Mention literary destinations and many people immediately conjure up images of 19th-century Britain – dingy Dickensian London and the rolling hills of Wordsworth’s beloved Lake District – or the United States, with its Beat poets in New York and San Francisco, and Mark Twain’s tales of life on the Mississippi. Of course, literature has left its imprint far and wide across the globe. Here is just a smattering of other novel (excuse the pun) locations.
A Fine South American Literary Vintage
One part of South America’s Pacific flank, Chile has produced some prodigious literary talent, earning it the nickname the Land of Poets. This talent even includes two Nobel laureates, Gabriela Mistral (who was the first Latin American to receive this accolade back in 1945) and the world-renowned poet Pablo Neruda (nom de plume of Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, who took the name in honour of the Czech writer, Jan Neruda).
The country’s best-known novelist, however, is probably Isabel Allende (who was born in Lima, Peru, and is first cousin once removed of the former Chilean president Salvador Allende), who penned the bestseller La casa de los espíritus (House of the Spirits). Her style of magical realism has drawn comparisons with another South American heavyweight, writer and Nobel Prize-winner Gabriel García Márquez, who hails from Colombia.
Chileans are understandably proud of their literary heritage and of their status as one of South America’s biggest producers of books. The Chilean capital, Santiago, is brimming with literary cafés buzzing with locals putting the world to rights or just looking to get away from it all and enjoy a coffee in peace and bookish solitude. Some cafés house a dizzying array of literature, including the autographed works of famous authors.
The African Queen of Sleuthing
Up until quite recently, the landlocked southern African nation of Botswana would have been noted more for its diamonds and desert; however, the vastly popular novels by Alexander McCall Smith detailing the exploits of Mma Precious Ramotswe, Africa’s very own Miss Marple, and her No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, have put the country firmly on the literary map.
Born in Zimbabwe, but having lived for several years in Botswana, McCall Smith used his novels to paint an accurate and affectionate portrait of the country and of African life, a refreshing and welcome counterpoint to the many negative depictions of the continent. In fact, such has been the books’ appeal that they have been published in over 40 countries and even found their way onto the small screen as a series directed by the late Oscar-winner Anthony Minghella.
This has of course meant great things for the Botswanan tourist industry. Plenty of visitors now flock to the capital city of Gabarone to enjoy a cup of red bush tea, the favoured beverage of McCall Smith’s portly heroine, who is now also the subject of tours.
The ancient nation of Greece packs a serious literary punch. From Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey to the famed works of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, the three great tragedians of classical Athens, Greece’s influence as the birthplace of Western culture is undisputed. The Greek islands too, with their stunning natural landscapes, have proved an effective muse for many a writer.
Lying just off the southern coast of Albania, the Ionian island of Corfu was also nicknamed Durrell’s Island in recognition of its most famous literary residents, the cosmopolitan novelist Lawrence Durrell and his brother, Gerald, a naturalist and writer. The Emerald Isle, as it’s also known, features heavily in both of their works although Gerald’s novels My Family and Other Animals and Birds, Beasts and Relatives are a decidedly more irreverent and light-hearted look at their time on an island known for its commitment to nature and tradition.
The volcanic isle of Santorini is lauded as one of the most beautiful spots in the Aegean and is believed by many to be the lost island of Atlantis. It is dominated by a huge caldera, whose beauty has spurred many a poet and novelist into fits of creativity and unbridled exaltation, including an homage by the Nobel winner Odysseas Elytis. The French existentialist philosopher and writer, Jean-Paul Sartre, even set his play Les Mouches (The Flies) in the village of Emporio, having visited the area with his partner and fellow intellectual, Simone de Beauvoir.
Forever immortalised in the Louis de Bernières bestseller and subsequent Hollywood blockbuster movie, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, the Ionian island of Kefalonia has done well out of its 15 minutes of fame, offering a number of tours that take in locations used during the making of the movie. Luckily Kefalonia is still far from becoming a Captain Corelli theme park and with its exquisite beaches, lush interior and secret finds, it is not hard to see what is still its real allure.
The third largest of the Greek islands, Lesvos is often referred to as the Island of Poets. Largely unspoiled, Lesvos is famed as the birthplace of the ancient lyric poetess, Sappho, who hailed from the small village of Eresos, now a major tourist hotspot.
A Polynesian Treasure Island
When Robert Louis Stevenson, of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Kidnapped fame, first visited the South Pacific island kingdom of Samoa, he was so taken with the archipelago that he made it his home, settling on the island of Upolu. By far the most famous palagi (white man) to ever make it to these shores, he was quickly taken in by the Samoans and became a valued member of the community, even adopting the native name Tusitala, meaning ‘Storyteller’ in Samoan.
Stevenson’s sudden death in 1894 shook the locals greatly. He was buried atop Mount Vaea, where his tomb remains, engraved with an epitaph he penned himself, and which was translated into a Samoan song of grief:
Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be:
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.