1. On the Road by Jack Kerouac.
This is a book to really inflame your lust for travel and make you want to explore the wider world. This fictionalised account of the author’s real travels charts his route as he hitchhikes all over the USA, and tells of his highs and lows, his victories and losses. Kerouac’s writing is realistic and well paced, and his curiosity is infectious: he always wants to get back on the road, to go somewhere else and see something new.
2. Island by Aldous Huxley.
Island is the story of a man who arrives on an island as a cynical reporter, and comes to realise that he has found a utopian society. Although it’s partly a vehicle for Huxley to present his view of the ideal society, it’s also very striking as, as the story unfold, the protagonist comes to integrate himself and fall in love with this strange place. Maybe you will love your year abroad destination so much that you never want to leave...
3. Crónica de una muerte anunciada (Chronicle of a death foretold) by Gabriel García Márquez.
Even though I read this 3 years before going on my year abroad, I took it with me because it was my absolute favourite book in Spanish. Part love story, part murder mystery, and written in Márquez’s distinctive style, I would dip in and out of it during my time in Spain, just for a little taste of the familiar, while still practising my Spanish. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.
4. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson.
Have you ever seen a film so many times that you know almost all the words? That was me with the film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Then I found the French translation of the book in a secondhand bookshop in Toulouse, and the idea struck me - I could read it in French, and because I knew the film so well, I’d know exactly what was going on! So I could practice my French and pick up new vocabulary, all while reading a story I already knew. Try it out, it could work wonders!
5. La Sombra del Viento (The Shadow of the Wind) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.
This is a good book for anyone to read, but an absolute must if you are going to Barcelona. Zafón manages to capture the feel of the city perfectly, especially the romantic/gothic ambient of the old town. Someone told me recently that this was the second highest-selling book ever in Spanish (after Don Quijote), and I can understand why. It’s so popular, there’s even a tour of Barcelona based on the book, so you can retrace the protagonist’s footsteps. Or do it your own way, by getting to know the city on your tod. Equally, find a book set in the city you are living in, and you will be able to picture the story so much better for knowing its surroundings.
What is your favourite foreign language book? Do you have a book that you really associate with your year abroad? Let us know!