During our researches for the TripFiction site, we have come across innumerable books that are set in bookshops around the globe. A quirky compilation, one that hones in on cultural differences, with books and bookstores as the central theme. We have really enjoyed creating this small list -. and please add your favourite "novels set in bookstores" below!
Our collated novels set in bookstores can now be found on our Pinterest board here
This is an interesting book that crossed our path recently, a kind of large novella. Maravan is living in Zurich, having left his homeland of Sri Lanka, though he can never quite sever himself from his roots and particularly from Great Aunt Nangay who inspired him to cook. Meeting up with Andrea, a waitress working at the renowned restaurant Chez Huwyler, where he too worked for a time, they form a plan to provide sumptuous Ayurvedic meals for couples who need to stimulate their sex life. ("Ayurveda is a type of medicine which is many thousands of years old. It has eight disciplines. The eighth is called Vajikarana. It's all about aphrodisiacs. This includes certain food dishes").They encounter arms traders and prostitutes along the way, all set against the current political and economic events of the late 2000s, both in Europe, Switzerland and in Sri Lanka, whilst all the while trying to preserve their own moral values. And of course therein lies the rub!
We defy anyone reading this book not to salivate and if you feel motivated, there are some of Maravan's recipes included at the back. As a sampler from one of the menus they serve....
Cinnamon curry caviar chapattis
Baby snapper marinated in turmeric with molee curry sabayon
Frozen mango curry foam
Milk-fed lamb cutlets in jardaloo essence with dried apricot puree
Beech-smoked tandoori poussin on tomato, butter and pepper jelly
Kulfi with mango air
The storyline, the people and the food are all elements that combine together, like ingredients and feed the storyline. This is a definite read for those who like food and who are familiar with Zurich.
(PS: if you want to know what Chuchichäschtli is, mentioned in the text of The Chef, it is the Swiss German word for kitchen cupboard, and is horrific to pronounce correctly...)
To compliment this book - or in other words something to offset the starter as it were - we have chosen a second food-centric novel, this time set in Amsterdam, which was a great hit in 2012 - and interestingly from the same publisher, Atlantic.
The Dinner by Herman Koch
set in Amsterdam
A summer's evening in Amsterdam and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse - the banality of work, the triviality of holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened. Each couple has a fifteen year old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children, and as civility and friendship disintegrates, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.
To our readers: what books do you recommend, where the food just wafts off the pages and where there is an evocative setting? Please let us know in the Comments Box if you were really inspired by food, place and writing...
"see a location through an author's eyes" Two noir novels set in Rome, with colour co-ordinated covers! (Are cerulean blue and 50 shades of grey the workaday colours of the noir genre, we wonder?) Dark, dark city, murder, back alleys, sinister characters - these all feature in abundance, taking you to the places in Rome that as tourists we are (happily) unlikely to encounter.
Any Human Face by Charles Lambert is set in the bleaker backwaters of Rome, on the edges of the gay community, each chapter like a snapshot in black and white. The Leitmotiv throughout the novel is a collection of photographs of convicts, which passes from one hand to another and eventually ends up in the possession of Andrew Caruso, who runs a delapidated book shop La Piccola Libreria, in the city. Moving between the 1980s and 2008, the photographic quality of the chapters serves to highlight the intrinsic isolation of many of the colourful characters who breeze in and out of the storyline, all the while set against a lurking presence of menace. The storyline and characters sometimes have a Pasolini-like quality, which really anchors the novel in the Eternal City.
And from this book we discovered the restaurant “L'obitorio" un classico di Trastevere which serves pizza "piu' buona di Roma” - Bruno and Alex drop in early on in the book. Has anyone been there, what did you think?
"Even today, after two years of Roman vacations, I get lost in the center of the city as soon as I leave the perpendicular line of the Corso. For someone accustomed to the perfect symmetry of Manhattan, the twisting streets of the Italian capital seem a labyrinth of squares and narrow alleys, all the same: a fountain, a column, a flaking wall, a café, a market stall, a wild dog, a motorcycle, a beggar, a group of American or Japanese tourists, another fountain"(extract from Roman Holidays, Rome Noir short story, by Enrico Franceschini).
Recognise Rome from this short description? The lovely indecipherable impenetrable city with a history going back two and a half thousand years; and this is just one of many descriptions that pepper the book of short stories Rome Noir edited by Chiara Stangalino and Maxim Jakubowski. A cocktail of 16 stories set around the capital from Stazione Termini to the Via Appia Antica, Fiumicino to the Villa Borghese. Some stories are like gossamer veils enveloping and captivating, some are downright dark, and others culminate in murderous intent. Others are visceral in their storyline, some are seamy, but there is something for everyone. Tour the city through this collection and get to know areas off the beaten tourist track and experience the stories through the eyes of its citizens.
Share your choice of Rome set noir novels with us below in the Comments Box - novels that bring a place to life (oh, and any suggestions for any good, out-of-the-way eateries?).
Where to start when one suggests fiction that brings India to life? There are so many novels out there where the heat, the smells, the life and the colour of the country really lift off the pages. One novel that recently crossed our path is East of the Sun by Julia Gregson, set in the late 1920s and just so evocative of the era and country. Unmarried young women on the search for husbands travelled to India in search of eligible young men based over there - the constant stream of women heading out East was charmingly called "The Fishing Fleet". Rose, arriving in Bombay describes her first impressions: "...there was too much to take in: the dazzling sun, the stink of drains and incense, the brilliant saris and dark faces." And there is more where that came from.... And what a beautifully designed cover!
Our next choice is A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. Compassionate realism and narrative are vividly captured in this masterpiece. It is 1975 and India is again in a state of flux, the location is an unnamed city by the sea (but it might well be Mumbai). A state of emergency has just been declared and, again, the lives of three characters are thrown together – a spirited widow, and two tailors from a hill station – living in a tiny apartment with an uncertain future.
The Toss of a Lemon by Padma Viswanathan spans the lifetime of one woman (1896-1962), and brings us intimately into a Brahmin household, into an India we've never before seen. Married at ten, widowed at eighteen, left with two children, Sivakami must wear widow's whites, shave her head, and touch no one from dawn to dusk. She is not allowed to remarry, and in the next sixty years she ventures outside her family compound only three times.
City of Devi by Manil Suri - Armed only with a pomegranate, Sarita ventures into the empty streets of Mumbai, on the eve of its threatened nuclear annihilation. She is looking for her physicist husband Karun, who has been missing for over a fortnight. She is soon joined on her quest by Jaz - cocky, handsome, Muslim, gay, and in search of his own lover. Together they traverse the surreal landscape of a dystopia rife with absurdity, and are inexorably drawn to the patron goddess Devi ma, the supposed saviour of the city. Groundbreaking and multilayered, The City of Devi is a fearlessly provocative tale of three individuals balancing on the sharp edge of fate.
Please add any novels in the Comments Box below which you would take to India with you and are really evocative of the location. Would you add Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, or perhaps Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo.... or These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach (the book behind the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)? Help to make www.TripFiction.com a really valuable resource for both actual and armchair travellers by adding your suggestions and your spontaneous review.