Welcome back, Armchair BEA visitors and other lovely readers!
Today’s topic of choice takes us Beyond the Borders to books that “transported you to a different world, taught you about a different culture, and/or helped you step into the shoes of someone different from you.”.
We’d like to share a few books that expanded our horizons, but in different ways.
Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernières
Shortly after World War I, the animosity between Greece and Turkey (then Anatolia, part of the failing Ottoman Empire) was at a high point. As part of a ceasefire deal, the two governments agreed that the Christians of Anatolia would be sent to Greece, and the Muslims of Greece would be sent to Anatolia. Christians (or “Greeks”) who had been living alongside Islamic Turks all over Anatolia were forced to leave their homes with nothing, to march across country or were simply killed – there was actually a massacre near Smyrna at the time. Both sides were responsible for atrocities.
Despite the subject material, this is actually quite a light-hearted book at times and I remember it being a delight to read. In Birds Without Wings, Louis de Bernières tells the story in his charming and occasionally heart-wrenching fashion. It’s a truly tragic story, and it’s one that my ancestors were intimately involved in on the Turkish side of the sea. You see, my great-grandfather was one of the “Greek” (christian Turkish) refugees. He fled to the Greek island of Chios and met my great-grandmother there. They moved to Crete and then emigrated to Australia a few years later. I had heard the story of their emigration before from my Yia yia but never truly realised the danger and tragedy involved until I read this book.
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
Goodreads blurb: “An epic, mesmerizing novel set in the underworld of contemporary Bombay. Shantaram is narrated by Lin, an escaped convict with a false passport who flees maximum security prison in Australia for the teeming streets of a city where he can disappear. Accompanied by his guide and faithful friend, Prabaker, the two enter Bombay’s hidden society of beggars and gangsters, prostitutes and holy men, soldiers and actors, and Indians and exiles from other countries, who seek in this remarkable place what they cannot find elsewhere.”
I’m a traveller myself, but I have found that visiting a country where you don’t know anyone living there doesn’t really introduce you to the soul of the country, even if you might still have an amazing time seeing the sights. Reading this book was an experience that helped me to understand a little bit about the amazing, complicated whirlwind that is Indian culture, from the hights of the very wealthy to the extreme poverty in the slums of Bombay. Added to that the fact that I read it while in a truck on my way cross-country to and through India, and it’s a book that will likely stay with me for the rest of my life.
Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon
Goodreads blurb: “No one wanted Ai Ling. And deep down she is relieved—despite the dishonor she has brought upon her family—to be unbetrothed and free, not some stranger’s subservient bride banished to the inner quarters.
But now, something is after her. Something terrifying—a force she cannot comprehend. And as pieces of the puzzle start to fit together, Ai Ling begins to understand that her journey to the Palace of Fragrant Dreams isn’t only a quest to find her beloved father but a venture with stakes larger than she could have imagined. “
I feel like Silver Phoenix is one of the most diverse books I’ve read in a long time…or that I recall. Being transported into historical China and the culture for women and “dating” is a relief from the trends we see in ya today.
Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
Goodreads blurb: “Cry, the Beloved Country, the most famous and important novel in South Africa’s history, was an immediate worldwide bestseller in 1948. Alan Paton’s impassioned novel about a black man’s country under white man’s law is a work of searing beauty. Cry, the Beloved Country is the deeply moving story of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son, Absalom, set against the background of a land and a people riven by racial injustice. Remarkable for its lyricism, unforgettable for character and incident, this is a classic work of love and hope, courage and endurance, born of the dignity of man.”
One of the quintessential South African novels. First published in 1948, it illustrates the struggles and injustices faced by many South Africans pre and during apartheid.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Goodreads blurb: “Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.
In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.
And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.”
This book made me fall in love with Prague!
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