My Four Top Non-Travel Travel Books
Some of my deepest understandings of place, my most intense sense of “being” somewhere come neither from actually being there, nor from reading a travel book about the destination.
They come from a novel or short story which, because they set out to tell a story and not to describe a location, actually create a powerful sense of time and place.
At many points in my life I was moved, touched by these non-travel travel books.
Here are just four of them:
In Travels with a Tangerine, Tim Mackintosh-Smith sets out to follow the footsteps of the great Arab/Muslim traveler, Ibn Battutah, who left his native Tangier, Morocco, in 1325, covered three times the distance of Marco Polo, and returned 30 years later…after some 75,000 miles of wandering.
Mackintosh-Smith cuts corners (he doesn’t have 30 years to spend!), but he captures the spirit of the intrepid traveler in many of the places Battutah visited.
In the fog that surrounds things Islamic today, Macintosh-Smith’s book is reassuring.
In The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst, the inadvertent hero of the book is Warsaw, Poland, a fading, elegant dowager of a city, lovely and classy but trapped by the juggernaut of World War 1, and the intrigue of French and German intelligence operatives.
Furst unfolds the betrayals and ravishment of the city, even as we are immersed in her streets, balls, halls and great deceptions. A great and passionate love story.
Colin Thubron has always been a master story teller!
Shadow of the Silk Road takes us on the greatest land route on earth, the Silk Road, that fabled, splendid commercial road from the heart of China through the steppes of Asia to Iran and finally ending up in Antioch, once Syrian territory, now Turkish.
But Thubron brings the hamlets and people and ruins and forgotten villages and their lives to life as he journeys by donkey cart, car, bus, truck and camel. It’s a travelers’ tale richer than any traveler could take.
Picture Amsterdam 1659, a tight community of Portuguese Jews, and one of them stumbles upon coffee as a commodity! A whole new market opens up and we are there in the midst of the smells, sounds and characters of Amsterdam. This is The Coffee Trader by David Liss, a novel about commerce that succeeds brilliantly in giving us Amsterdam in the 17th century.