Background reading: Europe

Old pink stone buildings in Rome

Heading to Europe? Here’s a handy list of background reading:

300 Days of Sun by Deborah Lawrenson
“[This] mesmerizing novel transports readers to a sunny Portuguese town with a shadowy past—where two women, decades apart, are drawn into a dark game of truth and lies that still haunts the shifting sea marshes.[Portugal]

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
This story, dazzling in its powerful simplicity and inspiring wisdom, is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids.[Spain to Egypt]

Among the Russians by Colin Thubron
Here is a fresh perspective on the last tumultuous years of the Soviet Union and an exquisitely poetic travelogue.[Russia]

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee
It was 1934 and a young man walked to London from the security of the Cotswolds to make his fortune.[United Kingdom, Spain]

The Baltic Revolution: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Path to Independence by Anatol Lieven
Explores the culture and personality of the Baltic peoples, their religious and racial differences, their relations with Russia and with the West, and their prospects for the future.” [Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania]

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.” [Iceland]

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is set in the early days of the second world war, before Benito Mussolini invaded Greece. [Greece]

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
A spare and haunting, wise and beautiful novel about the endurance of the human spirit and the subtle ways individuals reclaim their humanity in a city ravaged by war.[Bosnia and Herzegovina]

Coasting: A Private Voyage by Jonathan Raban
Put Jonathan Raban on a boat and the results will be fascinating, and never more so than when he’s sailing around the serpentine, 2,000-mile coast of his native England.” [United Kingdom]

The Crimean War: A History by Orlando Figes
At once a rigorous, original study and a sweeping, panoramic narrative, The Crimean War is the definitive account of the war that mapped the terrain for today’s world.

The Fall of Yugoslavia by Misha Glenny
[This] acclaimed account of the war in former Yugoslavia contains substantial new material that discusses the end of the five-year conflict and looks ahead to an uneasy future in this turbulent region.[Balkan states]

Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle by Dervla Murphy
Based on her daily diary, this is Dervla Murphy’s account of her ride, in 1963, across frozen Europe and through Persia and Afghanistan, over the Himalayas to Pakistan and into India, during one of the worst winters in memory.” [Europe, Middle East, Asia]

The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine by Serhii Plokhy
Each invading army left a lasting mark on the landscape and on the population, making modern Ukraine an amalgam of competing cultures. [Ukraine]

The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
[This] strange, unique, and hugely entertaining railway odyssey has become a modern classic of travel literature.” [Europe, Asia, Middle East]

The Heart of Europe by Norman Davies
His evocative account reveals Poland as the heart of Europe in more than the geographical sense. It is a country where Europe’s ideological conflicts are played out in their most acute form: as recent events have emphasized, Poland’s fate is of vital concern to European civilization as a whole.” [Poland]

Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
In 1936 Orwell went to Spain to report on the Civil War and instead joined the fight against the Fascists. This famous account describes the war and Orwell’s experiences.” [Spain]

The Invention of Russia: From Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War by Arkady Ostrovsky
“A breathtakingly ambitious book that reaches back to the darkest days of the cold war to tell the story of the fight for the soul of a nation.” [Russia]

Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk
A shimmering evocation, by turns intimate and panoramic, of one of the world’s great cities, by its foremost writer.[Turkey]

A Little War That Shook the World: Georgia, Russia and the Future of the West by Ronald D. Asmus
A fascinating look at the breakdown of relations between Russia and the West, the decay and decline of the Western Alliance itself, and the fate of Eastern Europe in a time of economic crisis.” [Georgia, Russia]

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
[This] devastating satire of Soviet life was written during the darkest period of Stalin’s regime.” [Russia]

Mission to Paris by Alan Furst
It is the late summer of 1938, Europe is about to explode, the Hollywood film star Fredric Stahl is on his way to Paris to make a movie for Paramount France.” [France]

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists, the unforgettable Elena and Lila.[Italy]

Naples ’44: A World War II Diary of Occupied Italy by Norman Lewis
As a young intelligence officer stationed in Naples following its liberation from Nazi forces, Norman Lewis recorded the lives of a proud and vibrant people forced to survive on prostitution, thievery, and a desperate belief in miracles and cures.” [Italy]

New Old World: An Indian Journalist Discovers the Changing Face of Europe by Pallavi Aiyar
“Offers a panoramic look at Europe’s first-world crisis from a unique Asian perspective.”

On the Trail of Genghis Khan: An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads by Tim Cope
“Inspired by the extraordinary life nomads lead, Tim Cope embarked on a journey that hadn’t been successfully completed since those times: to travel on horseback across the entire length of the Eurasian steppe, from Karakorum, the ancient capital of Mongolia, through Kazakhstan, Russia, Crimea and the Ukraine to the Danube River in Hungary.”

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.[France, Spain]

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
Lucy finds herself torn between the intensity of life in Italy and the repressed morals of Edwardian England, personified in her terminally dull fiancé Cecil Vyse. Will she ever learn to follow her own heart?[Italy, United Kingdom]

The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier
Gripping and complex, The Scapegoat is a masterful exploration of doubling and identity, and of the dark side of the self.[France, United Kingdom]

Sea and Sardinia by D.H. Lawrence
Written after the First World War when he was living in Sicily, Sea and Sardinia records Lawrence’s journey to Sardinia and back in January 1921.” [Italy]

Spain by the Horns: A Journey to the Heart of a Culture by Tim Elliott
Funny, fast-paced and revealing, ‘Spain By The Horns’ takes you below the surface of a nation on a journey to the heart of a culture.[Spain]

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
A poignant look at the disillusionment and angst of the post-World War I generation, the novel introduces two of Hemingway’s most unforgettable characters: Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley.[France, Spain]

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
This magnificent novel juxtaposes geographically distant places, brilliant and playful reflections, and a variety of styles to take its place as perhaps the major achievement of one of the world’s truly great writers.[Czech Republic]

Venice by Jan Morris
The classic evocation of Venice, acclaimed as one of the finest books ever written about the city.[Italy]

A Year in the World by Frances Mayes
Weaving together personal perceptions and informed commentary on art, architecture, history, landscape, and social and culinary traditions, Mayes brings the immediacy of life in her temporary homes to readers.[Europe, North Africa]

Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis
The classic novel Zorba the Greek is the story of two men, their incredible friendship, and the importance of living life to the fullest.” [Greece]