Just because you can’t leave your house doesn’t mean you can’t travel an epic journey! It’s time to sit back in your favourite chair and take your mind on a well deserved holiday. There are so many great books that can help you escape the four walls of your home, and you won’t even need to stand in queue at the airport!
These are three of my favourite books, and one I’m hoping read soon. They are all great at taking you to an unfamiliar place, and even an unfamiliar time. They are stories about three very different protagonists, a shepherd, a hero, and a ruthless dictator.
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Traverse North Africa in the pre-modern era: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
This is the story of Santiago, a young shepherd from Andalusia who sets of across North Africa to find treasure. As simplistic, yet fantastical as the goal may sound, the story is about finding your own personal legend. Being content with versus doing something that defines you. Although set over 200 years ago, he encounters some the challenges as a traveller would today; such finding ways to communicate despite language barriers, thieves and pickpockets, and the desire to give up and go home.
Go sailing the Mediterranean in the 12th Century BCE: The Odyssey by Homer
This is one of the OG travel stories. Probably the least classically heroic heroes to fight the Trojans in the Iliad, Odysseus was better known for his cunning than his honour. But how did the mastermind behind the Trojan Horse take ten years to complete a two week trip? Well, it could be because he is a narcissistic and violent misogynist. He could have been notorious, but his ego got the better of him. If you need to sail home, don’t trumpet your name after you blind the son of Posiden. FFS he’s god of the sea, and you are setting out to sail!
The classic poem has themes of temptation, deception and teaches us about the ancient Greek custom of xenia. Xenia is a tradition of welcoming travelling strangers into your home. Odysseus plays the role of guest, and the abuse of this custom often gets him and his crew in trouble. Meanwhile in Ithica, his wife Penelope plays the role of host so many suitors in his absence.
Like a lot of ancient text, the Odyssey was originally passed down orally. How we know of the story today is like a collection of stories stitched together with an underlying homecoming story. Penguin Books has the best known translation by Robert Fagles. If you’d prefer something you can share with the whole family, check out this child-friendly version.
Grow up in a pre-USSR Georgia: Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore
Have you ever wondered what Georgia like in the late 1800s? Probably not, but take my word, it was really interesting; I mean there are town fights where everyone gets involved! Following the story of young Josef “Soso” Dzhugashvili we learn about this tiny Caucasian nation in a pre-soviet Tsarist Russia. Although Soso didn’t know who his dad was, he was raised by a violent alcoholic shoemaker and a promiscuous mother. His hometown of Gori instilled an overly masculine culture in young boys. Those fights, children would also throw punches!
Despite growing up in an environment which fostered extreme-violence in children, Soso was surprising smart. He took interest in literature and poetry; he was destined for bigger things than Gori. When Soso went to study at the seminary, you can see his transformation to his future self. He was destined to become a revolutionary, but not the sort you’re proud of. From the time of his birth to the Bolshevik revolution, this is the true story of Josef Stalin.
An amazing read on an awesome person; Young Stalin takes you to a time and place in history you thought you’d never visit.
My next read: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
Shantaram is the story of one of Australia’s most wanted men who flees to India after escaping prison. Having a history of crime, he gets sucked back into India crime scene, working for gangsters and Afghan guerrillas. Although not an autobiography, the author, Gregory David Roberts draws on his own life experiences to create the story.
I’m looking forward to this read, and if you’re keen to travel to a gritty Mumbai, you can purchase Shantaram here.
Have you read any of these books? Have I missed any of your favourites? Add them to the comments below.