Travel Literature That’s Actually Literature

Entertainment / Arts & Media

Travel Literature That’s Actually Literature

By: James Smith

These days, "travel literature" usually refers to guidebooks like the ones published by Let’s Go! or Fodor, which give tips and suggestions for how to best enjoy a travel experience. Those are fine as far as they go -- this correspondent for one would have been absolutely lost in Krakow without a book to tell him where to see Da Vinci’s Lady With an Ermine. But here at Daily Lounge, we prefer travel literature that’s actually literature. Not sure what we mean? Here are some books to take a look at when you’re thinking about traveling.

The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne
It should be an indication of just how eternal the Eternal City really is by the fact that The Marble Faun, a novel published in 1860, can still enrich the experience of going to Rome. Nathaniel Hawthorne, the great chronicler of Puritanism in America, spent several years of his later life traveling in Europe, and was inspired to write The Marble Faun when he saw the famous red statue of a faun in Rome’s Capitoline Museum. The novel is part romance and part travel guide, describing vistas of the city while it explores an allegorical relationship between the characters.

The Innocent by Ian McEwan
With a few exceptions, McEwan’s novels always seem to have unpleasant, macabre twists, and The Innocent is no exception. That feels appropriate, though, for a novel set in Berlin in the mid-1950s. And, due to the geopolitical situation of the Cold War, the geography of the city becomes an essential part of the novel’s plot, contrasting the licentious freedom of East Berlin with the regimented tradecraft of the British spies in the West. With appearances from all the major sights -- the Tiergarten, the Brandenburg Gate, Alexanderplatz -- all that’s missing is the construction of the Berlin Wall.

The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa by Yasunari Kawabata
Kawabata was the first Japanese novelist to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. That award, however, came almost forty years after the publication of The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa, which brought to life Tokyo’s riotous entertainment district of the 1920s with vivid, fragmented prose. Kawataba’s novel is historically interesting as well as a vibrant chronicle of Tokyo life, and, though the world of his novel may be quite different from the teeming metropolis of modern Tokyo, it’s a fascinating historical document that will make you wonder at how the world has changed so much in less than a century.

The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie
The Moor’s Last Sigh is a comparatively minor work by Rushdie, who is best known for inspiring a fatwa against him for The Satanic Verses and for winning the Booker Prize for Midnight’s Children. Nonetheless, it may be his novel that is most evocative of a particular time and place, deeply entrenched within the worlds of Bombay and Cochin, in particular with reference to an imagined relationship between those cities and the Moorish kingdoms of Spain in the Middle Ages. In addition to geography, it is concerned with questions of national art, of the possibility of cross-cultural exchange, and with Rushdie’s normal preoccupations with magical realism.

[Pic via Flickr - Stéphane O]

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