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Transitions Abroad, September/October 2005

When You Can’t Hit the Road,
Hit the Books

By Kelly Westhoff

Unfortunately, you can't travel all the time. When I am stuck at home, I read about travel. Travel memoirs take up much of my bookcase, but so do novels by contemporary international writers.

The settings and the characters are exotic. Plots are complicated by obstacles unknown to me. The internal struggles of the heroes and heroines may be familiar, but with a foreign twist.

While the stories of international authors capture my imagination, I read foreign literature for another reason: it gives me an insider's view. A novel set in Prague, written by a Czech, shows me more truly what it is like to live there, what it is like to be Czech, than a travel article or memoir. Characters reflect the dreams and fears of their culture, their struggles with religion and government, and the place both occupy in their lives. Foreign bestsellers offer a glimpse into another culture's present reality and collective memory.

So when you find yourself between trips, pick up a work of fiction by a foreign novelist and take a journey of the mind. The works of the most acclaimed international authors writing today are widely available in paperback.

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Amitav Ghosh (1956–  , India). Ghosh's novels have won numerous awards both in and outside of India. Popular titles include The Circle of Reason, The Shadow Lines, and The Glass Palace. His most recent novel, The Hungry Tide, was released in April 2005.

Elena Poniatowska (1932 –  , France/Mexico). Poniatowska was the first woman to win Mexico's national journalism award. Popular titles include Massacre in Mexico; Here's to You, Jesusa; Tinisima and, most recently, The Skin of the Sky.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, (1928 –  , Colombia). One Hundred Years of Solitude is often called a masterpiece. Other novels include Love in the Time of Cholera and Of Love and Other Demons. He has published numerous short stories and has begun to publish his memoirs. In 1982 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Harkuki Murakami (1949 –  , Japan). Murakami's novels are often surreal and funny. Norweigan Wood was a bestseller in Japan. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle won the Yomiuri Literary Award, a Japanese literary prize. Kafka on the Shore is Murakami's most recent release.

J. M. Coetzee (1940 –   , South Africa). Coetzee's 1983 novel, Life & Times of Michael K, won Great Britain's acclaimed Booker Prize, as did his 1999 novel, Disgrace. In 2003 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

José Saramago (1922 –   , Portugal). Saramago is a poet, essayist, and novelist. In 1998 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Some of his most acclaimed novels are Baltasar and Blimunda, Blindness, and All The Names.

Milan Kundera (1929 –   , Czech Republic/France). Kundera mixes philosophy and political commentary with fiction. The Unbearable Lightness of Being was made into a movie in the 1980s. Other titles of note include The Book of Laughter and Forgetting; Identity: A Novel; and Ignorance: A Novel.

Yu Hua (1960 –   , China). Hua's novels have had much success in China, but only two have been translated into English. A 1994 movie was based on Hua's novel To Live. To Live and Chronicle of a Blood Merchant are available in English.

KELLY WESTHOFF is a writer and teacher in Minnesota. She caught the travel bug in her twenties while studying in Spain. Since then she has landed in Argentina, Guatemala, Cuba, Peru, Greece, Italy, and the Czech Republic. Contact her at kellywesthoff@yahoo.com.
 

 
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