As someone that writes about place, I am often drawn to literature and poetry that evokes a particular landscape, city or neighborhood. I love writing that takes setting seriously, treating it with as much respect as any character. Here are five pieces of writing that transported me to another place.
By Edan Lepucki
A post-apocalyptic story set in the California wilderness, this book’s protagonists fend for themselves in a crumbling landscape where cities like Los Angeles have become obsolete, driving them to carve a life of isolation in the midst of lush wilderness. Lepucki is able to deftly describe the setting so precisely, I honestly felt like I was alongside the characters, picking berries for breakfast, and washing my laundry in a little stream.
My Brilliant Friend
By Elena Ferrante
Never did I think I’d get so swept up in a city I’ve never stepped foot in. Ferrante’s books are as much about Naples as they are about her compelling characters, and she brings the neighborhood of her characters to life, in all its coarse, but vibrant, glory.2 .
Poet in Andalucía
By Nathalie Handal
A clever reimagining of Federico García Lorca’s Poet in New York, this collection of poetry captures Handal’s experience traveling from New York to Spain. She’s created sensuous, visceral pieces about love, longing, diaspora, and immigration. She evokes Spain and the Middle East, America, and the tiny villages that she visits in transit along her journey.
By Donald Ray Pollock
This powerful and unflinching collection of short stories centers around a single, rugged Midwestern town, and the lives of its inhabitants. Pollock does a brilliant job of capturing the restlessness and boredom of the characters—many of whom are tragic, resigned figures—living out their days against the backdrop of the dirt roads and swampland of this particular southern Ohio town.4 .
The Cairo Trilogy
By Naguib Mafouz
These three novels—Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, and Sugar Street—are titled after names of actual streets in Cairo. This incredible, sprawling trilogy follows the life of a single family across three generations, presenting a microcosm of Egyptian history through the well-constructed characters’ lives. Mahfouz is masterful with setting, allowing the reader to immerse themselves in the transformations of early twentieth century Cairo.