Six new novels to transport you overseas this summer

From Sri Lanka to Chile, Havana and Paris, journey around the world with fictional tales that conjure a crackling sense of place.

Sunday, July 26, 2020,
By Sarah Barrell
Our round-up of this summer's most captivating travel novels. 

Our round-up of this summer's most captivating travel novels. 

Photograph by National Geographic Traveller (UK)

The vivid red flash of a forest flame tree set against a white picket fence in Nigeria; the scent of rum and secrets shared on a bath-warm evening in Trinidad; the sights and sounds of colonial-era Chile. Sometimes the truest portrayal of place is found in fiction. At a point where many of us are in need of some easy escapism, we offer up some of the best works of fiction, all of which allow you to step effortlessly across borders and even travel through time.

A Long Petal of the Sea, by Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende’s latest novel is a thumping read, following the life of a young doctor from Barcelona, forcibly transplanted to Chile during the Spanish Civil War (aboard a ship chartered by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, no less). Raised in Chile and exiled to Venezuela, Allende understands the rippling effects of being uprooted, and this story, like her other greats, focuses on the impact of displacement, while simultaneously painting the most vivid portrait of place. (Bloomsbury, £16.99)

The Parisian, by Isabella Hammad

A love story, of sorts, moving from Palestine, to Montpellier then Paris in the decades before the Second World War, this is a tale of how global politics and cultural identity shapes individual lives. A vivid rendering of both one Palestinian life in transition, and of a vastly shifting world order, this ambitious debut novel, just out in paperback, has been recently garlanded with the Edward Stanford Fiction Award, and Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. (Vintage Publishing, £9.99 paperback)

Love After Love, by Ingrid Persaud

The follow up to The Sweet Sop, which won both the 2017 Commonwealth short story prize and the 2018 BBC National short story award, in Love After Love, Ingrid Persaud mines tender human truths from otherwise invisible, small-town Caribbean lives. The everyday family houses, back gardens and streets of Trinidad are firmly in frame, brought sharply to life with colloquial, rhythmic Trini dialect. Read about Ingrid’s experience of returning to her native island to research this novel, online in our Author Series. (Faber, £14.99 hardback)

Island of Secrets, by Rachel Rhys

This summer’s ebullient beach read (or, perhaps local park read) is set in 1950s Cuba, a country on the cusp of revolution. A bored woman from the home counties with artist ambitions happens on an invitation to Havana, where she uncovers gangsters, socialites, epic cocktails and fated romance; the latest from the Nigerian-born multiple-pen-named-writer of mystery and crime fiction. Due in paperback July 2020. (Black Swan, £7.99)

Suncatcher, by Romesh Gunesekera

Take a trip to 1960s Sri Lanka with Romesh Gunesekera, a writer shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction and the Guardian Fiction Prize for his debut novel, Reef. This coming-of-age story is one of tricky friendships and obscure new horizons, set in a Ceylon adrift during mid-century political upheaval. With schools closed and the government floundering, our young protagonist has to rely on his developing strength of character. Truly, a fitting read for our times. Due in paperback August 2020. (Bloomsbury, £8.99)

The Death of Vivek Oji, by Akwaeke Emezi 

The second novel from Wellcome Book Prize and Women’s Prize for Fiction nominee Akwaeke Emezi offers up a chronicle of a death foretold, unpicking the events leading up to the untimely, mysterious demise of the titular young Nigerian. Raw, strange, and packed with a contrasting cast of characters, this is a tale whose atmosphere lingers long after the reading is done, not least its reach-out-and-touch rendering of contemporary Nigeria. (Faber, £12.99 hardback)

Published in the Jul/Aug 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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