In my “who am I ” page I mention that I love reading yet I never mention books in my posts. The reason for this is because more often than not my reading is completely unrelated to my traveling. Nonetheless there have been times when I felt like an almighty power was conspiring to make me read books set in or related to the places I was visiting.
What do I mean? Well:
- The first time I remember this happening was back in 2012 when I went to India. What you have to understand about my trip to India is that it was utterly unplanned. One day I was sitting at my desk at my job in Mozambique thinking my next holiday was months away and then due to a family emergency circumstances changed radically and within 48 hours I had quit my job and was sitting on a plane en route to New Delhi. Call it coincidence but the book I had been reading in Maputo and took with me to India was “Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts. I was already in the plane when I realized I was going to where the story was set. Well, same country albeit a different city. Did reading it influence how I perceived India? I think not. Did being in India alter how I interpreted and accepted the novel? Yes.
- I’m not sure if I should include Thailand and “The Windup Girl” by Paolo Bacigalupi in this list because although the book is set in Bangkok it is a Bangkok in the future and not much of it actually relates to the setting. Perhaps the description of a fruit here and there that I would have thought was completely fictional if I hadn’t already seen it for sale in the streets of Bangkok but thats it. Anyways, I already put it in the list so let me tell you how I ended up reading it while in Thailand. Basically someone had recommended it to me a while back and I had added it to endless “pile” of to-be-read books on my kindle so, as often happens with me, by the time I got to it I didn’t even remember what it was about and there I was sitting on a beach in southern Thailand when lo and behold I was reading about a future Bangkok.
- Cambodia and all the books I read there have a slightly different story. I had actually been wanting to read “First they killed my father: A Daughter of Cambodia remembers” by Loung Ung before going to Cambodia but had been unable to get a hold of it. However, on my first day in Siem Reap I found young children selling it – and other related books – in the streets and by the entrance to the temples. They were pirated copies but I didn’t care, so I bought the first one, and then the sequel “Lucky Child: a daughter of Cambodia reunites with the sister left behind”. Once in Phnom Penh I wanted to read more novels set in Cambodia but there were no longer little kids running about the streets selling them, luckily for me on one of my outings I found a second-hand bookstore near the palace that had plenty so I bought “Stay Alive, My Son” by Pin Yathay. All three novels are magnificent – even if heart-wrenching – stories that helped me understand the recent history of where I was standing and definitely shaped my perception of Cambodia as a whole and particularly my visit to the “killing fields” in Phnom Penh.
- How I ended up reading “Ali And Nino” by Kurban Said in Baku, Azerbaijan is akin to a city-wide conspiracy to get all travellers to read it. Seriously, for starters the hostel were I stayed had drawings of the characters on the walls, and then walking through town I would often find references to the famous pair all over. Either in the name of coffee shops, small restaurants, or in the myriad of souvenirs in the touristic spots. There’s even a bookstore chain in Baku named “Ali and Nino” and thats where I went in with no hope of them having an english copy but they did!! They had several copies in several languages actually. Like I said, there was city-wide plan to get all tourist to read it. And I’m glad I did. The characters aren’t the best developed but the representation of east-meets-west and the characterization of life in Baku is excellent. It kind of reminded me of “1984” by George Orwell in that the backdrop of where the story is set is more important than the actual characters.
- The last addition to this compilation is itself a compilation. I’m talking about “Contemporary Georgian Fiction” translated and edited by Elizabeth Heighway. I found this gem in the bookshelves of one of my all-time favourite hostels, the Marco Polo in Tbilisi, Georgia. Some of the short stories in it are superb, others… not so much. Regardless of wether you like the stories or not they definitely do an excellent job at explaining life in Georgia after the fall of the USSR. I particularly liked a story that allowed me to grasp the importance of the ever-present Khinkali in Georgian society.
These are the 5 times the world conspired to have me read something related to my surroundings and now that I’ve finished reminiscing about them I almost wish it happened more often. I know I could just make a conscious plan to choose books related to where I’m travelling but it’s just not the way I work. So I guess I’ll just have to wait until the next time it happens. Or not? Perhaps I could load my kindle with books about the places I’m visiting next year. That way when I’m there maybe I’ll accidentally start one.
What about you? Have you ever unexpectedly found yourself reading a novel related to your surroundings? Or, unlike me, do you plan your reading around your trips? And if so how do you do it? I would really like to know so please comment bellow with your thoughts.