My friend Enbrethiliel of Shredded Cheddar recounts a Twitter conversation in which participants were invited to name their favorite book set in each continent and/or their favorite author from that continent. I had to join in the conversation on her blog post with my own responses and then it stuck me that it was too good not to make into a blog post of my own.
1. What is your favourite book set in Europe? Who is your favourite European author?
Enbrethiliel made an interesting point: “There’s a sense in which England is less European than France–because the English seem less committed to the idea of Europe as a united political and cultural entity than the French do. I personally wouldn’t pick an English book to represent Europe, though the challenge to say something before the Twitter chat window of relevance slammed closed got me mentioning A Room with a View by E.M. Forster (our very first “Two or Three” Book Club pick!), because the English characters are changed forever by a trip to Italy. ”
I decided to follow her lead and not go with favorite English novelists and novels, which actually made this first question much easier. Enbrethiliel said that Bram Stoker’s Dracula might be a good choice, ” an Irish author, English and Eastern European settings, a Dutch hero, and a Transylvanian title character are virtually a royal flush! ” And I think it would indeed be a good choice. I have a deep affinity for Dracula stemming from my grad paper on the subject, which I read at a conference.
If I don’t discount England, I might go with Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede, eschewing the obvious Jane Austen and oh so many other great loves of mine like Byatt’s Possession. If we’re going continental, I might go for Godden’s Five for Sorrow Ten for Joy, which is set in France.
But when it comes down to it since I’ve been blogging my Dorothy Dunnett re-read, I realize that she’d be a brilliant choice. I can’t believe I didn’t think of her first. The Lymond books begin in Scotland with lots of border crossings into England, and then move to France for book 2, then to Malta and other islands in the Mediterranean in book 3, then later Russia and then back to France and Scotland, a great tour of Europe, with some North Africa and the Levant thrown in for good measure. Dunnett’s Scottish perspective is a really refreshing change from the Anglo-centric viewpoint of most Brit Lit, very focused on the continent and European politics in a way that shakes me out of the mental ruts i tend to tread when reading English novels, even those that cross the Channel.
2. What is your favourite book set in North America? Who is your favourite North American author?
Of course I’m tempted to go with a novel by a fellow countryman, but E. intriguingly pointed across our northern border to Canada.
For North American fiction I might go with Huck Finn, for me it’s a quintessential American novel and I really do love it. Or if I wanted to try to split the difference I might go with Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, a novel set in Massachusetts by a Canadian author. Though if I were to try to think of a novel that feels more typically “Canadian” to me, it would have to be Cat’s Eye. Or Michael O’Brien’s Plague Journal, that feels very “Canadian”. I think right now I’d list Guy Gavriel Kay as my favorite N.A. author. (Fun crossover: I might count one of his most recent, Under Heaven, as my favorite novel set in Asia, if we can count fantasy novels set in alt-reality Asia.)
3. What is your favourite book set in South America? Who is your favourite South American author?
I’d have to go with Isabelle Allende’s House of the Spirits. I haven’t read much South American fiction, but I went on a huge Allende kick in college and read just about everything I could get my hands on. Honorable mention goes to The Mosquito Coast, though it’s by a North American author, it’s set in South America.
4. What is your favourite book set in Asia? Who is your favourite Asian author?
I think I’m going to go with Silence by Shusaku Endo. My mischievous side sort of wants to pick a Rumer Godden, one of hers set in India. Maybe Black Narcissus or Peacock Spring for the European expat in Asia thing. And my favorite Asian travel narrative is another Paul Theroux, Riding the Iron Rooster. I know there’s another Chinese novel I’m forgetting that I really liked. But really Silence is my favorite out of all the Asian fiction I’ve read.
5. What is your favourite book set in Australasia? Who is your favourite antipodean author?
Australia is tough. I haven’t read nearly enough, and what I have read was mostly YA. Seven Little Australians was good, I’d probably pick that. And Rabbit Proof Fence is another I’ve read years ago. I need to ask Jocelyn to suggest some Kiwi novels. Oh I guess I have read Mr Pip.
6. Have you ever read, or do you know of, any books written by authors in Antarctica/ the Arctic?
L’Engle’s Troubling a Star is the only Antarctic novel I can think of, but I’ve got a niggling feeling there’s something I’m forgetting. Oh maybe it’s that when Bella was on her Antarctica kick about four years ago we read some really good children’s books set in Antarctica. Two stand out, both told in diary format, about scientists going to Antarctica.
7. Who are your favourite African authors & books set in Africa?
When it comes to Africa I feel woefully illiterate. I tried to read Things Fall Apart, but never finished. Cry the Beloved Country I read in school but I don’t have fond memories of, really. Maybe Doris Lessing’s The Grass Is Singing? I’ve read the first couple No 1 Ladies Detective Agency books, they were good light reading. I feel like there’s some great African novel I should remember reading that’s slipped my mind.
I love book listy posts and I hope you, my dear readers, will be inspired to join in, either in the comments or on your own blog. And if you do blog it, please leave a link in the comments so we can all come read your list.