Essential Books to Read Before Travelling

Planning a first-time trip to New Zealand? Then you should probably read ‘The Whale Rider’ or watch ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ then. At least that’s what New Zealand’s foreign ambassador to the United States, Tim Groser, suggests.

Mr Groser is one of 20 foreign ambassadors to the U.S. recently asked by language e-learning experts Babbel to name the book and film they believe first-time visitors to their country should consume before visiting.

Choices range from the popular to the obscure, but they all offer a pretty good starting point for travellers looking to better understand the local culture.

From ‘Ali and Nino’ to ‘Zorba the Greek’, these are the stories they suggest:

Austria (Ambassador Wolfgang A. Waldner)
– Book: “The Tobacconist” (2012), by Robert Seethaler
– Film: “The Third Man” (1949), directed by Carol Reed

Azerbaijan (Ambassador Elin Suleymanov)
– Book: “Ali and Nino” (1937), by Kurban Said
– Film: “Ali and Nino” (2016), directed by Asif Kapadia

Bhutan (Ambassador Kunzang C. Namgyel)
– Book: “Treasures of the Thunder Dragon: A Portrait of Bhutan” (2006), by Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck
– Film: “Travelers and Magicians” (2003), directed by Khyentse Norbu

Canada (Ambassador David MacNaughton)
– Book: “With Faith and Goodwill: 150 years of Canada-U.S. Friendship” (2017), edited by Arthur Milnes
– Film: The selection of films from National Canadian Film Day’s Top 150

Chile (Ambassador Juan Gabriel Valdés)
– Book: “La casa de los espíritus” (1982), by Isabel Allende
– Film: “No” (2012), directed by Pablo Larraín

Colombia (Ambassador Juan Carlos Pinzón)
– Book: “One Hundred Years of Solitude” (1967) by Gabriel García Márquez
– Film: “Colombia, magia salvaje” (2015), directed by Mike Slee

Denmark (Ambassador Lars Gert Lose)
– Book: “Smilla’s Sense of Snow” (1992), by Peter Høeg
– Film: “A Royal Affair” (2012), directed by Nikolaj Arcel

Estonia (Ambassador Eerik Marmei)
– Book: “The Man Who Spoke Snakish” (2007), by Andrus Kivirähk
– Film: “Lotte and the Moonstone Secret” (2011), directed by Heiki Ernits and Janno Põldma

Finland (Ambassador Kirsti Kauppi)
– Book: Moomin books (1945-1959), by Tove Jansson
– Film: “Tale of a Forest” (2012), directed by Kim Saarniluoto and Ville Suhonen

Germany (Ambassador Peter Wittig)
– Book: “Tschick” (“Why We Took the Car”) (2010), by Wolfgang Herrndorf
– Film: “Good Bye Lenin!” (2003), directed by Wolfgang Becker

Greece (Ambassador Haris Lalacos)
– Book: “Freedom and Death” (1953), by Nikos Kazantzakis
– Film: “Zorba the Greek” (1964), directed by Mihalis Kakogiannis

Iceland (Ambassador Geir H. Haarde)
– Book: “Independent People” (1934), by Halldór Laxness
– Film: “Sigur Rós: Heima” (2007), directed by Dean DeBlois

Ireland (Ambassador Anne Anderson)
– Book: “TransAtlantic” (2013), by Colum McCann
– Film: “Once” (2007), directed by John Carney

India (Ambassador Navtej Sarna)
– Book: “Freedom at Midnight” (1975), by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins
– Film: “Monsoon Wedding” (2001) directed by Mira Nair

Jamaica (Ambassador Audrey Patrice Marks)
– Book: “Selected Poems” (2003), by Louise Bennett
– Film: “Cool Runnings” (1993), by Jon Turteltaub

Malta (Ambassador Pierre Clive Agius)
– Book: “In the Name of the Father (and of the Son)” (2010), by Immanuel Mifsud
– Film: “Limestone Cowboy” (2017), directed by Abigail Mallia

New Zealand (Ambassador Tim Groser)
– Book: “The Whale Rider” (1987), by Witi Ihimaera
– Film: “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” (2016), directed by Taika Waititi

Photo: Chris Ashton

Norway (Ambassador Kåre R. Aas)
– Book: Harry Hole series (1997-2017), by Jo Nesbø
– Film: “Kon-Tiki” (2012), directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg

Slovenia (Ambassador Božo Cerar)
– Book: “I Saw Her That Night” (2010), by Drago Jančar
– Film: “Valley of Peace” (1956), directed by France Stiglic

Sweden (Ambassador Björn Lyrvall)
– Book: “Nordic Ways” (2016), by András Simonyi, edited by Debra Cagan
– Film: “A Man Called Ove” (2015), directed by Hannes Holm

Though Australia isn’t included in this list, and I’m certainly not the foreign ambassador to the United States,  I would suggest the book ‘The Dressmaker’ by Jocelyn Moorhouse and the film ‘The Castle’ directed by Rob Sitch are two pretty good places to start.

Written by
Chris Ashton

We're Chris Ashton and Simon Ceglinski, two Aussie travellers with a love of exploration and adventure, and the odd bit of luxury thrown in. We seek out street art, street food, and scuba diving wherever we go, and prefer the road less travelled over well-worn tourist paths.

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Written by Chris Ashton