By John Towler
Right now, there’s a word I think all travellers (potential or veteran) should know: Fernweh. It’s German, and it describes a feeling we’re all too familiar with—a longing for a far-off place. Literally, farsickness.
These are strange and trying times, and I think most of us understand that feeling. We want to scratch the itch. The urge. You know the one—the need to just pick up and go. To make like Bilbo at the beginning of The Fellowship, and leave it all behind to go on yet another adventure (on his one-hundred-and-eleventh birthday, no less).
Right now, such journeys are a future dream. However, there is a way to somewhat scratch that itch from your living room sofa; a means to find yourself whisked away in the comfort of your own home. Let’s dive in with three books to help you deal with your Fernweh!
‘… there is no heart like the Indian heart.’ Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram
Sometimes, a writer has a way of bringing a place to life: the people, the flavours, the music and the vivid colours. Gregory Roberts is one such writer. I love his book Shantaram because it’s such a love letter to the city he lived in (‘My Mumbai’, he calls it, and I believe him).
From start to finish, the sense of accepting fate and going with the punches is electrifying. Shantaram is the unbelievable true story of an escaped convict trying to shake off his suffering in a vivid place of wonder. From fake passports, learning Marathi, Bollywood movies, and the desire to be free, to lovable tour guides and mysterious rogues, the story is one of redemption, love, loss, and discovery. The moving descriptions, breath-taking characters, the heady highs and languid lows…
This is a book that scores nine or 10 in every category. Roberts lets you peek behind the curtain and see the true magic of the city. I read the first half of the book three times because I couldn’t believe it, and though it’s a hefty book to take with you on an adventure, it’s worth its weight in gold.
‘… the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live…’ Jay Griffiths, Wild: An Elemental Journey
Travellers are a diverse breed. Some, including me, prefer urban life, city-crawling and sifting through streets looking for unique sights and experiences. While others long for the wild; the deep jungle, the rugged peaks, the vantablack of underground caves. For those who want to see how it’s done, gaze in loving awe at the work of Jay Griffiths, with Wild: An Elemental Journey.
Where to even begin with this book—Griffiths understands the nature of nature. Join her on an odyssey through leaf and sand, ice and peak. Grow dizzy with the aromas of the South American jungles she presses upon you from the page, unreal in their immersion. Feel the bite of Arctic Canada and the thrum of the wind. Taste the sunshine of the Australian Outback. These are just some of the remote locations Jay Griffiths dives into, and her electrifying and evocative language has you gripped from start to finish. Using nature as her lens, she explores mental health, cultural heritage, global exploitation, language, and the wild inside us all.
‘Never try to out-drink a Swede, unless you happen to be a Finn or at least a Russian…’ Jonas Jonasson, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared.
These days, it’s tempting to just crawl out the window and disappear on an adventure. Read the story of a man who did just that, on the cusp of his 100th birthday. Allan Karlsson is exactly the kind of 100-year old that I want to be one day: He’s spry, curious and fearless—almost to a fault, and the writing of Jonas Jonasson is sparkling with a warm, good-natured wit.
The sprawling adventure, combined with memories of a long life well-lived, is enough to make anyone feel the need to slip on your shoes and disappear over the windowsill. This is an easy read that nonetheless had me hooked from start to finish.
The story seemed to get more improbable by the moment—from dynamite and gulags to retirement homes and a mysterious fortune, this is an excellent introduction to an unforgettable series of books.
In truth, there are dozens of books I considered putting into this list. I even thought about doing just that; one sprawling list, like stepping stones leading away from the couch or the bed or the desk, and into Wonderland. Instead, I give you three books that will help you temper the travel-bug or whisk you toward your next adventure all the sooner. I know which one I’d prefer!