We at Portico love how the power of the written word can transport us to faraway places—even those that no longer exist. Here are some of our favorite novels that make us feel immersed in a different culture, in a different land, and have helped keep our travel bug at bay—at least for the time being during coronavirus.
Dreaming in Cuban
Cristina García$17.00 $15.81
Cristina García’s first novel and a finalist for the National Book Award, Dreaming in Cuban transports you between New York City and Cuba—both before and during Castro’s regime. Spanning three generations (1930s-1980s) of women in one family, this novel dives into Santería, split political allegiances within families, and the loss of connection felt by those living in diaspora.
My Brilliant Friend: A Novel (Neapolitan Novels, 1)
Elena Ferrante$18.00 $16.74
Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend will take you to post-war Naples (~1950s). The novel goes straight to the heart of what it meant to be a young girl growing up in a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed. My Brilliant Friend explores universal themes of girlhood to womanhood (and all the pitfalls in between) through the young friendship of Elena and Lila whose lives set them on different paths. The book is set so particularly in Naples that you feel like you’re growing up there yourself. (There are even three more books in the series to keep your “trip” going.)
The Sympathizer: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)
Viet Thanh Nguyen$17.00 $15.81
Absolutely stunning writing brings Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer to life. Post-Vietnam War, the novel weaves between 70s Saigon and post-war US. This gripping spy novel explores themes of American identity, immigration, extreme politics, and more.
At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Mauri
Sarah Bakewell$19.95 $18.55
This is a nonfiction-based novel done properly. If the movie Midnight in Paris was an exhaustively researched, delightfully written tome, it would be Sarah Bakewell’s book. Immerse yourself in 1930s Paris and enjoy the wild ride that is the birth and history of existentialism. At the Existentialist Cafe is perfect reading for pandemic times because if we aren’t pondering the central tenets of existentialism right now, what are we doing?
The House of the Spirits
Isabel Allende$18.00 $16.74
Set in Chile, Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits tells the story of three generations of the Trueba family. Magical realism abounds and Allende masterfully uses the generational family drama as a way to examine the political drama of 20th century Chile.
A Tale of Two Cities
Charles Dickens$6.95 $6.46
Charles Dickens’ classic novel A Tale of Two Cities will transport you right back to your high school English class—I mean the French revolution. The reign of terror of the late 1700s is brought to life in these pages in a way that a lot of us will likely appreciate more now as adults than we did at 15 stuck in a classroom.
The Sound of Things Falling
Juan Gabriel Vasquez$18.00 $16.74
Juan Gabriel Vasquez’s The Sound of Things Falling is a wild, historical ride for anyone who doesn’t know much from the Colombian perspective about the drug wars of the 90s. This heartbreaking and beautifully written novel is set in Bogota and Medellin and confronts the troubled history of Colombia.
The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers: An Unconventional Memoir
Admit it: during these times, you’ve thought about running away from the city and buying an old house or farm. Maybe wait first and read former drag queen and ad agency executive Josh Kilmer-Purcell’s The Bucolic Plague. It’s not a novel, but we had to include this sometimes hilarious and sometimes tragic memoir and great read about doing just that in upstate New York with his partner.