Summer reading has become synonymous with juicy thrillers, gossipy tell-alls, mindless romances—anything that doesn’t involve a complicated plot. The temptation to detach, to take it easy, certainly drives many of us toward these easy reads.
But why not take a literary expedition to a far away country, instead, and explore books outside of your comfort zone? While they share nothing in common geographically, the following five novels possess riveting characters, moral dilemmas and the tragedies and triumphs that comprise great stories. What they don’t include are crowded security checkpoints, lost luggage, pick-pocketed wallets and maxed-out credit cards. We promise you won’t miss the stresses of travel while reading from the comfort of your beach chair.
1. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia:
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Verghese places twins Shiva and Marion in the center of Ethiopia’s capital, where their world revolves around Mission Hospital. Nicknamed “Missing,” the hospital serves as the place of their birth and the impetus of their medical training and life’s work. A rich, spiritual story, Cutting for Stone explores topics from medicine to family ties.
2. Hong Kong and remote China:
The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
This classic possesses a beautiful setting, a cholera epidemic, class distinctions, adultery and the ultimate redemption of a spoiled, selfish woman. Plus, it’s a manageable 246 pages, and there’s a sublime film adaptation starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton to watch afterwards.
3. Budapest, Hungary:
Prague by Arthur Phillips
Prague features a group of twenty-somethings—think black turtleneck-wearing, overly-earnest hipsters meet the cast of St. Elmo’s Fire—seeking love and financial success in the newly democratic Budapest of the ‘90s. The story boasts memorable characters and scenes in the ancient city (but feel free to skim through the 70-page summary of a family-run Hungarian publishing company).
4. County Sligo, Ireland:
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
When a 100-year-old, institutionalized woman is urged to write her memoirs, a caring doctor begins researching the reasons behind the woman’s incarceration. A haunting and lyrical story in its depictions of isolated, coastal Ireland, The Secret Scripture tackles the dated, dangerous sexism that ultimately dictated the woman’s fate.
5. Amazon Rainforest, South America:
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
When a pharmaceutical researcher treks into the jungle to discover what happened to a missing colleague, she encounters dangerous animals, crazy heat, a tribal culture and a beyond egotistical (albeit brilliant and inspired) scientist. State of Wonder is an “easy” read with depth that never weighs down the entertaining story.