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

So you are about to set off on the trip of a lifetime to one of the most-loved countries in the world — France! You have been practicing your ‘bonjours‘ and your ‘mercis‘, and studying maps of Paris to work out how to get around, but there is one more thing you can do to make sure your trip is extra special. And that is to immerse yourself in French life by reading some books set in France.

Reading novels set in Paris or the French countryside will give you an insight into the country which is impossible to get from the guide books. As the characters walk along the Seine or drink their coffee at a table on the Parisian pavement, it will fill you with anticipation to do the same — making the experience so much sweeter when you finally get to do it yourself. If the novel is set in the past, you will have more appreciation for France’s history, bringing many of the places and old buildings alive when you visit them on your trip. And if the novel is set in the present day, there’s nothing more fun than trying to find the streets, bars and restaurants that might be mentioned in the story.

So what books should you read? Here is a selection of five novels which do a great job in bringing France to life, even before you set foot on that plane.

‘Foreign Tongue’ by Vanina Marsot

Nursing a broken heart, Anna moves to Paris from Los Angeles. She begins working as the translator of a cryptic erotic novel and of course, finds herself some romance. The book is a love-letter to the city, with plenty of wanderings through the streets as well as descriptions of French life, food and cafes.

‘The Coral Thief’ by Rebecca Stott

History, mystery, romance and intrigue intertwine in this novel set in post-Napoleonic Paris. It is 1815 and a young Englishman travels to Paris to take up a position at the renowned Jardin des Plantes. But when the collection of rare coral specimens he is carrying is stolen by a beautiful woman, he is drawn into a plot involving revolutionaries, spies and the intelligentsia. Victorian Paris comes alive in this novel, which will surely enhance any present day visit to the Jardin des Plantes, France’s main botanical garden.

‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’ by Susan Vreeland

Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s ‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’ is a famous painting depicting a group of Parisians enjoying lunch on the terrace of a restaurant on the Seine. In this novel Vreeland tells the story of those in the painting and how they came to be there. It is a glorious look at Paris at the time of the Impressionists, and you can still eat at the restaurant itself today.

‘Five Quarters of the Orange’ by Joanne Harris

Now we move out of Paris and into the Loire Valley with this novel by Harris that takes us to a village occupied by the Germans in WWII. The book moves between WWII and the present day, giving us an insight into the long-term effects the Nazi occupation had on the French people. And as it is a book by Joanne Harris, there is a of course lots of time spent exploring French food!

‘The Matchmaker of Perigord’ by Julia Stuart

We finish up with something fun and quirky, in a fictional village in France’s south-west. Amour-Sur-Belle might not be a real place, but it gives a taste of some of the declining villages of rural France. Here, the town barber decides to reinvent himself as a match-maker, quite a task when there are only 33 residents to match up. Filled with delightful characters and semi-ridiculous situations, this novel should just leave you giggling and enjoying the French temperament.

So if you have your tickets booked for Charles de Gaulle airport or you just WISH you had a holiday planned for France, try the books above to immerse yourself in a bit of French life and culture. And if you find yourself enjoying them…well, there’s plenty more to explore…Bon Voyage!

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 Turkey – Five Novels to Read Before You Travel

Rich in history, art and culture, Turkey is the place where Asia and Europe meet — all combining to make a fascinating holiday destination. But Turkey has a complex history, and if you really want to get under the skin of this intriguing country, then reading books set in Turkey is a great place to start. The novels below will help you to scratch beneath the surface of the tourist brochures and holiday posters, deepening your understanding of this beautiful and passionate country. Why not give them a go before setting off on your travels?

‘Birds without Wings’ by Louis de Bernières

Through the eyes of the residents of a small village in southwestern Turkey, this novel tells the story of how modern Turkey was created at the turn of the 20th century. Through ordinary men and women, characters you will grow to love, you can witness the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the new, secular state that emerges. This is a book that tourist guides have been known to recommend, to help people understand the history of their country just that little bit more.

‘The Flea Palace’ by Elif Shafak

The city of Istanbul is a character itself in this delightful novel about the residents of the Bonbon Palace. Through the lives of the residents of the ten rundown apartments, we have a portrait of modern day Turkish society.

‘Enlightenment’ by Maureen Freely

Beginning in 2005, this political thriller tells the story of American ex-patriot Jeannie Wakefield, whose husband is arrested for links to terrorism. As the story is looked into by an investigative journalist, we are taken back to 1970’s Istanbul and the following decades of political turmoil. The novel traces actual historical events as it gives a picture of the complex politics and society of modern day Turkey, as well as throwing light on the background to present day Turkish-American relations.

‘Gardens of Water’ by Alan Drew

On August 17, 1999, northwestern Turkey was hit by a powerful earthquake which killed around 17,000 people and left about half a million without homes. This novel is the story of one Kurdish family during that earthquake and its aftermath, as they struggle to rebuild their lives and keep their culture intact amongst the challenge of living in a refugee camp, the influence of forbidden love, and the relentless despair of their own grief.

‘The Museum of Innocence’ by Orhan Pamuk

A list of novels about Turkey wouldn’t be complete without a book by the Nobel-prize winning Pamuk. Like most of his books, Innocence is a hefty and challenging read, but this story of obsessive love gives a wonderful picture of the emerging modernity of 1970’s Istanbul. A brief affair with his young cousin leads 30-year old Kemal to a life-long obsession with the memory of their relationship. He begins to collect mundane objects for a museum to honor their love, and his life passes as if nothing else matters. In a wonderful blending of fact and fiction, you may soon be able to visit Pamuk’s real ‘Museum of Innocence’ which he is currently building in Instanbul, a place where he intends to display a collection of everyday objects he has amassed over his lifetime.

So if you are itching to get yourself on that plane to explore Turkey as soon as possible, make an early start with these novels. I can guarantee that as you walk around the markets of Istanbul or sit by the Bosphorous Strait watching all the activity, there will be many moments when the characters from these novels will feel like they are right by your side.