BYOB Bring Your Own Books

BYOB    Bring Your Own Books

“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.” Annie  Lamott

I love reading novels that take place in different countries. I like reading them when I travel to the countries. I enjoy getting lost in them at home.

I was fortunate to discover “Traveler’s Bookcase” in Los Angeles. The first thing I do after planning a trip is to go and get their book recommendations.  I’m either traveling somewhere they have been and loved or somewhere they want to go. They are always happy about my trips.  Sometimes when I am ambivalent (why did I pick that place?), I leave there with an armful of travel books and a lot of excitement..  They recommend the best and most recent guide books and their favorite novels .

The Traveler’s Bookcase ( ) is owned by Natalie  Compagno and Greg Freitas . Natalie and Greg look like the cool kids that you wanted to be friends with in high school. They are good-looking, trendy and fun  –they do not look like book store owners. They love travel and books and will help in any way they can. If they don’t know something, they have a friend who does.  This list is based on their recommendations to me –they are always spot on.  If you live in Los Angeles, I strongly urge you to stop in . It is on the same block as Magnolia Cupcakes. You can’t go wrong. The first novel they recommended to me was the Master and the Margarita when I was going to Russia. .It is one of my favorite books and the first one I will recommend to you.

MASTER AND THE MARGARITA  by Mikhail Bulgakov 1937   Russia

This is an allegory based on the premise of a visit by the Devil to  the Soviet  Union. It is beautifully written and there are meanings within meanings. The novel alternates between two settings – 1930’s Moscow and the Jerusalem of Pontius Pilate. There is Professor Woland, a mysterious gentlemen of uncertain origin and his group of henchman including a gun happy fast talking cat named Behemoth.  They target the literary élite in Moscow. In the second part we meet the Master, an embittered author  and his lover Margarita. It is considered by many to be the greatest novel of the twentieth century.  (video is the Rolling Stones -Sympathy For The Devil which is based on the book Master And The Margarita, over the Russian miniseries of the book)

THE JUKEBOX QUEEN OF MALTA by Nicholas Rinaldi 1999 Malta

The story is about the Siege of Malta during World War Two. Rocco Raven an American radio operator posted in Malta and working closely with the British Intelligence, falls in love with Melita a Maltese woman who travels around the island repairing jukeboxes. It shows the reactions of the Maltese people and the military defense of the island during the destruction caused by the German bombing .

THE GLASS PALACE by Amitav Ghosh 2000 Burma

The novel is set in Burma  and spans a century from the fall of the Konbaung Dynasty in Mandalay, through the  Second World War to modern times. Focusing mainly on the early 20th Century, it explores a broad range of issues, ranging from the changing economic landscape of Burma and India, to pertinent questions about what makes up a modern society. I took it with me to Burma.

PURGE  by Sofi Oksanen 2008 Estonia

Purge is a story of two women forced to face their own dark pasts, of collusion and resistance, of rape and sexual slavery set against the backdrop of the Soviet occupation of Estonia. Purge was  based upon her original play of the same name, staged at the Finnish National Theatre in 2007.[ As of 2010, Purge is the only one of Oksanen’s novels which has been translated into English. I read it in one night. I could not put it down.

WHITE TIGER by Aravind Adiga 2008 India

This first novel tells the story of the journey of Bairam Halwai. He is  a boy from a village who goes to Delhi to work as a chauffeur and then to  Banglore where he kills his master.  He becomes a successful entrepreneur  and transcends his caste.The novel examines issues of religion, caste, loyalty, corruption and poverty in India

ELEGANCE OF A HEDGEHOG by Muriel Barbery 2006 France

This is the story of the events in the life of a concierge, Renée Michel, whose deliberately concealed intelligence is uncovered by an unstable but intellectually precocious girl named Paloma Josse. Paloma lives in the upper class Parisienne apartment building where Renée works.

The book is full of allusions to literary works, music, films, and paintings. It incorporates themes about philosophy, class conscience and personal conflict.

THE BRIDGE ON THE DRINA by Ivo Andric 1945 Bosnia-Herzekovina

The Bridge on the Drina revolves around the town of Visegrad and  the Mehmed Pasa Sokolovic Bridge over the Drina River. It is written beautifully.  The story spans four centuries during the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian regimes. It describes the lives, destinies and relations of the local villagers with a particular focus on Muslims and Orthodox Christians living in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Andric won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his entire literary work but mostly for this novel in 1961.

THE BERLIN STORIES By Christopher Isherwood 1945 Germany

The Berlin Stories is a book consisting of two short novels Goodbye to Berlin and Mr Norris Changes Trains. They are set in Berlin in 1931 just as Hitler was coming in to power. They depict  a life of cafes and quaint avenues, bizarre nightlife, dreamers, mobs and millionaires. It was the basis for the play I Am A Camera which went on to inspire the musical Cabaret.

HELIOPOLIS  by James Scudamore 2009 Brazil

Heliopolis is  set in São Paulo Brazil. It follows the story of Ludo dos Santos – a young man born in  a favela (slum community). He leaves and eventually returns to the favela . It is  a comic, violent, poignant, different kind of rags to riches story.

WHITE TEETH by Zadie Smith 2000 England

White teeth focuses on the later lives of two wartime friends – Samad Iqbal and Archie Jones and their families in London. The story mixes pathos and humor .  It describes the immigrant experience In Great Britain and also satirizes the middle and working class British cultures.

There are many more recommendations. I thought we would start with these. Let me know any of your favorite books that take place in a foreign country or your own.

Fly safe,


4 thoughts on “BYOB Bring Your Own Books

  1. Travel the world through books is a real pleasure: it gives an insight into the realities of other countries, and into other people minds too. Thanks a lot for sharing your reading list.

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