You’ve packed your clothes. You’ve zipped up your toiletries. Now the age-old question: What book should you bring? Perfect for long flights, layovers, beach time, or, say, to while away an afternoon at a Parisian cafe, a book is truly the perfect travel companion.
It’s no wonder travelers are always in search of their next great read. Each month, Jinnie Lee and Maura Lynch, who together run STET, a website devoted to emerging writers and new books, present a few titles—some new, some that just feel relevant right now—that are worth bookmarking for your next trip.
This month, we look at six books that are deeply informed by the countries and cities they’re set in.
The Vacationers by Emma Straub
Summer family vacations are never quite what they’re expected to be, are they? This is especially true in the case of the unhappily married Franny and Jim Post, as they travel from their home in Manhattan to the Mediterranean island of Mallorca to spend their 34th wedding anniversary with their two grown children and a pair of old friends. “The house was big enough for all of them, barely,” author Straub writes—and can barely contain the years-long resentments bubbling within the group. Lucky for the reader, the Posts put the “fun” in dysfunctional, providing us with an entertaining mix of melodrama, stinging one-liners, and enough plot to fuel a miniseries.
My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
What do you do when your sister’s boyfriends keep disappearing—or worse, keep ending up dead? Oyinkan Braithwaite’s darkly comic novel takes us to Lagos, Nigeria, where Korede, a nurse at a local hospital, finds herself tangled in the messy web of her sister Ayoola’s love life. As Ayoola discards her lovers like candy wrappers, Korede helps cover up her tracks. Why? Even Korede isn’t sure. In this page-turner, Braithwaite offers a study of obligation, jealousy, and familial ties that bind despite even the most extreme circumstances.
Walking on the Ceiling by Aysegül Savas
We meet Nunu, a young and guilt-ridden Turkish woman who has moved to Paris from Istanbul following her mother’s death. Nunu meets a man known as M., a famous British author she greatly admires, who just so happens to write novels set in Istanbul. On long walks in Paris, Nunu begins to disclose maybe too much personal info to M., who may be fishing for story ideas. Is M. exploiting their friendship? Is Nunu putting all of her family’s private life on blast? What would Nunu’s late mother think of all this? Though this book moves quickly through the short chapters, the complicated layers peel away slowly, and with great care.
The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See
On the tiny Jeju Island off the southern coast of South Korea, a community of fisherwomen still hold onto the centuries-old profession of deep-diving with minimal gear. It’s as badass, dangerous, and remarkable as it sounds—though today, a far smaller group remains. This novel takes the real history of the all-female Jeju divers and spins it into an illuminating work of fiction, centered on the friendship of two girls who become sea hunters themselves. As they get older and their world drastically changes in the aftermath of WWII, the Korean War, and Japanese colonialism, so do their divergent life paths. If you’ve never considered South Korea for your travel wishlist before (or if you’ve never visited any other city besides Seoul or Busan), this book’s homage to Jeju may change your mind.
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
This one-of-a-kind mystery drops us immediately in a cold, remote stretch of Poland, where our eccentric protagonist Janina learns that her neighbor, nicknamed Big Foot, has died. Soon, Janina, a William Blake scholar, astrology buff, and a keen observer of her fellow villagers, finds herself investigating a slew of perplexing deaths. Through storybook-like prose, Tokarczuk spins a thrilling whodunnit tale spiked with surrealism and folklore. It’s a wild and thought-provoking treat that’ll keep you glued to the page for hours at a time—and thinking about it for long after.
Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang
First-generation kids often have a distinct experience of straddling two polarizing cultures that makes them grow up quickly—it requires a deft understanding of their nuanced multi-worlds and how to navigate them correctly. In this emotionally-oozing collection of short stories, a series of young Chinese girls try to figure out where they belong as daughters of poor immigrant parents in New York City. There’s a lot of brutality in these harrowing and detailed stories of low-income life—gruesome home situations, disturbing horseplay, undeserved responsibilities—but the writing is also gorgeously addicting and almost too hilariously obscene to look away from. Don’t be surprised to find yourself tearing up one second, then horrifically screaming the next.