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Classic reads to transport you to the Americas

8th May 2017

Classic reads to transport you to the Americas.

Classic reads to transport you to the Americas

Books set in a location offer great travel reading. Literature – modern or historical – helps us absorb atmosphere in a way that no other written word finds possible. Books help us get under the skin of a place, and see a location through an author’s eyes.

In the second of a series of themed blog posts, here are 5 classic novels or memoirs rooted firmly in the Americas:

1857022424.01.ZTZZZZZZThe Shipping News – Annie Proulx : NEWFOUNDLAND

In this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of 1993, Annie Proulx immerses some wonderful characters in the moody landscape of remote Newfoundland.

Quoyle, an old hack from New York state, suffers a series of family tragedies. His Aunt Agnis persuades Quoyle and his damaged daughters to return with her to the ancestral home, decaying on desolate Quoyle’s Point and pounded by the elements.

Quoyle finds a job on the local newspaper – the Gammy Bird – in nearby Killick-Claw, where he reports on traffic accidents and the shipping news. He uncovers some disturbing secrets about his forebears, but with the help of local people and the transformative Newfoundland landscape, he slowly rebuilds his life.

I stayed in Meat Cove, at the very northern tip of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, a few years ago. On a high promontory, watching whales breaching in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, it wasn’t hard to imagine Quoyle writing up his column in similarly desolate but life-affirming Newfoundland, a few miles to the north.

0141185082.01.ZTZZZZZZCannery Row – John Steinbeck : CALIFORNIA

This 1945 novel, by one of America’s greatest writers, evokes a sense of time just as much as a deep feeling of location.

Set in the Great Depression of the 1930s, Steinbeck introduces us to a vivid cast of misfits trying to survive on their wits in his home territory of Monterey, California, near the sardine canning factories lined up by the Pacific Ocean.

Mack, Lee Chong, Dora Flood, Hazel, Eddie and the Chinaman have good intentions in trying to organise a party for their friend Doc, a marine biologist. But it goes badly awry. And then they do the right thing. Steinbeck refers to other deeper themes in this heart-warming story, but it is essentially a tale of friendship and contentment.

If you’re travelling to today’s affluent California, be sure to drop into Cannery Row. Now a thriving tourist destination, including hotels, bars, restaurants, the spectacular Monterey Bay Aquarium and sports fishing facilities, some of the old sardine canning history has nevertheless been well preserved. Close your eyes and you might just be able to see Mack and the gang buying liquor at Lee Chong’s Grocery, or fooling around in the Palace Flophouse and Grill.

0312427573.01.ZTZZZZZZThe Bonfire of the Vanities – Tom Wolfe : NEW YORK

Sherman McCoy is on top of the world, an arrogant and affluent investment banker and Master of the Universe in the rampant greed and materialism of 1980s New York. But then he takes a wrong turn off the freeway, ends up in the South Bronx and slowly comes crashing down to earth.

In Tom Wolfe’s seminal debut novel, Bonfire of the Vanities is a vicious satire on Wall Street, race, politics and social status. Using darkly comic language and characters, the author dismantles Sherman and shines a bright light on the bubbling cauldron of social and racial unrest, behind the harmonious and successful facade of the city.

This is a prophetic novel, although it wasn’t until the financial crisis of 2008 that other Masters of the Universe were finally stripped bare, to suffer the same ultimate fate as Sherman.

0552995878.01.ZTZZZZZZLike Water for Chocolate – Laura Esquivel : MEXICO

This 1989 novel is as firmly rooted in food as it is in location.

Mexican novelist and screenwriter Laura Esquivel weaves a bitter-sweet tale around her country’s traditions and around cooking. Young Tita de la Garza is in love with Pedro, but her bullying mother forbids them to marry and forces her eldest daughter to uphold the Mexican tradition of remaining single and looking after the matriarch until her death.

Tita is left to express herself through her cooking, and can at least stay close to Pedro, once he’s married her sister Rosaura.

Much tragedy follows, but Tita’s love for Pedro remains constant. Like Water for Chocolate is a sumptuous feast on many levels, through the evocative writing, the passion of the characters and – more literally – through the recipes in each of the 12 monthly sections of the book. Mexico on a plate.

B002RI94SM.01.ZTZZZZZZThe Bridge of San Luis Rey – Thornton Wilder : PERU

Another Pulitzer prize winner, this time in 1928, The Bridge of San Luis Rey was American author Thornton Wilder’s second novel.

Several connected people die when an Inca rope bridge in Peru, between Lima and Cusco, collapses. A friar who witnesses the terrible accident makes it his mission to find out about the lives of the victims, seeking some sort of spiritual answer about why they had to die on that fated bridge.

Over 6 years he investigates the victims and compiles a dossier, just as the novel plots what happened to each of them, what their lives were like in Peru and what led them to the bridge of San Luis Rey on that day.

Click here for some classic reads to transport you to Europe.

Which books would you add our list of classic books set in the Americas? Leave your comments below…

Andrew for the TripFiction Team

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  1. User: Susan R

    Posted on: 08/05/2017 at 11:47 am

    The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck