Nonfiction travel writing is one option, but I’ve always believed that reading international fiction is one of the best ways to learn about other cultures.
These two lists give plenty of options, but don’t forget you can always ask a librarian at your library to make personal recommendations. Or check out the lists and reviews by librarians at MCPL’s Readers’ Cafe.
My own fiction recommendations for this summer’s reading all share the perspective of seeing a vacation destination through the eyes of visitors. Sometimes throwing people together in a new environment upsets the status quo, making for drama, intrigue, and unexpected revelations. Perfect ingredients for engrossing fiction.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
This sumptuous novel is set in an Italian village on the shore of the Ligurian Sea and spans fifty years of the characters’ lives. It weaves together a story of World War II with the making of a Hollywood movie in 1962 (Richard Burton makes an appearance) and a contemporary search for a lost love, by turns romantic, heartbreaking, and hilarious. This book is a pure escapist joy to read.
Siracusa by Delia Ephron
Two American couples agree to vacation together in this idyllic Sicilian resort town on the shore of the Ionian Sea. Big mistake for two of them, because the husband of one and the wife of the other are having an affair. This trip is just a pretext for them to spend time together. Of course their plan goes awry with devastating consequences.
Skios by Michael Frayn
A case of mistaken identity at a scientific conference on the Greek island of Skios sets this farcical send-up of academia in motion. A young and handsome adventurer is mistaken for the keynote speaker while the pompous old professor is lost on the other side of the island. Hilarity ensues.
Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch
Dutch author Koch sends a motley crew of people off to a luxurious villa on the Mediterranean in this follow-up to his best selling The Dinner. Among the people lolling around the pool are several married couples, two teenage girls, and a famous film director with a girlfriend half his age. When a violent incident shatters their idyll, the group is consumed with anger and suspicion. What really happened explains a later mysterious death.
Tangerine by Christine Mangan
In this modern noir, newly married Alice has just moved to Tangier when her former college roommate Lucy shows up unexpectedly. Alice is unhappy, hating her new surroundings and refusing to venture out in the oppressive heat. But Lucy falls in love with Tangier and soon makes a curious alliance with a local man. As the story is told, with flashbacks from both women’s perspective, the tension mounts. What is Lucy really doing there? She shows no sign of leaving and her twisted motivations lead inevitably to tragedy.
Enjoy your summer of reading!