As summer finally approaches and the sunshine beckons, it’s hard not to daydream of trading desk chairs for deck chairs or hopping on a plane for an adventurous escape. In the meantime, we offer a list of books that will transport you with stories of traveling abroad—of characters flung far from home, of alienation, of searching for lost places, of seeking a change in perspective. Their pages will take you from your favorite reading nook or park bench into new streets, experiences, and mindsets.
Kudos by Rachel Cusk
In the powerful final installment of the Outline trilogy, Cusk continues to challenge our understanding of fiction. In Kudos, a woman writer visits a Europe in flux, where questions of personal and political identity are rising to the surface. With its action stemming from vivid, precise encounters between the narrator and other people, the book unflinchingly explores the nature of family and art, justice and love, and the ultimate value of suffering. Financial Times called the book “a blazing experiment in auto-fiction that seamlessly amalgamates form and substance.”
Notes on a Foreign Country by Suzy Hansen
A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Nonfiction, Hansen’s powerful story of self-discovery and revelation has been taking the literary world by storm. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, Hansen, who grew up in an insular conservative town in New Jersey, left her successful position as a journalist in New York to move to Istanbul in an attempt to understand the Muslim world. Over the course of her many years spent living in Turkey and traveling, she unearthed unsettling surprises about her own country and about herself, an American abroad in the era of American decline. Blending memoir, journalism, and history, Hansen brings us a moving reflection on America’s place in the world.
The Third Hotel by Laura van den Berg
A widow travels to Havana in an attempt to come to terms with her husband’s death and the truth about their marriage—but upon her arrival, Clare finds herself face to face with her husband. This surreal and mystifying story of loss blurs reality and fantasy as we start to uncover Clare’s role in her husband’s death and reappearance, wading through this ghostly world. Van den Berg’s inventive novel feels dream-like, sweeping us up in its frightening but beautiful scope.
This surreal and mystifying story of loss blurs reality and fantasy as we start to uncover Clare’s role in her husband’s death and reappearance, wading through this ghostly world.
What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell
Greenwell’s debut novel is a story of desire and its consequences. One day an American teacher enters a public bathroom in Bulgaria. There he meets Mitko, a charismatic young hustler, and pays him for sex. Over the next few months, he continues returning to Mitko, drawn by hunger and loneliness and risk. But this relationship treads fine lines between lust and mutual predation, tenderness and violence. Feelings of anguish lead the teacher to grapple with his own fraught history and childhood growing up in the South, where to be queer was to be a pariah. Greenwell brings us a story of how our pasts and cultures, scars and shames, shape who we are and how we love.
Flâneuse by Lauren Elkin
A New York Times Notable Book, Elkin plays with the idea of the flâneur, a quintessentially masculine figure of privilege and leisure who strides the capitals of the world. But in this gender-bending book, it is the flâneuse who fascinates Elkin, a “determined, resourceful individual keenly attuned to the creative potential of the city and the liberating possibilities of a good walk.” Elkin takes us on a journey from New York to Paris, Tokyo, and London, uncovering the paths beaten by flâneuses such as cross-dressing nineteenth-century novelist George Sand and the writer Jean Rhys. Part cultural meander, part memoir, Flâneuse investigates how women have had both meaningful and fraught relationships with the metropolis.
In this gender-bending book, it is the flâneuse who fascinates Elkin, a “determined, resourceful individual keenly attuned to the creative potential of the city and the liberating possibilities of a good walk.”
Dressed Up for a Riot by Michael Idov
Journalist and novelist Michael Idov recounts his tempestuous years spent living alongside—and closely observing—the media and cultural elite of Putin’s Russia. After accepting a surprise offer to become the editor in chief of GQ Russia, he arrives in Russia to massive anti-Putin rallies following a dubious reelection. Idov finds himself pulled in unlikely directions, becoming a tabloid celebrity, acting in a Russian movie with Snoop Dogg, befriending Pussy Riot, and writing Russia’s top-grossing domestic movie of 2015. Prepare for a wild ride through a country grappling with cynicism, corruption, and the fanning of fake news.
Memento Park by Mark Sarvas
After receiving a surprise call from the Australian consulate, Matt Santos becomes aware of a painting that he believes was looted from his family in Hungary during World War II. To recover the painting, he must repair his strained relationship with his father, uncover his family history, and restore his own connection to Judaism. Sarvas tells a story of family and identity, art and history, and asks how we move forward when the past looms large.
My German Brother by Chico Buarque (translated by Alison Entrekin)
My German Brother is a novel from renowned Brazilian musician and author Chico Buarque about a man’s lifelong search for his possibly imaginary half-brother. In 1960s São Paulo, teenage Ciccio finds a decades-old letter inside one of his father’s books, revealing an affair his father had while in Nazi-era Berlin. Ciccio becomes convinced the affair led to the birth of a child who vanished into the chaos of the war. Ciccio’s quest to find his brother turns into an obsession, as he constructs fantasies of this mysterious German brother and the many trajectories his life could have taken. Buarque takes us into the mind of a narrator whose dreams of what was and what might have been at times supplant reality.
In the Garden of the Fugitives by Ceridwen Dovey
Vita receives a letter from a man who has long stalked her from a distance and finds herself entering into an intimate game of words with shifting rules of engagement. Addicting and unsettling, Dovey’s novel is a tale of duplicity and counterplay, both illuminating and surprising. In the Garden of the Fugitives gets at the inner workings of guilt in the human psyche, the compulsion to create and control, and the morphing of desire into obsession.
Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman
Now an Oscar-nominated motion picture starring Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name is a “brave, acute, elated, naked, brutal, tender, humane, and beautiful” love story (Nicole Krauss). The book traces the sudden and powerful romance that grows between an adolescent boy and a guest at his parents’ mansion on the Italian Riviera. During the restless summer weeks, obsession, fascination, and desire build and test the charged ground between them—each unprepared for the consequences of their attraction. Aciman brings us a book about longing and intimacy, how we love others, and the painstaking process of negotiating unforeseen feelings.
During the restless summer weeks, obsession, fascination, and desire build and test the charged ground between them—each unprepared for the consequences of their attraction.
A View of the Empire at Sunset by Caryl Phillips
Award-winning author Caryl Phillips spins an unforgettable biographical novel about another acclaimed writer: Jean Rhys, author of Wide Sargasso Sea. Born Ella Gwendolyn Rees Williams in Dominica at the height of the British Empire, Rhys lived in the Caribbean for sixteen years before going to England. After long hoping to return to her birthplace, Rhys is finally able to voyage back to the Caribbean at age forty-five—only to return to England six weeks later, filled with hostility for her home, never to return. Phillips’s novel is about living in the shadow of an empire, examining how the experience of alienation and exile shaped the life of one of the greatest storytellers of the twentieth century.
Back to Moscow by Guillermo Erades
Martin came to Moscow at the turn of the millennium hoping to discover the country of Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Chekhov. Instead, he finds a city turned on its head, where grim vestiges of Soviet life exist alongside the hedonism of the newly rich. Martin starts giving up on his studies, instead choosing to learn about Russian identity from the city’s unhinged nightlife. Erades’s story of debauchery, discovery, and coming of age is told through candid prose that brings to life a radically changing city, with Martin’s quest for existential meaning, love affairs, and literature leading him to some hard-won lessons.