#10 Books set in Myanmar (Burma)

Burma chroniclesThe river of lost footsteps: a personal history of Burma by Thant Myint-U – A story of modern Burma, in part through a telling of his own family’s history, in an interwoven narrative by turns lyrical, dramatic and appalling.

 Burmese Days by George Orwell. Classic novel set in Burma in the 20and 30’s

The art of hearing heartbeats: a novel by Jan-Philipp Sendker -A suspenseful love story set in the exotic Burmese countryside, where a young American woman discovers the secret that lived in her father’s heart for over fifty years

Return to Mandalay by  Rosanna Ley A woman’s search to find the truth about her grandfather’s past, her family origins and the red-eyed chinthe itself – enigmatic symbol of the riches of Mandalay.

Elephant moon by John Sweeney – Based on a little-known WW2 true story when a herd of 53 elephants was used by a young English schoolteacher to rescue a band of orphans in Burma and transport them to the safety of India. An incredible journey filled with adventure, tragedy and love.

 Return to MandalayThe road to Wanting by Wendy Law-Yone – In the new Chinese economy in the late ’80s, the frontier at Wanting is a magnet for outcasts & the desperate. To Na Ga it represents not the beginning of a new life, but the end of the road. Will, her American lover, has thrown her out leaving her with painful memories, a dollar bank account & a ticket back to Burma.

 From the land of green ghosts: a Burmese odyssey by Pascal Khoo Thwe – The autobiographical story of a young man’s upbringing in a remote tribal village in Burma and his subsequent journey from his strife-torn country to the tranquil quads of Cambridge

Freedom from fear and other writings by Aung San Suu Kyi – Reflects Suu Kyi’s greatest hopes and fears for her people, her concern about the need for international cooperation and gives poignant reminiscences of her role in politics

 Burma chronicles by  Guy Delisle – presents a personal and distinctively humorous glimpse into a political hotspot, putting a popular spin on current affairs.

A well-tempered heart by Jan-Philipp Sendker – Julia, a successful lawyer’s story is interwoven with that of a Burmese woman named Nu Nu who finds her world turned upside down when Burma goes to war and calls on her two young sons to be child soldiers

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#10 Books set in Sicily

The dance of the seagullAnyone going to Sicily? It’s a fantastic place to visit, soak up the atmosphere with any of these titles.

The dance of the seagull by Andrea Camilleri – Rated 5 star by 12 readers, this is just one of the Inspector Montalbano novels adapted for TV and filmed on the south-eastern coast of Sicily in Ragusa, Scicli and Punta Secca -causing a tourist boom.

Inspector Montalbano is sitting on his porch at dawn when he sees a seagull fall from the sky. It performs a strange dance, before lying down to die. Perplexed by what he has witnessed, the scene hangs over him like an omen. About to depart for a holiday, Montalbano pops to the police station to tie up loose ends but when his dear colleague Fazio is discovered missing, he instead launches a desperate search.

Beatrice and Benedick by Marina Fiorato – Hidden in the language of Shakespeare’s best-loved comedy ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, are several clues to an intriguing tale. It seems that the witty lovers Beatrice and Benedick, had a previous youthful love affair which ended bitterly. But how did they meet, why did the part, and what bought them together again?

The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa – This masterpiece is set amongst an aristocratic family facing social Time on my handsand political changes in the wake of Garibaldi’s invasion of Sicily in 1860. At the head of the family is the prince, Don Fabrizio. Proud, stubborn, he is accustomed to knowing his own place in the world & expects his household to be run accordingly

The villa by Rosanna Ley – Initially resistant to her daughter, Tess, going back to her roots, Flavia realises the secrets from her past are about to be revealed and decides to try to explain her actions. Meanwhile, Tess’ teenage daughter Ginny is stressed by college, and all three women are seeking answers. Will Villa Sirena bring them together?

The Silent Duchess by Dacia Maraini – This novel tells the story of three generations of the Ucria family, seen through the eyes of the young Duchess Marianna. Married at 13 to her own uncle, set apart from others by her disability, she searches for fulfilment in a society in which women face either marriage and endless childbearing or a life within the walls of a convent

The Food of Love Cookery School by Nicky Pellegrino – Luca Amore runs cooking holidays in the Sicilian mountain town of Favio…

The Godfather by Mario Puzo – Mafia leader Vito Corleone, The Godfather, is the a benevolent despot who stops at nothing to gain and hold power. Set in Long Island, Hollywood and Sicily this is a story of a feudal society within society which does not hesitate to consolidate its power

Killing ground by Gerald Seymour – A young Englishwoman finds herself at the heart of a dangerous plot to trap the head of the Sicilian Mafia. In this thriller, Seymour truly captures the brooding atmosphere of Mafia-dominated Sicily

Time on my hands by Giorgio Vasta – Palermo 1978. Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro has been kidnapped in Rome by the notorious Red Brigades and found dead in a car boot two months after his disappearance . Three 11-year-old schoolboys avidly follow the news of the abduction as their admiration for the brigatisti grows. When the boys themselves resolve to abduct a classmate & incarcerate him in a makeshift ‘people’s prison’, the darkness within their world, and the world of the novel, becomes all-pervasive.

I Malavoglia: (the house by the medlar tree) by Giovanni Verga, 1840-1922 -This translation is a tragic tale of poverty, honour and survival where the weak go to the wall unmourned.

#10Books set in China to celebrate Chinese New Year

FrogIt’s the Year of the Wood Sheep (or Goat) in Chinese Astrology from 19th February – The Chinese word yáng refers both to goats and sheep and different countries have different interpreations. In Vietnam and Cambodia it’s goat, in Japan – sheep, in Korea and Mongolia, sheep or ram. Anyway, we’ve got a selection of great novels all translated from the Chinese.

Frog by Yan Mo -A celebrated midwife, skilled at delivering babies in difficult rural circumstances, finds herself at the blunt end of China’s controversial one child policy. A complex family story, told through letters and narrative forms, it explores the emotional and moral toll of state control on a traditional community that places a high value on a large family.

The bathing women by Ning Tie (it sold a million copies) Sisters Tiao and Fan grew up in the shadow of the Cultural Revolution where they witnessed ritual humiliation &suffering. They also witnessed the death of their baby sister in a tragic accident- which could have prevented.

Under the hawthorn tree by Mi Ai – In the late 70s a young girl, Jingqiu, falls in love with a boy nicknamed ‘Old Third’. Their romance is cut short by fate; Old Third dies before there is an The man with the compound eyesending for them, happy or not.

The last quarter of the moon by Zijian Chi – At the end of the 20thC an old woman sits among the birch trees and thinks back over her life, her loves, and the joys and tragedies that have befallen her family and her people, the Evenki tribe who wander the remote forests of north-eastern China with their herds of reindeer, & live in harmony with nature at its most beautiful and cruel.

The dark road by Jian Ma – Meili, a young peasant woman and her husband Kongzi, a school teacher & distant descendant of Confucius, have a daughter. Desperate to carry on his illustrious line, Kongzi gets Meili pregnant without waiting for official permission. Family planning officers arrive to arrest violators of the population policy & they have to make a fugitive life on the river.

Lenin’s kisses by Lianke Yan – Deep in the Balou mountains is a small rural town populated by disabled people. Blind, deaf, and disfigured, the 197 citizens of Liven have until now enjoyed a peaceful, mutually supportive life out of sight and mind of the government. When an unseasonal snowstorm destroys the year’s crops, a county official dreams up a money-making scheme to boost his career & raise money for the district,  convincing the villagers to set up a travelling freak-show.

The flowers of warThe flowers of war by Geling Yan – A short novel is based on true events that took place during the Nanking Massacre in 1937 when the Japanese invaded the Chinese city. It tells the story of an American missionary who, for a few terrifying days, finds himself sheltering a group of schoolgirls, prostitutes & wounded Chinese soldiers in his church  compound

The man with the compound eyes by Ming Wu (Scifi) – On the island of Wayo Wayo, every second son must leave on the day he turns fifteen as a sacrifice to the Sea God. Atile’i is one such boy, but as the strongest swimmer and best sailor, he is determined to defy destiny and become the first to survive. Alice Shih, who has lost her husband and son in a climbing accident, is quietly preparing to The boat to redemptioncommit suicide in her house by the sea-  her plan is interrupted when a vast trash vortex comes crashing onto the shore of Taiwan, bringing Atile’i with it

The boat to redemption by Tong Su – Raw, emotional and unerringly funny, this is a profoundly human story of a people caught in the stranglehold not only of their own desires and needs, but also of a Party that sees everything and forgives nothing

Dream of Ding village by Yan Lianke It addresses the AIDS blood-contamination scandal in Henan province, where villagers were coerced into selling vast quantities of blood and then infected with the AIDS virus as they were injected with plasma to prevent anaemia

 

#10Books set in Rome

I, Claudius: from the autobiography of Tiberius Claudius, Emperor of the Romans, born 10 B.C. murdered and deified A.D. 54Historical fiction, a lot of great novels that are out of print ….it’s hard to get a mixture of holiday reading and classics in stock without too many ‘swords and sandals’ titles! Based around books rated very highly by Leeds Libraries readers, here’s some suggestions. And there’s more than 10 …

Classics

I, Claudius by Robert Graves From the autobiography of Tiberius Claudius, Emperor of the Romans, born 10 B.C. murdered and deified A.D. 54. Written in the form of Claudius’ autobiography, this is the first part of Roberts Graves’s account of the madness and debauchery of ancient Rome, and stands as one of the most celebrated, gripping historical novels ever written.

The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne ‘Often enjoyed by Victorian tourists as a guide to the Eternal City, the book centres around the time spent in Rome by three American artists & their faunlike Italian friend Donatello. In a richly symbolic novel, the characters find their lives thrown into disarray, as a murder entangles their existences forcing them to confront the most awful effects of human impulse’

The Public Image by Muriel Spark Shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1969, it tells the storyof Annabelle Christopher, a glamorous actress adored by her public, who has just moved to Rome with her husband Frederick and her baby son Carl. In a shimmering show business atmosphere, the duplicity of the characters and the strains behind a celebrity obsessed culture are exposed. The public image of Annabelle must be glittery and perfect, attentively cultivated to the smallest detail, including her family, but the reality of her life does not exactly look as smooth as its gleaming surface

Crime, Thriller Blood & beauty

Lost girls of Rome by Donato Carrisi. 5* with Leeds readers A young girl has mysteriously disappeared in Rome. As rain lashes the ancient streets, Clemente and Marcus sit in a cafe and pore over the details of the case. They are members of the ancient Penitenzeri – a unique team linked to the Vatican – and trained in the detection of true evil. Soon, they will uncover a terrible secret

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown Robert Langdon is called upon to identify a mysterious symbol seared onto a dead man’s chest. It belongs to the Illuminati, a secret brotherhood with a vendetta against the Catholic Church

Map of bones by James Rollins 5* with Leeds readers Commander Gray Pierce must lead the elite SIGMA Force on the hunt for the Royal Dragon Court, a clandestine aristocratic fraternity of alchemists dating back to the Middle Ages. Their aim: to establish a new world order using the mystical bones of the Magi

Foreign influence by Brad Thor 5* with Leeds readers Recruited as a field operative in a totally secret and uncompromising new spy agency, former Navy SEAL Scot Harvath is summoned when a bombing in Rome kills a group of American college students. The evidence points to a dangerous colleague from Harvath’s past and a plan for further attacks on an unimaginable scale

 The game by Tom Wood 5* with Leeds readers Victor is the perfect killer. He has no past. He will stop at nothing. He can find you anywhere. In sweltering Algiers, he executes a fellow assassin- when the CIA comes calling, Victor must pose as his victim to identify the dead man’s next mark, a mission that takes him across Europe to the bloody streets of Rome.

Stories, historical

When in Rome by Nicky Pellegrino Rome in the 50s. This is where Serafina calls home. She and her sisters long to meet their matinee idols and Serafina daydreams of Mario Lanza. But the sisters will grow up quickly and for Serafina, a choice opens between the world she knows and the life she dreams of

Blood & beauty by Sarah Dunant 5* with Leeds readers When Rodrigo Borgia buys his way into the papacy, he is defined not just by his wealth or his love for his illegitimate children, but by his blood: he is a Spanish Pope in a city run by Italians. If the Borgias are to triumph, this charismatic politician with an appetite for life, women and power must use papacy and family to succeed

NemesisThe Ragazzi by Pier Paolo Pasolini This is the story of 12-year-old Riccetto growing up in the notorious slums of Monteverde, written by Pasolini was not only an acclaimed film director but also a poet and novelist.

At sea by Laurie Graham 5* with Leeds readers Bernard Finch has come a long way from his small-town American roots. Bernard had some trouble in college, so he flew to Europe, where he enjoyed an agreeable life in Rome. That is, until his lover and protector died, leaving Bernie penniless. It was time to re-invent himself

 Swords and Sandals

The forgotten legion by Ben Kane 5* with Leeds readers also available as an ebook An epic Roman novel of three men and one woman who are bound in servitude to the Republic – an odyssey which begins in Rome, but ends at the very limits of the unknown world, where the forgotten legion fights against overwhelming odds

Nemesis by Lindsey Davis 5* crime In the high summer of 77AD, Roman informer Marcus Didius Falco is beset by personal problems. Newly bereaved and facing unexpected upheavals in his life, it is a relief for him to consider someone elses misfortunes. A middle-aged couple who supplied statues to his father, Geminus, have disappeared in mysterious circumstances. The Silver Pigs is also recommended Marcus Didiua Falco thinks he’s rescuing a girl in distress but all is not what is seems in Ancient Rome’s winding back alleys.

 

#10Books set in Calcutta

Sea of poppiesEven if you don’t have a trip to India planned, these evocative novels will transport you.

Sea of poppies by Amitav Ghosh The background to this historical adventure is the Opium Wars. The story revolves around the Ibis, an old slaving-ship voyaging across the Indian Ocean, its crew made up of sailors and stowaways, coolies and convicts, representing Westerners and Indians respectively. Slowly they start considering themselves as ship-brothers

The midnight palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafón From the author of ‘The Shadow of the Wind’, the haunting story of a secret society and a labyrinthine railway station with a dark past. 1916, Calcutta. A man pauses for breath outside the ruins of Jheeter’s Gate station knowing he has only hours to live. Pursued by assassins, he must ensure the safety of two newborn twins, before disappearing into the night to meet his fate.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri Epic in its canvas and intimate in its portrayal of lives undone and forged anew, ‘The Lowland’ is a deeply felt novel of family ties that entangle and fray in ways unforeseen and unrevealed, of ties that ineluctably define who we are. With all the hallmarks of Jhumpa Lahiri’s achingly poignant, exquisitely empathetic story-telling, this is her most devastating work of fiction to date

 The lives of othersLives of Others by Neel Mukherje Calcutta, 1967. Unnoticed by his family, Supratik has become dangerously involved in student unrest, agitation, extremist political activism. Compelled by an idealistic desire to change his life and the world around him, all he leaves behind before disappearing is this note. The ageing patriarch and matriarch of his family, the Ghoshes, preside over their large household, unaware that beneath the barely ruffled surface of their lives the sands are shifting

Chowringhee by Śaṃkara First published in Bengali in 1962, is a sprawling saga of the intimate lives of managers, employees and guests at one of Calcutta’s largest hotels, the Shahjahan,

Song of Kali by Dan Simmons Robert Luczak has been hired by Harper’s to find a noted Indian poet who has reappeared years after he was thought dead. But Lucsak’s routine assignment turns into a nightmare when he learns that the poet is rumoured to have been brought back to life in a ceremony of human sacrifice

A dead hand: a crime in Calcutta by Paul Theroux When Jerry Delfont, a travel writer with writer’s block, receives a letter from an American philanthropist, Mrs Merrill Unger, with news of a scandal involving an Indian friend of her son’s, he is sufficiently intrigued to pursue the story.

Bijou Roy by Ronica Dhar When Bijou Roy takes the ashes of her father home to India it is natural that she should be interested in his past & why he emigrated to the U.S. Naveen… the son of her father’s old friend, knows the answers, but can he be induced to tell? This is a story about crossing cultural boundaries, exile & family secrets

The strangler vine by M. J. Carter India. 1837. William Avery, a fresh young officer in the East India Company, arrives in Calcutta expecting to be seduced by its ancient traditions. Nine months later he longs to return home before the cholera epidemic finishes him off. Xavier Mountstuart, a disgraced poet had left Calcutta earlier to track down the last of the remaining Thugs, a sinister secret fraternity notorious for strangling thousands of travellers but after reaching the kingdom of Jubbulpore, Mountstuart mysteriously disappears

Zemindar by Valerie Fitzgerald A magnificent, twisting, turning love story unfolds against a backdrop of exotic splendour as Englishwoman Laura Hewitt accompanies her cousin and fiance, first to Calcutta and then to the fabled fiefdom of Oliver Erskine, Zemindar – or hereditary ruler – of a private kingdom with its own army. But India is on the verge of the Mutiny, which will sweep them all up in its turbulence. Not one of them – not even the Zemindar himself – will remain unchanged by this violent rebellion against the Raj

#10Books set in Prague

The unbearable lightness of beingIf you’re heading for Prague in the near future and want to get the atmosphere of the city/Czech Republic, try our #TenBooks set in  selection.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being  by Milan Kundera “A young woman is in love with a successful surgeon, a man torn between his love for her and his incorrigible womanizing. His mistress, a free-spirited artist, lives her life as a series of betrayals–while her other lover, earnest, faithful, and good, stands to lose everything because of his noble qualities. In a world where lives are shaped by irrevocable choices and fortuitous events, and everything occurs but once, existence seems to lose its substance, its weight. Hence we feel “the unbearable lightness of being.” A novel of passion and politics, infidelity and ideas, encompasses the extremes of comedy and tragedy, illuminating all aspects of human existence.

Daughter of smoke and bone by Laini Taylor – Karou manages to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she is a 17-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to an inhuman creature who deals in wishes and is the closest thing she has to family. Her life is surrounded by mysteries she is desperate to unveil

The lost wife by Alyson Richman During the last moments of calm in pre-war Prague, Lenka, a young art student, falls in love with Josef. They marry – but soon, like so many others, they are torn apart by the currents of war. Now, decades later, an unexpected encounter in New York brings Lenka and Josef back together

The Prague fatale by Philip Kerr Crime. ‘The Prague Fatale’ is Bernie Gunther’s eighth outing. Set in Prague in 1942, it delivers all the fast-paced and quick-witted action that we have come to expect from Philip Kerr. It is an outstanding thriller by a writer at the top of his game.

The Prague cemetery by Umberto Eco Thriller. 19th-century Europe, from Turin to Prague to Paris, abounds with the ghastly and the mysterious. Conspiracies rule history. Jesuits plot against Freemasons. Italian republicans strangle priests with their own intestines. French criminals plan bombings by day and celebrate black masses at night,

HHhHHHhH by Laurent Binet Prague, in 1942. Two men have been enlisted to kill the head of the Gestapo. This is Operation Anthropoid: two Czechoslovakian parachutists sent on a mission to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich – chief of the Nazi secret services, ‘the hangman of Prague’, ‘the blond beast’, and ‘the most dangerous man in the Third Reich’

Far to go by Alison Pick Pavel and Anneliese Bauer are affluent, secular Jews, whose lives are turned upside down by the arrival of the German forces in Czechoslovakia. The Bauers flee to Prague with their 6-year-old son, Pepik, and his beloved nanny, Marta. When the family try to flee without her to Paris, Marta betrays them to her Nazi boyfriend

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka – The story begins with a traveling salesman, Gregor Samsa, waking to find himself transformed (metamorphosed) into a large, monstrous insect-like creature. The cause of Samsa’s transformation is never revealed, and Kafka himself never gave an explanation. The rest of Kafka’s novella deals with Gregor’s attempts to adjust to his new condition as he deals with being burdensome to his parents and sister, who are repulsed by the horrible, verminous creature Gregor has become

The good soldier Schweik Jaroslav By Hašek  The classic Czech novel, showing up the ridiculousness of war, military discipline, etc. during World War I in the Austro-Hungarian Empire

The visible world by Mark Slouka A story about memory and concealed histories, and about the way that the most fiercely-held secrets of the past eventually force their way to the surface

 

#10Books set in – Berlin

Alone in BerlinBerlin is a city with so much history. Here’s 10 books to borrow from the library. They include a range of stories from political oppression to tales of romance and adventure.  Ten captivating novels to evoke Berlin.

Hans Fallada – Alone in Berlin – Berlin, 1940, and the city is filled with fear. At the house on 55 Jablonski Strasse, its various occupants try to live under Nazi rule in their different ways: the nervous Frau Rosenthal, the bullying Hitler loyalists the Persickes, the retired judge Fromm, and the unassuming working-class couple Otto and Anna Quangel

Christopher Isherwood – Goodbye to Berlin – . Evokes the gathering storm in Berlin before and just after the rise to power of the Nazis, as seen through the eyes of a series of individuals

Chloe Aridjis – Book of Clouds – Adrift in Berlin and with no desire to return home to Mexico, Tatiana tries to distance herself from the city’s past. Yet the phantoms of Berlin are more alive to her than the people she passes on her daily walks. When she takes a job transcribing notes for the reclusive historian Doktor Weiss, her life in Berlin becomes more complex

Ian McEwan – The Innocent – McEwan acknowledges his debt to the historian David Martin for the true story of the Berlin Tunnel or Operation Gold. To this truth, McEwan has wedded a fiction of tragedy and a love story of a sort

Anna Funder – All that I am: Stories from behind the Berlin Wall – stories of people who found the courage to resist the Stasi, Slumberland: a novelthe communist regime’s secret police

Len Deighton – Funeral in Berlin Classic spy thriller

Jonathan Littell – The Kindly Ones – This Faustian story with a terrifying twist is the fictional memoir of Dr Max Aue, a former SS intelligence officer, who has reinvented himself as a family man and owner of a lace factory in post-war France

Ida Hattemer-Higgins – The history of history: a novel of Berlin – A young American woman stumbles one morning from the forest outside Berlin – hands dirty, clothes torn. She can remember nothing of the night. She returns to the life she once knew, but soon an enigmatic letter arrives from an unknown doctor claiming to be ‘concerned for her fate’

Paul Beatty – Slumberland – After creating the perfect beat, DJ Darky goes in search of Charles Stone, a little-known avant garde jazzman, to play over his sonic masterpiece. His quest takes him to a recently unified Berlin, where he stumbles through the city’s streets ruminating about race, sex and love in search of his artistic – and spiritual – other

David Thomas – Blood Relative – Atmospheric page-turner that brings the often-grim realities of socialist Berlin to life. A murder mystery-come-psychological thriller with a dark underlying mystery, it grips you tight and keeps you guessing until the very last page