Whether it is journeys undertaken by the author himself or memories of eventful experiences woven into fiction, these books will whisk you away on adventures that surpass imagination.
By Gregory David Roberts
Convict Roberts, who stole to feed his drug habit, escaped from Melbourne’s Pentridge Prison in 1980 and disappeared into the bowels of Bombay, where he ran a clinic for slum dwellers and worked with the city’s mafia. He carried out smuggling operations across Asia, supported the mujahideen in Afghanistan, was an extra in Bollywood films, and started a casting and travel agency. Caught again in Frankfurt in 1990, he was extradited to Australia, where he spent six years behind bars, two in solitary confinement, during which he wrote Shantaram (meaning man of God’s peace). In this hefty book, fugitive Lindsay Ford encounters burning slums, criminal wars, spiritual gurus, guerillas and romantic love in Bombay.
By Roald Dahl
Going Solo, released four years before Roald Dahl’s death in 1990, picks up where his first autobiography, Boy: Tales of Childhood (1984) leaves off. It follows the adventures of young Dahl, who worked with Shell Oil Company in Africa before joining the Royal Air Force and was thrown into the thick of action during WWII. Surviving a plane crash in the Libyan desert and counting the number of fellow pilots who do not return from combat missions form part of this story, which is interspersed with sharp observations of people and his surroundings, letters to Mama and heading home after three years of dog-fighting the enemy.
Around the World in Eighty Days
By Jules Verne
An impulsive bet that he can circumnavigate the world in 80 days kickstarts Englishman Phileas Fogg’s journey, with new valet Passepartout in tow. They ride steamers, trains, boats, a wind-powered sledge and even an elephant. Obstacles litter their route, from Fogg being mistaken for a bank robber to bison crossing the railway track, being ambushed by Sioux warriors, escaping a falling suspension bridge, facing hurricane winds and stopping at a funeral that leads to their saving an Indian woman from sati. Jules Verne’s classic was first published serially over 45 days in 1872 in Le Temps and synchronised Fogg’s Dec 21 deadline with the real world.
Notes from a Small Island
By Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson jaunts around Great Britain via public transport one last time before returning to the US after two decades. He revisits famed buildings and sites, stopping to imbibe the heritage, culture and quirks that make up the small island where people delight in the smallest pleasures, like dunking biscuits in tea. History, humour, habit and personal insights combine in this unusual companion for travellers who want to get beneath the surface of a place and its people. Readers may be amused by the stiff upper lip and endless conversations about the weather, but they are definitely taken by picturesque villages, quaint shops, dense woodlands and parks in full bloom.
By Tash Aw
There is no gold behind the glam and glitz that lure five ethnic Chinese Malaysians to booming Shanghai, where overwhelming (mis)adventures douse their hopes and dreams. Longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize, Tash Aw’s novel straddles tradition and modernity as well as ambition and deceit in a city where new arrivals aspire to succeed and be part of its vibrant economy. Shanghai’s ever-changing skylines reflect the fortunes of his characters, who find ways to propel themselves forward in the polluted metropolis where, when he moved there to do his research, Aw was “unable to move for the weight of the people around me” at a metro station one morning.
By Antoine de Saint-Exupery
In the early days of commercial aviation, mail was delivered by hand, overnight, across different countries. Night Flight, a lesser-known book by pioneering aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery, follows the route of a team that flies through the dark from Patagonia, Chile and Paraguay to Argentina. It details the pressure of being on time and friendships forged across pitch-black skies. Supervisors who need to maintain discipline and control or be called to account and pilots forced to make split-second decisions in the air are par for the course. While The Little Prince led readers to far-flung planets, this novel takes us right into the hearts of brave men flying into the unknown.
In the Shadow of the Mountain
By Silvia Vasquez-Lavado
For Silvia Vasquez-Lavado, the first Peruvian woman to reach the top of Mount Everest in 2016 and the first openly gay woman to climb the Seven Summits in 2018, conquering those peaks was her way of taking back her life, one step at a time. Wrecked by alcoholism, memories of abuse and the secret of her sexual identity, the technologist sought healing in the shadow of the mountain, bringing with her a group of young female survivors to Base Camp. Battling fears both physical and internal, the merciless terrain and the magnitude of the challenge, she found peace and joy among the snow-sheathed crags and renewed faith in her own resilience.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
By J K Rowling
If you have never read J K Rowling, don’t dally: Start with the first title in her series about the boy with a lightning bolt scar on his forehead and two bosom buddies. It has a winning plot spiced with humour and many surprises. The comeuppance bullies get is bound to make picked-on kids feel better; the hidden power of magic will delight even disbelievers; and the colourful, even dark, characters at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry can set children imagining how they, too, can do magic. Seven of Rowling’s fantasy novels are among the top 10 best-selling books of all time in the UK and are a good way to get young ones started on reading.
This article first appeared on Oct 9, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.