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Books As Travel Agents
Fiction is the Truth Backwards
There is a fine line between fiction and non-fiction, especially because novels describe places as they are. It might be Birmingham, Beijing or LAX (Los Angeles International Airport).
I don’t know all the American states by heart but I know North Dakota because I live next door in Manitoba, a Canadian province.
I also know about states such as Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, New York, Washington, California, Florida, Texas, Michigan and Hawaii of course, because of Barack Obama, the U.S. President, who was born in Honolulu in 1961.
I either heard songs about these states, saw movies, read horror stories about lynching black people in the southern states or read books, fiction and non-fiction.
I had definitely never thought about Phoenix, in the state of Arizona, until I read Waiting to Exhale, a novel by Terry McMillan. The sequel, Getting to Happy is also set there. I could now consider visiting Arizona, if I found myself in the United States.
Tourism Inspired By Books
People have reasons for tourism choices. They might go to Spain because grandparents were born in the outskirts of Madrid. They might also visit a certain place because of books, fiction or non-fiction.
Petals From The Sky by Mingmei Yip is a novel about a woman who has always wanted to be a nun, but her destination is disturbed by an American doctor she meets in Hong Kong, where she lives with her mother.
It is a good example of how books can become travel agents. The Hong Kong setting attracted me because of cinema. I love Jet Li, Tsui Hark and Jackie Chan movies made there. My interest was also nudged by British history.
I had friends in Toronto who left Hong Kong before 1997 because they were not sure what would happen to the British colony, when China took it back. Britain had a 99 year lease on Hong Kong, which expired in 1997.
The woman who wants to be a nun later on travels to Paris and Sorbonne University in particular. She also visits the doctor in New York, a city I know a bit, because of journalism. The author seems to know the places so well, I became a possible tourism candidate.
Liane Spicer, author of Café Au Lait made a conscious decision not to delve too much into carnival, which Trinidad and Tobago is famous for. It is a tourist attraction for outsiders, but locals get the best of this annual event because they enjoy many mini-carnivals that lead up to the finale.
In fact, the emphasis on Carnival even divorces Tobago from Trinidad, which is unfortunate because it is one country. It might be two islands with different national birds but they are incorporated in the coat of arms. It is the Scarlet Ibis in Trinidad. Tobago’s national bird is the Cocrico.
Café Au Lait is about Michael, a successful Trinidadian architect who meets Shari, a British girl on the plane. She is on her way to Trinidad to visit her cousin Wanda and other relatives she has never seen before because she was born in England, her parents in Trinidad.
It is hate at first sight for Michael, who had gone to England to see his estranged British wife, only to find that he is not the father of her child. From then onwards, he hated English women with a passion.
His hate finally thaws and starts dating Shari. We see Trinidad through Michael’s eyes, the beauty of the Caroni swamp where the Scarlet Ibis make their home, the challenges the country faces and professionals who go back home to help build it.
Gigi Gunn’s novel Cajun Moon, is about New Orleans ‘Nawlins’, the jazz clubs, African Americans who are struggling to get by like Sassy, and super rich ones like the character Aiden Symonds, who has loved Sassy forever. He doesn’t have a chance though because she is in love with Roux, who owns Sassy's, the jazz club he named after her.
Novels tend to have the same plot. Boy meets girls. There is something preventing them from being together. They solve it and they live happily ever after.
Cajun Moon is a travel agent because Sassy knows New Orleans in and out, because she explored most of it with Roux, when they were growing up.
Aiden on the other hand knows the rest of the world very well because he is well-educated and well-travelled. He skis. He goes to St. Barts. He inherited an empire his father built on burying the dead: funeral homes. Even boys teased Aiden about that when he was growing up.
In the book they bump into each other in California and Aiden takes her to Ghirardelli, the famous San Francisco chocolate factory. I smiled the other day when I saw some bars of dark chocolate next to the check-out tills at Marshall’s. So it does exist. It is not fiction.
The novel sounds like a Cinderella and Prince Charming story, because Aiden is so rich, he gives Sassy anything money can buy, but the real story is how Sassy’s father made Roux the irresponsible man he turned out to be. Roux hated his own father because his mother was his mistress.
Roux and Sassy grew up together, so he got all the ‘men’ things from her father. Sassy’s mother knew but she kept quiet. That wrong advice was the reason why Sassy broke off the five year old engagement.
Novels as travel agents give readers inside information about places that are not in websites, travel blogs and travel agencies.
They can picture themselves in a ferry in Nantucket or a seaside hotel in Port of Spain. This also helps them design their trip more effectively.