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Before I travel anywhere, I always like to familiarize myself with the place I’m going to be visiting. Usually, this comes in the form of research, but it can also include reading some great fiction and nonfiction books.
Here’s just a small sample of what’s taking up space on my bookshelf these days:
The Ice Balloon – Alec Wilkinson
Have you heard of S.A. Andrée? If you’re headed to Sweden or Norway in the near future – like I am – you might want to pick up a copy of this fantastic non-fiction book that describes in detail the ill-fated 1897 attempt by Andrée to reach the North Pole, courtesy of a hydrogen-filled ballon that was to take him and his companions, Nils Strindberg and Knut Fraenkel from arctic Svalbard to Canada.
From the start, investors were both skeptical and wary. Although Andrée was Sweden’s first and only balloonist, a series of well-publicised mishaps failed to quell their doubts despite his reassurances. Still, the necessary funds were secured, and Andrée and his team lifted off in July 1897 – and disappeared for the next 33 years.
On August 5, 1930, a Norwegian expedition led by Gunnar Horn tasked with studying glaciers and hunting seals discovered the remains of S.A. Andrée’s expedition on White Island in the Svalbard archipelago. Along with the remains of the three men, Horn’s party discovered journals and five exposed canisters of film, with one of them still in the camera. From these sources, researchers were able to determine what happened to the party – an ordeal that would begin just days after lifting off from Svalbard and which would last the next three months.
The Bangbang Club: Snapshots from a Hidden War – Greg Marinovich & Joao Silva
Before I went to South Africa for the first time last month aboard Silversea’s beautiful Silver Wind, I realized I knew frighteningly little about the Apartheid. I was still in school during the strife in South Africa, and that the textbooks I used likely came from the mid 1980’s – long before any of this began.
The Bangbang Club chronicles a group of four South African photographers that would travel into the most remote townships during the Apartheid movement that occurred between 1990 and 1994.
It’s one of the most harrowing books I’ve ever read. At the start, Greg Marinovich writes about the moral dilemma of watching a man burn to death while fulfilling his role as a photographer – or “stringer”: someone to record, but not interfere.
What I found most fascinating, though, were the four photographers themselves, coming to grips not only with the power of their own craft, but with the rapidly changing (and, at times, disintegrating) country they loved and called home.
It is essential, if difficult, reading for anyone travelling to South Africa.
Epitaph for a Spy – Eric Ambler
He may have written it in 1938, but Epitaph for a Spy reads like a modern thriller. The only non-fiction book on this list, it centers around Josef Vadassy, a man returning to Paris at the end of a long – and expensive – vacation on the French Riviera. The problem is, during his short stay in St. Gatien, a simple roll of film taken to a local chemist to be developed turns into a massive problem.
Ambler’s key strength is putting normal characters – even hapless, you might say – into situations demanding of skills and talents they do not possess. They’re in over their heads, and Vadassy finds himself dealing with a host of suspicious characters staying at his Villa. One of them is a spy – but who?
A great read for anyone heading to France or Europe in general.
Heading on a river cruise? Check out our post from last September highlighting three Great River Cruise Reads!
From the Deck Chair will return tomorrow.
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