We all of us heard about the world, saw the world or were told about the world before we ever saw it… and for many of us we fell in love with the world through books.
I’m not talking about the holiday page-turners where Major Jeremy or Lord Montgomery crosses the class divide to elevate Mary the chambermaid.
A novel travel experience
Rather these are the books which mark out a country as somewhere we strive to visit and then do so:
The Story of an African farm girl (South Africa): Olive Schreiner unsurprisingly wasn’t on my school syllabus growing up in Scotland in the Seventies.
South Africa was completely off my radar until my best friend Thomas was taken out there to live with his family.
Thomas was addicted to the Commando wartime comics from the DC Thomson stable which includes the Beano and the Dandy, and who I am working for now.
But I digress. Olive, as I discovered on my trip to the Karoo in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, was a feminist pioneer.
And her homeland looks as if it hasn’t changed very much since it was written in the 1880s. Visit https://www.southafrica.net/uk/en/ and What’s the story, Medjugorje? Wouldn’t you like to know.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin (USA): Arguably one of the most influential books in the history of the modern world
With Abraham Lincoln purportedly greeting Harriet Beacher Stowe with the salutation: ‘So this is the little woman who started this great (American Civil) war.’
Tom was based on a real-life slave, Josiah Henson who lived and worked on a plantation in Bethesda, Maryland.
While learn more about the Underground Railroad and Harriet Tubman, above, in my American Trilogy trawl through the Deep South… The Promised Land, The story of the Blues, The King of Kings. And https://www.deep-south-usa.com.
Slaughterhouse–Five (Dresden, Germany): War revisionism hadn’t reached my Glasgow school but Kurt Vonnegut seeped into my consciousness a few years later at Aberdeen University.
The cult Sixties novelist placed his time-travelling hero Billy Pilgrim in and around the Allies’ firebombing of Dresden
Robinson Crusoe (Tobago): Where I clambered onto the very beach the castaway found himself on.
And raced with the goats, the descendants of the ones Crusoe had raised 300 years before.
All Greek to me
The Odyssey (Athens); As a student of ancient Greek (private school, you see) I studied excerpts from Odysseus’s (or Ulysses) journey home from Troy.
And just to get into part I had an odyssey of my own through Munich Airport onto Athens and around the island of Kythera where he ventured.
The Good Book
The Bible (Jordan, Israel, Egypt and Heaven and Hell): The first place names that we learn of other than our home addresses are the Holy Lands.
And where John the Baptist is reputed to have baptised Jesus at ‘Bethabara beyond Jordan’, or Bethany.
Which the Jordanians claim as Al-Maghtas.
But the Israelis say is where they are on their side, actually in the place where the River Jordan now flows.
And these Orthodox Christians repeated the ceremony.
So which books transport you to a far-flung place? Tell me and we’ll share…