Faraway lands filled with exotic accents and mysterious strangers—one of the pleasures of reading is that it takes us places we might never see otherwise. While in real life I’ve only managed to see Europe twice, “armchair traveling” has let me journey across all seven continents—without the jet lag. This summer, pull up your own chair and take a trip abroad with one of these books.
Lords of Corruption, by Kyle Mills
Josh Hagerty has a brand-new MBA, a mountain of student debt, and no job prospects. When a shadowy aid organization called New Africa offers him a post, Josh is suspicious at first, wondering why they would want a guy who’s never done aid work. Desperate for a job and seduced by the “you can make a difference” speech, he accepts. But no sooner has Josh’s plane landed in Africa (although the country is never named) than he realizes he’s in trouble.
The country’s two tribes, the Yvimbo and the Xhisa, hate each other with a ferocity that echoes the Hutus and Tutsis in 1990s Rwanda. And just like that real-life conflict, this one soon erupts into genocide, with Josh and a beautiful Scandinavian aid worker trapped in the middle. Meanwhile, New Africa is raking in the dough as a “nonprofit” group. Will Josh live long enough to tell the world the truth? An action-packed and all-too-believable thriller.
A Paris Apartment, by Michelle Gable
Surely we’ve all had this daydream: one day the boss calls us into his office and asks us to go spend a month in Paris. For April Vogt, the offer is not only a daydream-come-true, but a much needed escape. At home, her husband is cheating on her and her personal life is coming apart. Before you can say crêpes suzette, she is on the plane.
April’s assignment is to appraise the furnishings of an apartment sealed up and abandoned during WWII. Untouched for 70 years, it’s an auctioneer’s treasure trove, packed with furniture and paintings from the Belle Epoque, but that’s not all. The apartment’s real treasure is its previous resident, the glamorous courtesan Marthe. When April discovers Marthe’s diaries, she is soon drawn into the mystery of the other woman’s life, and the secrets her apartment still holds.
The Quiet American, by Graham Greene
“After dinner I sat and waited for Pyle in my room over the rue Catinat; he had said, ‘I’ll be with you at latest by ten,’ and when midnight struck I couldn’t stay quiet any longer and went down into the street.” As first sentences go, this has got to be one of my all-time favorites. Even now, after years of loving this book, I read it and get goose bumps.
The narrator, Fowler, is a middle-aged journalist in Saigon desperately in love with his Vietnamese mistress. She falls for a young American named Pyle, thus setting all the pieces in motion for a classic tragedy. To make matters worse, guerillas are bombing the cafes, and not-so-quiet Pyle has come to Vietnam with an agenda of his own. Though it includes elements of both thriller and mystery, The Quiet American is above all a love story, and an unpredictable one at that.
A House in the Sky, by Amanda Lindhout
You may remember the news story: in 2008, freelance photojournalist Lindhout was kidnapped in Somalia and held captive for over a year. Her memoir of the ordeal is bold, blunt, and surprisingly uplifting. The title refers to the place in her mind where she’d go when her suffering became too much. How many of us would show the same sort of courage in disaster? For that alone, Lindhout is inspiring.
She is also extremely likable. Early chapters where she fills in her backstory (chapters which, in some books, I might be tempted to skip) are just as riveting as her captivity. In the cutthroat world of news reporting, Lindhout was truly a self-made woman. Having neither a journalism degree nor contacts, she made her own breaks by intentionally covering the most dangerous spots in the world, including Iraq. By the time disaster strikes and she is seized by armed men in the Somali desert, we know her well enough to lay pretty good odds on her survival. A fast-paced, tightly written memoir.
What adventurous reading are you doing this summer?