Books have a magical ability to take you places. It could be a new city, a different age or even an alternative realm. Now that your vacations are done and dusted, and the next break is probably a couple of months away, why not indulge in a little imaginary travel? We’ve lined up a few books that’ll whisk you far, far away – and they’re all by authors who are speaking at the Emirates Airlines Literature Festival from 1-9 March 2019. So put on those seatbelts and let’s take off right away!
- Palestine in Code Name Butterfly by Ahlam Bsharat
We start our imaginary journey in Palestine, in a village in the shadow of Mount Gerizim, where we meet our first storyteller, a teenage girl. We do not know her real name, only the code name she gives herself – Butterfly. Butterfly lives with her extended family of parents, brothers, sisters, cousins and grandparents. Her kind, honourable father, Baba, travels every day to the occupiers’ settlement at the foot of the hills, consisting of prosperous stretches of houses with “terracotta red tiles on the roofs” and “green trees”. Here, he tends grapes and dates for the enemy, an act that is criticised by many, including her judgemental and shallow classmate, Haya.
Unease and conflict loom large in this coming-of-age tale. Butterfly passes her days helping her mother prepare vine leaves for stuffing, helping light the stove in the courtyard, squabbling with her sister Tala, camping in her grandparents’ tent under the moonlight, playing with the cat Wadee and obsessively watching her crush, Nizar, walk by. As events around her unravel, Butterfly increasingly begins to rely on her secret treasure chest, where she hides her deepest thoughts.
Meet the author Ahlam Bsharat at the LitFest and view her sessions here.
- Mount Everest in The Everest Files by Matt Dickinson
From the deserts of the Levant we head to the icy expanses of the Himalayas where a chilling tale of loss and deception unfolds. Ryan, a young student on his gap year, goes in search of a missing Sherpa, Kami. When Ryan finds him, it only opens up another mystery. What happened to Kami on his expedition to the summit of the Everest? To understand, we, like Ryan, must follow in the footsteps of Kami, as he sweeps us up the mountain, pulling us over tricky terrain, dragging us across treacherous crevasses and hauling us over the sheer 5-metre face of Hillary Step.
There are moments of otherworldliness too, in the accounts of honey-hunting, snow-leopard sightings and campfires where the aroma of roast potatoes mingles with the scent of freshly cut wood. But as Kami and the Americans he’s guiding move from Base Camp to Camps One, Two and Three, the terrain becomes bleaker and the challenges, tougher.
- Nineteenth century Edinburgh in The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry
When we first meet Will Raven, a poor medical student, he’s moving from the squalid Old Town of the Scottish capital to its upmarket New Town – thanks to an apprenticeship he has secured with a leading obstetrician in the city. Victorian Edinburgh, we’re told, had two sides, “one face for polite society, another behind closed doors”. But the murder of someone close to him keeps pulling him back to the dark and dangerous streets and taverns he has left behind.
Working with one of the leading minds of the day, Raven assists in deliveries, playing the role of anaesthetist. It is 1847, and chloroform is just being discovered. Edinburgh was the foremost city in the world for medicine at that time, and real medical heroes and discoveries are cleverly woven into the narrative. And if there’s chemistry of the scientific kind in Will’s life, there’s also chemistry of the romantic kind thanks to Sarah, a fiery housemaid-cum-medical assistant-cum feminist. Sarah and Will begin investigating the spate of murders in the city and tension mounts with the turn of each page.
This is the first of a planned series, and to know all about it, meet the husband and wife duo Ambrose Parry.
- Germany and New York in Hotel on Shadow Lake by Daniela Tully
Maya Wiesberg suffers from aviophobia, or fear of flying, and spends hours on Google Earth, travelling to different destinations virtually from her home in Munich. However, when she learns that the remains of her grandmother who disappeared 27 years ago from her home in Germany, have been found in upstate New York, she is forced to overcome her fears and travel to New York.
Layer upon layer of mysteries then unfold as we’re taken back and forth between Nazi Germany and a modern-day resort deep in the woods of New York state – the eponymous Hotel Shadow Lake. The narrative switches between 1938, 1990 and 2017, from the story of Maya to that of her grandmother Martha. What chain of events does a letter written in 1945 set off in 1990? Who is the faceless man in the woods? Who wrote out Grandmother Martha’s secret fairy tale and pushed it under Maya’s door? What is her connection with the family who owns the hotel? And above all, who killed Martha Wiesberg?
Book her sessions here.
- Camels and camel racing in the UAE – Humr An-Na’am by Aditi Belame Kumar
Finally, we turn our steps homeward to the UAE, and the familiar yet exotic world of camel rearing and racing. Aditi Belame Kumar’s coffee table book Humr An-Na’am opens to a stunning black and white photograph of camels shot so that only their legs are visible. Along with the photographer Wouter Kingma, she takes us through the Bedu’s historic relationship with this ‘Treasure of the desert’.
The title of the book is significant. Humr-An-Na’am translates to ‘the finest camel’ and is often used to denote something of exceptional quality in the region. She writes of how Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan revived camel racing and gave the people of the UAE renewed pride in this magnificent beast. We’re led through camel farms and race tracks, meeting families who have a special bond with the beast, particularly that of Faraj Bin Hamoodah, an entrepreneur and camel enthusiast. Kumar mentions how the camel is even feted by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who recognized its unique abilities and co-opted its traits for that of his superman, Ubermensch, “What is heavy? Thus asks the weight-bearing spirit; thus it kneels down like the camel and wants to be well laden.”
To delve deeper into this world, checkout Aditi’s session at the LitFest on 1 March.
Written by Shailaja Prashanth
Shailaja Prashanth is a digital copywriter and avid reader who reads everything from literary fiction to billboards on the road.