I listened to Gellhorn’s only travel book while driving solo in Namibia. She was a war correspondent, novelist and a traveler. These are her “horror stories” about travel because she reasons that nobody wants to hear about a trip that went well. I was often laughing out loud and later discovered she wrote it doing the same.
During Covid lockdown, Noo Saro-Wiva’s Looking for Transwonderland took me on a perfect armchair journey through Nigeria just as my conference in Lagos was cancelled. It’s a perfect blend of personal narrative and factual information about Nigeria.
I met Maskarm in Kampala through a mutual friend and devoured her self published book right after. I’m always on the lookout for travel narratives by Africans and this Cape Town to Cairo book doesn’t disappoint.
A few years ago in Australia, I chaired a panel on travel writing with Shivaji talking about his book Angels by the Murky River. Later he asked me to review The Other Shangri-La. All my praise on the back cover is well deserved; it’s full of astute observations, humor and telling anecdotes.
I read this book while traveling in Namibia, dreaming of also going to Angola like Theroux in the book. I like his writing style, probably also because his The Railway Bazaar was the first book I ever read in English, and which influenced me to go spend time in India.
This is the first novel I’ve read by Ghosh, and it was the perfect companion during my solo trip to Myanmar. It brings the region’s history alive through vivid stories. I loved visiting the setting of some of the scenes in Yangon and Mandalay.
Bell is one those women travelers one can only look up to with awe: travels across the desert that make her more “of Arabia” than Lawrence ever was. I’ve written an academic article comparing the “narrative I” in Bell to that of Lawrence in Seven Pillars. Both defied expected gender norms.
I’ve been obsessed with T.E. Lawrence since coming across him in my Ph.D. research. This book is a long, tedious read but showcases Lawrence’s contradictory character. If you’re interested in the history of the Middle East, Seven Pillars covers some of its central, tragic events
How can one not adore Bowles’ nonchalant writing style combined with quirky details, like visiting someone in Tangiers who had stored jars of human blood in his living room.
In 2008, I bought What is the What at JFK airport on my way to Japan without knowing anything about it. It’s a novel but an autobiography, wait what? Valentino Achak Deng’s story grabbed me also because of its contrast to Japan. I ended up teaching it many times too.
I read Doris Lessing for the first time after my trip to Zimbabwe. The 1950 The Grass is Singing set in South Rhodesia paints a brutal, visceral image of colonialism’s effects both on the locals and the white settlers.
I had been to Istanbul many times before reading Pamuk’s love letter to his city. It’s the best book I’ve read about how a city influences and shapes one’s personality.
If I could pick one book for everyone to read worldwide it would be Kaiser’s Holocaust. It draws parallels between colonial ideologies and fascism which resonate beyond Namibia, Germany and WWII to present day all around the world.
Lindquist’s book is a travelogue and literary and colonial criticism all in one. The title comes from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: it’s Kurtz’s famous line in his treatise on how to deal with the locals in colonial Congo. Raoul Peck’s HBO documentary series based on Lindquist’s book is not an easy watch but shows colonial legacies in their brutality.