What to read on holiday in Spain, Brazil and Australia
The second in our summer reading series recommends what books to pack
Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia: how about reading Recollections of a Bleeding Heart, Don Watson’s biography of Paul Keating, or Eyrie, Tim Winton’s latest and best novel?
Alhambra Palace, Granada, Spain: Try Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas or The Invisible Guardian by Dolores Redondo. Photograph: Getty Images
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: suggested titles include Futebol Nation by David Goldblatt or Ashes of the Amazon by Milton Hatoum
The Ages of Lulu, Almudena Grandes (1989)
Long before the arrival of EL James, Almudena Grandes had made a name for herself in the erotic fiction space with The Ages of Lulu. Concerned with the psychological motivation behind modern sexual relationships, Grandes’ debut novel is set in late twentieth-century Madrid and charts the sexual awakening of 15-year-old Lulu, who is seduced by an old family friend posing as her guardian. With echoes of Sade, and plenty of sadomasochism, voyeurism and bondage, this might be one to read on the Kindle.
Soldiers of Salamis, Javier Cercas (2004)
The award-winning English translation from Anne McClean brings Cercas’ popular and critical success Soldiers of Salamis to a wider audience. Alluding to the ancient war fought between the Greeks and Persians, the title references the Battle of Salamis. The novel is divided into three sections centred on the Spanish civil war, blending metafiction and historical biography to explore and commemorate a fraught period of recent Spanish history.
The Invisible Guardian, Dolores Redondo (2013)
Fans of the Sarah Lund school of crime solving will find a Spanish counterpart in 30-year-old detective Amaia Salazar, who returns to her homeland in the heart of the Basque country to investigate the murder of a teenage girl. The first of a trilogy set on the banks of the River Baztán, The Invisible Guardian has topped the bestseller charts in Spain and translation rights have been sold in 15 languages. The English version will be published later this month by Harper Collins. Exploring a series of ritualistic killings, the mist-filled forested landscape of Elizondo is not exactly tourist central, but it’s a guaranteed page turner for the beach.
The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas, Machado de Assis (1881)
Often cited as the greatest writer of Brazilian literature, Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis was a multilingual genius who could speak English, French, German and Greek in addition to his native tongue. Eschewing the uncomplicated prose style of the 19th-century realist tradition, The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas is written in short, erratic chapters that play with tone and form. Narrated by the dead eponymous protagonist, the story sees Brás looking back on his life and failed romances. His pessimistic view of self and the world around him is underscored with humour: “To the worm who first gnawed on the cold flesh of my corpse, I dedicate with fond remembrance these Posthumous Memoirs.”
Ashes of the Amazon, Milton Hatoum (2008)
One of the best contemporary novels about Brazil, Milton Hatoum’s Ashes of the Amazon tells the story of Mundo Mattoso, a disenfranchised and reluctant member of a rich dynasty. To escape from his father’s clutches and the life set out for him on the family’s Vila Amazonia plantation, Mundo moves from Rio to Berlin to London, where he finally obtains the freedom he desires in a Brixton squat. Spanning two decades, the doomed Mattoso family’s tale begins with the Brazilian military coup of 1964.