As a mixed heritage person who has lived in multiple different countries, reading about journeys has always been very personal to me. I have spent more time in airports than I can keep track of and it’s never easy to feel like you’re constantly on the move. That’s part of the reason I love reading so much – literature helps you forget about your surroundings and be rooted in a story that doesn’t force you to leave. Books are reliable and consistent when life isn’t.
However, finding books that reflect the feeling of journeying can be so important to relate to, and you can learn so much from them, whether you’re a person who has been on lots of journeys or stayed in the same place your whole life. The three novels I have listed below take journeys both physically and literally. Yes, they track a physical path that the characters take, sometimes across countries, sometimes in the same country, but they also follow emotional journeys of growth and realisation as the characters discover themselves and are taught life lessons on their journeys.
These novels also tell stories that aren’t often given the spotlight, but are incredibly beautiful and precious to learn about. So, if you’re looking for a new read as the weather gets warmer this Spring, or if you just want to find a novel with an exciting journey-based plot, these books will give you everything you want, plus a little bit more.
1. “Forgotten Fire” by Adam Bagdasarian
I read ‘Forgotten Fire’ when I was around twelve years old, and it has remained with me ever since. The novel is about an Armenian boy called Vahan, set in 1915 in Turkey during the horrific period of the Armenian genocide. Part of the reason the novel struck me so hard is how personal it was. My grandmother on my father’s side was Armenian, and her mother was a survivor of the Armenian genocide. Hearing the story of how she escaped the massacre in her village and then reading about a story similar to hers was very difficult to process but so rewarding and educational.
The writing style of this book is so captivating. Bagdasarian has a real talent for painting pictures with words and immersing you in the rich culture and heritage of the region in which the novel is set. It is based on a true story and the plot follows Vahan’s journey as he travels from home to home to preserve his life in the ethnic cleansing being carried out against his people by the Turkish. He is constantly on the move and his journeys lead him to Constantinople where he tries to find safety after watching his family suffer and die and going through unimaginable horrors.
The novel showcases the inner strength of people in the direst circumstances. The journey Vahan is put on is harrowing, but thousands upon thousands of other Armenians experienced the same horrors during the genocide. My great-grandmother walked on foot to Syria to escape death after her town was massacred and she herself was stabbed by Turkish soldiers twice. I found the journey in this book to be inspiring and haunting.
2. “Inside Out & Back Again” by Thanhha Lai
I loved ‘Inside Out & Back Again’ so much that I read it twice, back to back, and found it even more beautiful the second time I read it. It is a novel written in verse, and was the first novel I’d ever read in that form. The journey in this story is of a young girl, Ha, who is living in Saigon when the Vietnam war breaks out and flees to America with her family to escape. She moves to Alabama, and her journey of immigration as a refugee is so touching – you get to see the wisdom she acquires from going through such a difficult childhood while still retaining that child-like innocence through which she sees life.
“Our lives will twist and twist, intermingling the old and the new until it doesn’t matter which is which.”Thanhha Lai, Inside Out & Back Again
When I lived in Lebanon, my family worked in very close proximity with Syrian refugees. We would often visit them in their ramshackle homes to have tea and chat, and they would tell us their stories of journeying from Syria to Lebanon to escape the civil war. It made reading about Ha’s culture shock, the way America received her and her experience as a refugee touch my heart so deeply. There are millions of people like her all around the world, and I felt privileged to follow her journey through poetry.
The novel was nominated for several awards including the Newberry Medel in 2012, and Lai certainly deserves it. Her writing style flowed seamlessly and even though it was written in verse, it wasn’t superflous or difficult to follow. The journey was very easy to track and the form only made it more beautiful and emotional.
3. “The Shack” by William Paul Young
This third book is somewhat contraversial. It follows the journey of a man, Mack, who returns to the site of his daughter’s murder after supposedly receiving an invitation from God himself to come to ‘the shack.’ The novel deals with extremely sensitive topics and also follows Mack’s journey of wrestling and reconcilliation with God, who is depicted in a very unconventional and personal way. However, this book is incredibly thought-provoking and interesting. It answers questions with more questions. It makes you question your preconceptions of the meaning of good, evil, and God.
Whether you are religious or not, this novel is a beautiful journey to follow. Mack’s anger, fear and ‘Great Sadness’ is incredibly relatable. His humanity is so touching, and the book attempts to tackle the question of “where is God in a world full of suffering?” What I liked the most about it is that you can make of it what you will. It is not a light read but it is great to properly think about your values and what suffering and goodness mean to you personally.
These three novels tackle journeys in very different ways, but all three are masterfully created. I would definitely consider them some of my favourite books of all time, and highly recommend them to audiences interested in reading something special this Spring!