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Monday musings on Australian literature: Aussie novels titled with foreign place names

April 24, 2017

I’ve done two Monday Musings posts inspired by Tony (from Tony’s Book World) – one on novels with real place names in their titles and one with fictional. To complete the trifecta, I thought why not look at Australian novels with foreign place names in their titles.

This turned out to be rather fun to do. Many Australian writers have set books overseas – more perhaps than I had superficially expected. They include, to name just a few that sprang to mind, Sara Dowse’s Schemetime (Los Angeles), Kate Grenville’s Dreamhouse (Tuscany and Milan, with the film adaptation set in Vietnam), Eva Hornung’s Dog boy (Moscow), Hannah Kent’s Burial rites (Iceland), Henry Handel Richardson’s Maurice Guest (Leipzig), Christina Stead’s For love alone (Sydney and London), Tim Winton’s The riders (Ireland, mostly), and Marcus Zusak’s The book thief (Germany). The list goes on and on in fact. It’s probably not surprising, therefore, that I found it relatively easy to find books titled with foreign place names, but I’ve limited myself to six.

I’ve read four of the books I list here – and, as with the first post in this series, I’m listing them alphabetically by the name of the place.


Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in AmericaWhen talking place names, it would be hard to get bigger than a country, so here I am starting the list with a very well-known country in the title of a book by a well-known Australian author, Peter Carey’s Parrot and Olivier in America (my review). Not only is America in the title, but America is very definitely the book’s subject because what Carey explores here is that country’s grand experiment with democracy. The epigraph is: “Can it be believed that the democracy which had overthrown the feudal system and vanquished kings will retreat before tradesmen and capitalists? (Alexis de Tocqueville)”.


Roslyn Russell, Maria Returns Barbados to Mansfield ParkMy second place-name is another country, Barbados in the West Indies. It’s probably not the first place that would spring to mind as one an Australian author would write about, but Roslyn Russell’s Maria returns: Barbados to Mansfield Park (my review) does, in fact, make perfect sense. Russell is a museum professional who has spent a goodly amount of time working in Barbados. She is also a Jane Austen fan, and if you know your Jane Austen well, you’ll know that there are references to slavery in Mansfield Park. It was, as they say, a match made in heaven and Russell found herself irresistibly drawn to writing a piece of historical fiction drawing on these two enthusiasms of hers.


Gail Jones. A guide to BerlinFrom countries we move to cities, and a good example is Gail Jones’ recent, well-reviewed A guide to Berlin. Its title is that of a short story by Vladimir Nabokov. It is, as you’d expect – though you know I’m sure that this expectation of titles can’t always be relied on – set in Berlin. It’s about six international travellers, from various countries and all Nabokov lovers, who meet in empty apartments in Berlin where they share stories. It’s still on my to-read list.


Anita Heiss Paris DreamingOf all the places authors might choose to write about, that most romantic of cities, Paris, would surely have to be up there, and sure enough I found one quickly, one, in fact, that I’ve read, Anita Heiss’ Paris dreaming (my review). It’s a delightful piece of chick-lit (or, as Heiss calls it, choc-lit) and is about a young museum professional who goes to Paris to mount an exhibition of indigenous Australian art. It’s an aspirational book as well as a fun read. Heiss fans will also be aware that she has written another book titled with a foreign place-name, Manhattan dreaming.


Brian Castro, Shanghai dancingShanghai is one of the most exotic places on this list, depending of course on what each of us means by exotic! Hong Kong-born Australian writer Brian Castro’s Shanghai dancing is, I believe, set mostly there. Castro, in an Author Note, describes it as follows: ”Shanghai Dancing is a fictional autobiography. Told from an Australian perspective and loosely based on my family’s life in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Macau from the 1930s to the 1960s.”


Andrew O'Connor, TuvaluRemember what I said under Berlin regarding expectations of titles? Well, Andrew O’Connor’s Vogel Prize-winning Tuvalu, which I read a couple of years before blogging, is a perfect example. It is, in fact, set primarily in Japan, not in Tuvalu which is a Polynesian island nation in the Pacific. Indeed, as I recollect, the characters, never go to Tuvalu. It is, instead, the dream-place or goal, the place where you imagine your life will be best and which therefore acts as a motivator to keep you going. I can’t think of a better place or concept on which to end this list of novels titled with places other than one’s own!

So now, once again, over to you. Can you add to my list of Aussie books with foreign places in their titles, or tell us about books from your country’s writers titled with places from elsewhere?

26 Comments leave one →
  1. April 25, 2017 00:26

    I’ll think of others as soon as I press Post Comment, but how about Malouf, Remembering Babylon

  2. April 25, 2017 07:05

    haven’t read Tuvula but it’s a lovely concept to
    have a dream place in a novel. rather like Shangri-La.
    Enjoyed this post as I think titles are the hardest
    thing for an author to create.

    • April 25, 2017 08:00

      Thanks Elise. We non-authors are fascinated by titles and wonder how often publishers influence, or try to, them.

  3. April 25, 2017 07:29

    As you said, so many to choose from. I’ll go with ‘Corfu: A Novel’ by Robert Dessaix.

    • April 25, 2017 08:02

      Thanks, Tessa, that’s a good one too. Interesting how easily we are coming up with them.

  4. Meg permalink
    April 25, 2017 09:15

    I found this difficult after reading your suggestions. I could think of novels written by Australian authors set in other countries, but they didn’t have place names in their titles. Then I remembered,Colin Falconer and his novels, Silk Road and East India. Colleen McCullough’s, The Song of Troy and The First Man in Rome.

    • April 25, 2017 09:46

      Well done Meg! I don’t know Colin Falconer. I’m guessing these are historical novels?

  5. April 25, 2017 10:22

    Another Stead: The Salzburg Tales.

  6. Meg permalink
    April 25, 2017 11:26

    Hi Sue, yes, historical novels. Colin Falconer was born in England but now lives in Western Australia. I discovered him when I read When We Were Gods, which was about Cleopatra. He has written a thriller, Venom, that I have also read.

  7. April 25, 2017 11:52

    Here’s another for Berlin: Melanie Joosten’s Berlin Syndrome which is getting lots of publicity because it’s been made into a film.

    • April 25, 2017 15:11

      Ah, thanks Lisa. I saw a trailer for the film last week but it hadn’t clicked that it was based on an Aussie novel. I didn’t really concentrate on the trailer as I was too busy talking to our movie-going companions!

  8. ian darling permalink
    April 25, 2017 20:11

    Some Scottish writers with novels with foreign place names: Muriel Spark’s A Far Cry From Kensington (sort of foreign!), Eric Linklater’s Juan In America, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Beach At Falesa and William Boyd’s Brazzaville Beach come to mind.

  9. April 26, 2017 07:21

    I tried reading Gail Jones’ A Guide to Berlin but couldn’t finish it – it seemed to be trying so hard to create interesting characters but I found them rather dull

    • April 26, 2017 08:50

      Thanks Karen. I think I remember your saying that somewhere. I’d like to try it myself but it will probably pass me by. I can’t manage 200 books a year like Lisa, so many books pass me by.

  10. April 28, 2017 05:04

    I am intrigued by A Guide to Berlin! You really must get around to reading it so you can tell me more about it 🙂

    • April 28, 2017 08:10

      So you want me to do your dirty work, do you Stefanie? Well, I suppose that’s fair enough as you do a lot for me. I saw that book about trees and their communication in a bookshop, Paperchain, yesterday, but had to resist. I felt good though that I could tell my companion about it.

      • May 2, 2017 09:43

        Ha! You could look at it that way. I think most of us who blog and read blogs appreciate it when others “screen” books for us so we can figure out whether or not we want to read them ourselves. So it’s not dirty work at all but a useful service 🙂

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