as fast a read as it gets.