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.
Granta 121: Best of Young Brazilian Novelists, edited by John Freeman (2012)
Granta’s platform for up-and-coming young novelists began in 1983, with an inaugural anthology featuring work from Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and Rose Tremain. Since then the series has branched out to include voices from every continent. This collection of young Brazilian writers published in 2012 aims to celebrate emerging talent from South America’s largest nation and bring these lesser-known voices to an English speaking audience.
Futebol Nation, David Goldblatt (2014)
With the Word Cup kicking off this week, all eyes are on Brazil, a country with a proud history when it comes to o jogo bonito, the beautiful game. British sportswriter David Goldblatt’s Futebol Nation is an interesting look at Brazil’s development over the course of the twentieth century through the lens of football. Five time winner of the tournament, Brazil has produced some wonderful football and legendary players. Goldblatt’s recently published book contrasts the high points and victories with the harsher realities of the country’s social, economic and political problems.
Praise, Andrew McGahan (1991)
McGahan’s award-winning first novel is a semi-autobiographical account of the alcohol- and drug-fuelled meanderings of college dropout Gordon Buchanan. Enticed into the life of the manic and heroin-injecting Cynthia, Gordon’s gritty realist descriptions and understated reactions to the wild exploits he experiences in Brisbane turned this book into a cult bestseller in his native country. McGahan followed up with a prequel, 1988, a fictionalised version of his time as a lighthouse worker in the northern territory.
Recollections of a Bleeding Heart, Don Watson (2002)
Chronicling the life and legacy of the twenty-fourth Australian prime minister, Paul Keating, Don Watson’s biography is also a commentary on the state of modern Australian politics. With an extensive legislative agenda over his four year term, which included reconciliation with the country’s indigenous population, furthering economic ties with Asia and a push for independence, Keating was known for his ‘big picture’ politics and Watson’s portrait does much to bring his acheivements to light. Employed by Keating as a speechwriter, Watson’s huge tome is based on the notes he made during Keating’s tenure. At nearly 800 pages, the ebook version would save a few kilos in the suitcase.
Eyrie, Tim Winton (2014)
The acclaimed Australian novelist and short story writer Tim Winton’s latest book has been hailed by Irish Times literary correspondent as the best of his career. Eyrie tells the story of Tom Keely, a divorced, childless, out-of-work, middle-aged man whose health is in serious decline. If Keely’s predicament seems too bleak for summer reading, the novel is lifted by the author’s use of language and a gift for humour. The protagonist’s encounter with a young boy, the precocious and peculiar Kai, sets him on a journey from disillusionment to redemption.
With thanks for their suggestions to Stephen Burgen, Tom Hennigan and Pádraig Collins.