From 'Memoirs of a Geisha' to 'Shantaram': five amazing books that transport you to another country

These stories will make you forget where you are

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (1997)
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I am lucky to have visited a fair few foreign lands, but my ambitions to travel have left a great many destinations unharmed by my presence. These books have taken me to places in such vivid and all-encompassing detail that I forget I was just sat on a sofa.

The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende (1982)

This got me reading again after a three-year hiatus. I was 15, I wasn't enjoying teen fiction and my peers weren't talking about reading. My mother's appeals to lose myself in Thomas Hardy led to a self-imposed exile from literature. This was broken by my trip to 1970s Chile, living in a grand old house, with women with green hair, amid political turmoil.

'The House of Spirits' by Isabel Allende (1982)

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (2003)

I don't recommend huge books to people due to the ratio of time invested to perceived gain but Shantaram is an exception. I long to visit India and Gregory David Roberts takes the sting out of never having done so. I believe I've already been transported to the vibrant cityscape of 1980s Bombay, heard the vendors selling their wares and smelt the street food wafting over children and motorcycles. I hope to visit again someday.

'Shantaram' by Gregory David Roberts (2003)

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (2009)

This book was recommended to me by a neighbour knocking on my door and insisting I read it. Suspicious, I gave it a try and there I was sailing the seas to Ethiopia. It is a beautiful and gripping story that captures a small section of a country with such a long, fascinating history. I am desperate to go to Addis Ababa, the hunger only contained by my feeling that I feel like I have.

'Cutting for Stone' by Abraham Verghese (2009)

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (1997)

This book transported me at the first sentence. It is an account of a girl growing up in Japan and being sold to a geisha boarding house. The writer interviewed geishas for his research and then built up a story that took me to what I thought was Japan just under a century ago. The ensuing lawsuit, accusations of Orientalism and white male privilege meant perhaps it was not. But it’s still such an amazing read.

'Memoirs of a Geisha' by Arthur Golden (1997)

The Mughal Throne by Abraham Eraly (2004)

This is the odd one out; a non-fiction book that transported me to a different time. I picked up this book in a tiny, definitely enchanted shop outside the Lahore Museum in Pakistan. Having been given a tour of the Lahore Fort, I was already halfway to the 14th century. The Lahore I know is a completely different place to the opulent life at the seat of the Mughal Empire. This book has it all: harems, jewels, astrology and details of the rulers’ preferences, passions and wars.

'The Mughal Throne' by Abraham Eraly (2004)


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