I usually try, however much I can, to discover and read books from local authors, or about the countries I’m visiting, at least when I get there (not so much before as I feel it sometimes influences the way I’ll then experience the place, as if through the lenses of the particular author I read before coming)
That’s why I’ve been reading two books set in Myanmar recently. But there is a particular kind of joy, as well, in reading something completely foreign to the circumstances you are into. In a way it also helps you understand the country you’re traveling in, giving you a radically different canvas to compare, helping you define it as to what it is not, just as much as what it is.
Lately, having lent my ereader to my friend, who had read all of her books (and had to wait to the next city big enough to have a second hand english/french bookshop, a tragic fate I know, and very much pity) I found myself reading one of her books. A Jo Nesbo I had not yet read (by chance), the Phantom, his last one. If you are a Scandinavian crime novel afficionado and don’t know Nesbo yet, then you are a rare thing indeed, but if just by chance you exist, Jo Nesbo is a former rock star turnrd journalist and crimes friction writer from Norway, he writes suitably dark and moody thrillers (like all the Scandinavian crime novels I know and like), that are reflections on a shifting society and gripping reads at the same time. His hero, Harry hole, is trying to cope with addiction, his past, his complicated love life and, if that wasn’t hard enough, a few serial killers. And everything happens under the quiet, polished and polite Norwegian society, where everybody might smile on the surface but stab you for a drug deal gone wrong in less time than it takes to say skål.
All this cold, this darkness, these repressed feelings and grim Oslo suburbs were even more fun to read about in the blazing heat, the pouring rains, the chaotic and constant noise of the Burmese cities. I would recommend the Phantom anyway -for a Nesbo it’s a particularly well done one – but even more if you can manage to buy a plane ticket just to go read it in Myanmar (well, I can meet you halfway across the globe, maybe anywhere hot and humid and definitely-not-scandinavian in its mentality), because getting caught in the plot and the dark winter in Oslo just to come back suddenly to Mandalay one hot afternoon is just about the most radically exotic experience you’ll have.