Books for Christmas: the globe-trotter

• Dec 14, 2018 •

If there is someone in your life who seems to be in a different country every other month of the year, let them escape even further with these five books set around all the world.

Hold by Michael Donkor

‘You have to imagine. That’s how I told myself.’
‘Imagine what?’
‘Imagine that you are the kind of girl that can cope with it, even if you are not.’

Belinda knows how to follow the rules. She has learnt the right way to polish water glasses, to wash and fold a hundred handkerchiefs, and to keep a tight lid on memories of the village she left behind when she came to Kumasi to be a housegirl.

Mary is still learning the rules. Eleven years old and irrepressible, the young housegirl-in-training is the little sister Belinda never had.

Amma has had enough of the rules. A straight-A pupil at her exclusive South-London school, she has always been the pride of her Ghanaian parents. Until now. Watching their once-confident teenager grow sullen and wayward, they decide that sensible Belinda might be just the shining example Amma needs.

So Belinda is summoned from Ghana to London, to befriend a troubled girl who shows no desire for her friendship. She encounters a city as bewildering as it is exciting, and as she tries to impose order on her unsettling new world, Belinda’s phonecalls back home to Mary become a lifeline.

As the Brixton summer turns to autumn, Belinda and Amma are surprised to discover the beginnings of an unexpected kinship. But when the cracks in their defences open up, the secrets they have both been holding tight to threaten to seep out…

Eight Months on Ghazzah Street by Hilary Mantel

From the two-time Man Booker Prize winner, a prescient and haunting novel of life in Saudi Arabia.

Frances Shore is a cartographer by trade, a maker of maps, but when her husband’s work takes her to Saudi Arabia she finds herself unable to map the Kingdom’s areas of internal darkness. The regime is corrupt and harsh, the expatriates are hard-drinking money-grubbers, and her Muslim neighbours are secretive, watchful. The streets are not a woman’s territory; confined in her flat, she finds her sense of self begin to dissolve. She hears whispers, sounds of distress from the ’empty’ flat above her head. She has only rumours, no facts to hang on to, and no one with whom to share her creeping unease. As her days empty of certainty and purpose, her life becomes a blank – waiting to be filled by violence and disaster.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

A beautiful, stunningly ambitious novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II

‘Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.’

For Marie-Laure, blind since the age of six, the world is full of mazes. The miniature of a Paris neighbourhood, made by her father to teach her the way home. The microscopic layers within the invaluable diamond that her father guards in the Museum of Natural History. The walled city by the sea, where father and daughter take refuge when the Nazis invade Paris. And a future which draws her ever closer to Werner, a German orphan, destined to labour in the mines until a broken radio fills his life with possibility and brings him to the notice of the Hitler Youth.

In this magnificent, deeply moving novel, the stories of Marie-Laure and Werner illuminate the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.

Future Popes of Ireland by Darragh Martin

In 1979 Bridget Doyle has one goal left in life: for her family to produce the very first Irish pope. Fired up by John Paul II’s appearance in Phoenix Park, she sprinkles Papal-blessed holy water on the marital bed of her son and daughter-in-law, and leaves them to get on with things. But nine months later her daughter-in-law dies in childbirth and Granny Doyle is left bringing up four grandchildren: five-year-old Peg, and baby triplets Damien, Rosie and John Paul.

Thirty years later, it seems unlikely any of Granny Doyle’s grandchildren are going to fulfil her hopes. Damien is trying to work up the courage to tell her that he’s gay. Rosie is a dreamy blue-haired rebel who wants to save the planet and has little time for popes. And irrepressible John Paul is a chancer and a charmer and the undisputed apple of his Granny’s eye – but he’s not exactly what you’d call Pontiff material.

None of the triplets have much contact with their big sister Peg, who lives over 3,000 miles away in New York City, and has been a forbidden topic of conversation ever since she ran away from home as a teenager. But that’s about to change.

‘Think Zadie Smith. But much funnier’ Sunday Independent

‘Very moving, highly entertaining, clever and funny’Sunday Times (Ireland)

Feast Days by Ian MacKenzie

‘Brilliant. Among the best novels I know about the fate of American innocence abroad’ Garth Greenwell

So. We were Americans abroad. We weren’t the doomed travellers in a Paul Bowles novel, and we weren’t the idealists or the malarial, religion-damaged burnouts in something by Greene; but we were people far from home nevertheless. Our naivety didn’t have political consequences. We had G.P.S. in our smartphones. I don’t think we were alcoholics. Our passports were in the same drawer as our collection of international adapters, none of which seemed to fit in Brazilian wall sockets. My husband was in the chrysalis stage of becoming a rich man, and idealism was never my vice.

I was ancillary – a word that comes from the Latin for ‘having the status of a female slave’. That’s the sort of thing I know, and it tells you something about how I misspent my education. The term among expats for people like me was ‘trailing spouse’ . . .

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