Armchair Travel Delights

If this isn’t the year for a summer vacation, why not have a stay-cation with these books and delight in some armchair travel to places you may never have a chance to visit otherwise.



Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller

Mom says, "Don't come creeping into our room at night."
They sleep with loaded guns beside them on the bedside rugs.
She says, "Don't startle us when we're sleeping."
"Why not?"
"We might shoot you."

So begins Alexandra Fuller’s memoir Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, a memoir of her childhood in growing up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) during civil war.  Born in England, Fuller immigrated to Rhodesia with her parents when she was a toddler.  It’s hard to imagine why her parents thought moving to Rhodesia during a civil war was a good idea, but both had ties to the continent.  Her father moved to Kenya as a young man and her mother lived in Kenya during the twilight of its empire days.  Fuller never gives the impression they were imperialists but settlers.  Fuller’s dad was often absent-fighting for “white rights” in Africa.  At home, her mom managed her depression mostly with alcohol- “We're all mad, but only I have the certificate to prove it.” 

Life was hard.  The family moved from one poor performing tobacco farm to another.  Fuller focuses on stories of family life while moving around Rhodesia with the Rhodesian Civil War framing the background.  For example, Fuller’s first school picture is include and in it she is holding an Uzi. But for every mention of the war, there’s also a tale of life in Africa.  From planting during the spring to reclaiming a farmhouse from the encroaching jungle to even the sounds, Fuller paints such a detailed picture of the landscape that you can almost feel you’re there.

For more about Fuller’s family and life in Africa read: Scribling the Cat and Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness.


Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost.


Warning! The title of this book is misleading!  At 26 Troost and his girlfriend (now wife) moved to the island of Kiribati for her job at a nonprofit.  Troost imagined the next two years of his life would be spent in island paradise where he could live the good life and maybe finally write that novel he had been putting off.  Reality presented him with a little different situation to face.  Namely, an overpopulated, polluted island ignored by the rest of humanity. Troost and his girlfriend experience several amusing misadventures relating to food, bacteria, the heat, more food and dealing with government bureaucracy…and something he terms “The Great Beer Crisis.”  This is a humorous account of life in the South Pacific.  Fans of Bill Bryson will likely enjoy Troost, though Troost has a bit more of a potty mouth.



ChingizThe Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years by Chingiz Aitmatov


In a rail road town in the Kazakh Steppes, Yedigei sets out to bury his old friend Kazantep in an old cemetery in a nearby village.  He is accompanied by Kazantep’s son- a modern man put out by how long the short journey to the burial site as he has more important things to attend to in the big city.  The burial party can’t take a direct route to the cemetery because of the growing Soviet infrastructure. Instead, they have to wind their way around a new rocket launch site.  Over the course of the day of the journey, Yedigei recounts his personal history and we learn much about the Soviet “modernization” that has taken place in Central Asia in the early 20th century.  The subplot relates to the rocket launch site- an American astronaut and Soviet cosmonaut stationed together on a joint American-Soviet space center make contact with extraterrestrial life.  The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years is a subversive critique of the Soviet Regime, but it was originally published in the Soviet Union.  It contains a combination of local mythology and folklore and effortlessly combines the past, present and future.


The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Precious Ramotswe is the very first female detective in all of Botswana.  She investigates local mysteries that come to her slowly-a suspected cheating husband, a missing boy.  Armed only with a dectective manual she religious consults and her own wits, Mma Ramotswe tackles problems thrown at her with ease and grace.  Helping Mma Ramotswe is her secretary Mma Grace Makutsi  and Mr. J.L.B Matekoni, mechanic and owner of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors and Mma Ramotswe’s love interest.  The mysteries Mma Ramotsw solves aren’t scandalous, but are more tales of morality.  Mma Ramotswe embodies the combination of traditional and modern Africa.  Botswana’s cultural landscapes are described every bit as much as it’s physical ones.  The books in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency are the perfect mysteries to cozy up to on the porch on a nice summer evening.


If you liked the first book, check out the rest of the series! And if you're looking for something watch on television, check out the series HBO made of the book!