10 Evocative Writers of Place


Today is famed Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez’s 84th birthday. Known for his importance in developing the genre of magical realism as well as his lush descriptions of an often only slightly shifted Colombia, Márquez has created some of the most beautiful worlds of any writer living today. In the introduction to the Everyman’s Library edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude, author Carlos Fuentes writes, “[Márquez] creates a place. A mythical locale: Macondo. García Márquez, story-teller, knows that presence dissolves without a place (a base of resistance) that can be all places: a place that will hold everyone, that will hold all of us: the seat of time, she enshrinement of all times, the meeting ground of memory and desire, a common present where everything can begin again: a temple, a book.”

Indeed, place can be one of the most important ingredients in a novel or story, and since we associate Márquez so deeply with the Colombia he has created for us, we decided to take a look at more authors who are tied to a specific place, and whose work relies on a strong evocation of that land, whether foreign or domestic. Click through to take a look at our ten favorite writers of place, and let us know if we’ve missed your favorite in the comments.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez — Colombia

“The ground became soft and damp, like volcanic ash, and the vegetation was thicker and thicker, and the cries of the birds and the uproar of the monkeys became more and more remote, and the world became eternally sad. The men on the expedition felt overwhelmed by their most ancient memories in that paradise of dampness and silence, going back to before original sin, as their boots sank into pools of steaming oil and their machetes destroyed bloody lilies and golden salamanders.” — One Hundred Years of Solitude

Márquez’s evocations of his native land are luminous throughout his work, though perhaps never so magical as in One Hundred Years of Solitude, where he seamlessly steeps the wildness of the mind and the weight of history in the lush beauty of the landscape. Every step into Márquez’s Colombia (and every step back out the other side) is dangerous, significant, and thrilling.

Arundhati Roy — India

“May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst. Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air.” — The God of Small Things

There are many, many writers who evoke India beautifully, and we know that Roy has only written one novel, so you may question her representation of a country that spawns so much gorgeous literature written in English. However, that one novel, the Booker Prize-winning The God of Small Things, is so tantalizingly rich and (we think) deliciously verbose in its descriptions of place and home in the 1960s that we couldn’t help but include her.

Eudora Welty — The American South

“Thoughts went out of her head and the landscape filled it. In the Delta, most of the world seemed sky. The clouds were large — larger than horses or houses, larger than boats or churches or gins, larger than anything except the fields the Fairchilds planted. Her nose in the banana skin as in the cup of a lily, she watched the Delta. The land was perfectly flat and level but it shimmered like the wing of a lighted dragonfly. It seemed strummed, as though it were an instrument and something had touched it.” — Delta Wedding

One of the most celebrated Southern writers in America, Welty conjured incredible, jewel-like images of that fabled landscape, and place is integral to almost every thing she’s ever written. Perhaps not surprising then, that she wrote in an essay on the topic that “Place in fiction is the named, identified, concrete, exact and exacting, and therefore credible, gathering spot of all that has been felt, is about to be experienced, in the novel’s progress. Location pertains to feeling; feeling profoundly pertains to place; place in history partakes of feeling, as feeling about history partakes of place. Every story would be another story, and unrecognizable as art, if it took up its characters and plot and happened somewhere else.”

Cormac McCarthy — Mexico

“They set forth in a crimson dawn where sky and earth closed in a razorous plane. Out there dark little archipelagos of cloud and the vast world of sand and scrub shearing upward into the shoreless void where those blue islands trembled and the earth grew uncertain, gravely canted and veering out through tinctures of rose and the dark beyond the dawn to the uttermost rebate of space.” Blood Meridian

Though McCarthy’s novels are, in many ways, highly American, much of the action takes place in Mexico, and McCarthy paints a detailed, stark portrait of the dusty country. Perhaps its because we’re always pretty confident someone’s going to get scalped on the next page, but even in his descriptions of landscape and beauty, we read a darkness, something lurking beneath the surface, a land of hidden danger.

J.M. Coetzee — South Africa

“His daughter’s smallholding is at the end of a winding dirt track some miles outside the town: five hectares of land, most of it arable, a wind-pump, stables and outbuildings, and a low, sprawling farmhouse painted yellow, with a galvanized-iron roof and a covered stoep. The front boundary is marked by a wire fence and clumps of nasturtiums and geraniums; the rest of the front is dust and gravel.” — Disgrace

Though the South African-born Nobel Prize winner Coetzee has become an Australian citizen, he still is very connected to his home country and writes about it often. His Booker Prize-winning Disgrace, set in the post-apartheid South Africa countryside, has even been suggested to be an allegory for South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Though Coetzee’s writing is not as lyrical as some of the others on this list, it still is pitch-perfect for what it does: presenting the uneasy land in a precariously balanced country.

Orhan Pamuk — Turkey

“With the engine stalled, we would notice the deep silence reigning in the park around us, in the summer villa before us, in the world everywhere. We would listen enchanted to the whirring of an insect beginning vernal flight before the onset of spring, and we would know what a wondrous thing it was to be alive in a park on a spring day in Istanbul.” — The Museum of Innocence

Pamuk spent an entire book, Istanbul: Memories and the City, musing about his home city, but the land of his birth appears beautifully in his fiction as well. His works are often concerned with the tension between the East and West, and Turkey — and Istanbul in particular — preoccupies his work, which is perhaps as it should be. After all, he is the country’s bestselling writer and in 2006, won the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first Turkish citizen ever to win a Nobel.

Khaled Hosseini — Afghanistan

“But I remember it was a scorching summer day and I was driving up a rutted dirt road, nothing on either side but sunbaked bushes, gnarled, spiny tree trunks, and dried grass like pale straw. I passed a dead donkey rotting on the side of the road. And then I turned a corner and, right in the middle of that barren land, I saw a cluster of mud houses, beyond them nothing but broad sky and mountains like jagged teeth. — The Kite Runner

Like Pamuk, Hosseini has made his literary career writing about his place of birth, this time Afghanistan. Both of his novels are in part portraits of the country, the first spanning the time until the fall of the Taliban regime, the second focusing on the rebuilding period. His bestselling novel The Kite Runner contrasts the country of his birth to San Francisco’s Bay Area, going back and forth to create a fuller understanding of both places.

Jonathan Lethem — Brooklyn

“Minna’s Court Street was the old Brooklyn, a placid ageless surface alive underneath with talk, with deals and casual insults, a neighborhood political machine with pizzeria and butcher-shop bosses and unwritten rules everywhere. All was talk except for what mattered most, which were unspoken understandings.” — Motherless Brooklyn

There are, of course, a laughably large numbers of writers living in and writing about Brooklyn these days, but for us, it is still Lethem who is connected most inextricably to the place, no matter how many novels he writes about California. His frank, boyish portrayals of his home borough in Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude are some of the best and most tangible we’ve ever read.

Emily Brontë — Yorkshire

“‘My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.'” — Wuthering Heights

When you think of Wuthering Heights — or Emily Brontë for that matter — one thing inevitably comes into your mind: the moors. Those wild, desolate moors, with all their brooding darkness and alluring freedom, all that unruly nature. They’re Heathcliff, they’re freedom, they’re fear.

Chinua Achebe — Nigeria

“Unoka loved the good fare and the good fellowship, and he loved his season of the year, when the rains had stopped and the sun rose every morning with dazzling beauty. And it was not too hot either, because the cold and dry harmattan wind was blowing down from the north. Some years the harmattan was very severe and a dense haze hung on the atmosphere. Old men and children would then sit round log fires, warming their bodies. Unoka loved it all, and he loved the first kites that returned with the dry season, and the children who sang songs of welcome to them. He would remember his own childhood, how he had often wandered around looking for a kite sailing leisurely against the blue sky.” — Things Fall Apart

Chinua Achebe’s magnum opus, Things Fall Apart, may be the most famous work of African literature today. His writing style is simple and clean, heavily influenced by the Igbo oral tradition, incorporating folk tales into his narrative for a fuller vision of the people and land he describes, letting the reader in to the very core of the story. One early reviewer wrote that “The book as a whole creates for the reader such a vivid picture of Ibo life that the plot and characters are little more than symbols representing a way of life lost irrevocably within living memory.”