The Next Chapter

Heather Greenwood Davis recommends three armchair travel books

The Toronto writer, editor and travel blogger reviews The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta.
Heather Greenwood Davis is a freelance writer and on-air storyteller for National Geographic. (VijithaB Photography)

Heather Greenwood Davis has travelled all over the world with her husband and two sons, and she's a contributing writer for National Geographic.

Thanks to the pandemic, the Toronto writer, editor, columnist and blogger spent the past year exploring places closer to home and not thinking about her carry-on. But she's managed to travel metaphorically, at least through some favourite books.

She spoke with Shelagh Rogers about three books set in different locations: India, America and Canada. The books are The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta.

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

Aravind Adiga is an Indian writer and journalist. (Shaun Curry/AFP via Getty Images)

"This book is set in India. I read it when I was in India in 2012. It's the first time I actually did that, where I read a book about a destination. It was so good reading it in India that I ended up passing it along to my husband and insisting that he had to finish it before we left.

"The book is about a man named Balram Halwai. He's our main character and he's essentially writing a letter to a Chinese politician who's planning to visit this country. Balram is the son of a rickshaw driver. He's from a very poor class in India. 

It was so good reading it in India that I ended up passing it along to my husband and insisting that he had to finish it before we left our trip in India.

"The book takes us on his journey up India's social ladder. When we meet him, he's very poor. By the end of the book, he's a successful businessman and we get to know some of the less than honourable things he's done."

"While I don't think this is a book the tourist board would hand out to help you understand the country, I highly recommend it."

Filmmaker Ramin Bahrani joined Tom Power to discuss his latest film, The White Tiger, and explained why he's drawn to stories about the underdog. 20:10

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of Nigeria's most prominent and celebrated writers. ( Michael Loccisano/Getty Images, Vintage Canada)

"It's a book that's about a pair of childhood sweethearts. We meet Ifemelu, who's this bright young woman who has immigrated from Nigeria to America. She's come for school and her story provides some really astute observations of immigration experiences. It looks at how quickly you can fall into poverty, and 'the othering' in North American society. Not just race othering, but also body size and gender.

As a Black woman reading this book, it really felt like a warm hug.

"Eventually we meet Obinze, her childhood love interest. He also leaves Nigeria, but he goes to England, where he's facing similar hurdles. His student visa expires and he can't get a job. What's interesting is they both end up back in Nigeria.

"It's not a book that's about Nigeria, America or England, but it does provide a unique perspective on all of those places. 

"As a Black woman reading this book, it felt like a warm hug."

The influential Nigerian author talked to Eleanor in 2009 about her short story collection, The Thing Around Your Neck, and her award-winning novel, Half of a Yellow Sun. 52:37

Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta

Frying Plantain is a short story collection by Zalika Reid-Benta. (House of Anansi Press)

"This is a book that has a collection of a dozen interconnected stories set in the Little Jamaica neighbourhood of Toronto. You could live your whole life in Toronto and not see Toronto if you choose not to look for it. It has so many multicultural pockets. 

You could live your whole life in Toronto and not see Toronto if you choose not to look for it.

"With this book, you get to see Toronto from the experience of a Black woman growing up in Toronto. I thought that was really cool. This book did a good job of showing how difficult and how rewarding that can be."

Columnist Donna Bailey Nurse reviews Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn, and the Canadian book she thinks is a good match, Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta. 11:54

Heather Greenwood Davis's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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