In the 1800’s, aristocrats used to take a Grand Tour of Europe before seriously settling down to work or pursue other activities at home. If you could take such a tour today, what countries would you choose? Plan your dream “tour.”
Atonement - (ISBN: 978-0307387158)
by Ian McEwan
This tri-part novel begins when a young teen, Briony, observes her sister’s involvement with a beau and falsely accuses him of assaulting her cousin. After the boy goes to jail, WW II begins, and he gets out of prison by agreeing to join the armed forces. His horrific experiences alter his character. Briony becomes a nurse and eventually comes to terms with her responsibility in her shaky accusation; she tries to make amends while her sister and former beau become involved again. As an older woman, Briony begins to write the history of what she’s done, yet another way to repair the damage she did to more than one life. Think of a time when a small error has had effects on many people around you.
Chocolat - (ISBN: 978-0141000183)
by Joanne Harris
When a newcomer opens a chocolate shop in a miniscule French village, her chocolates appeal to many villagers with stories to tell and secrets to keep. Across from her shop, the Roman Catholic church and its huffy priest oppose her business. When Vianne, the chocolatier, proposes to hold a Grand Festival of Chocolate just after Lent and Easter Sunday, holidays she’s been ignoring, the lines of confrontation become clear. What does the chocolate symbolize to the priest and his followers? Does it have another meaning for Vianne and her supporters?
Floating in My Mother’s Palm - (ISBN: 978-0684854755)
by Ursula Hegi
Young Hanna, growing up in post WWII Germany, observes and sometimes confronts members of her small village community who repress, and even deny their culpability in the late war. As an adolescent, she has a fresh but brash approach to exposing things she doesn’t entirely understand. With the help of her unconventional, creative mother, Hanna finds ways to cope with the fallibility of the population around her. As a young person, how did you learn to accept less-than-perfect qualities of your family and friends?
Istanbul: Memories and the City - (ISBN: 978-1400033881)
by Orhan Pamuk
Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk takes an autobiographical but bleak look at his family and its city home. His view extends beyond the city walls to the country and back into history. What positive qualities and events can you see in this fairly dark depiction of a country he both loves and despairs of?
Magical and Mystical Sites: Europe and the British Isles - (ISBN: 978-0933999442)
by Elizabeth Pepper John Wilcock
This non-fiction exploration of European historical sites will delight all readers. Try it in small pieces if there’s a particular area that interests you, or read it as a whole for a detailed look into gods, goddesses, religious sites, and myth. What sites, if any, in the United States, are filled with such power?
Rain - (ISBN: 978-1582341798)
by Karen Duve
Writer Leon Ulbricht moves into a small but perfect home in an East German village with his wife Martina and hopes to complete a writing project. Constant rain and moldy conditions threaten the couple’s attempts to befriend the neighbors and keep the house dry. Despite the degenerating conditions, the humor in the story keeps even the gangster threatening Leon at bay while Leon frantically tries to finish the delinquent’s biography. Have you ever had a period in your life when everything seemed to go wrong all at once? What helped you to get through it, besides humor and endurance as you see in this book?
Seven Sisters - (ISBN: 978-0156028752 )
by Margaret Drabble
A recently divorced British woman eventually recovers enough to organize a tour of Italy for herself and several friends, based roughly on the writings of Virgil. Drabble’s portrayal of middle-aged confrontation with loss and attempts to make life meaningful goes beyond mere description; she manages to make the reader sympathetic with the imperfect protagonist despite her past errors and unlikable personality. What surprises unfold as the main character continues on her trip through history, friendship, and personal change?
Smilla’s Sense of Snow - (ISBN: 978-0385315142)
by Peter Høeg
When Smilla, half-Danish, half-Greenlander, tries to investigate the death of a young boy she’s befriended in her apartment building, her expertise on snow and ice leads her to surmise that the boy was being chased on the top of the apartment building when he fell to his death. The story alternates between her research in Denmark and a trip to Greenland where his father had mysteriously died years before. The evocative writing leads the reader into a world that is icy in many ways. What other symbols, like the symbol of ice in this book, have such universal appeal?
The Gulag Archipelago - (ISBN: 978-0060007768)
by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
This epic non-fiction work explores the Soviet system of spying, incarceration, and isolation. On a more human level, it tells of the effects on people who endure such treatment. Based on Solzhenitsyn’s own experiences as a political dissident, the book also includes interviews and archived materials from other prisoners. Although its details are Soviet, the despair and hopes of the prisoners ring true to any who have been held against their will in similar situations. What personal qualities helped survivors make it through those difficult years?