According to the book The Art of Flaneuring by Erika Owen, the word ' flâneur' is used to describe well-to-do French men who would stroll city streets in the 19th century. But it has evolved over the years to generally mean someone who wanders with intention. As with most things in life, the flâneur was long been seen as a man’s role. If you want to read about people exploring cities, it was (almost always) men writing about it. The good news is that in the past couple of decades, women have been breaking that stereotype. Some have introduced the word 'flâneuse'. It stands for women travelling alone.
Women's stories are always different from the solo male traversing the world, which is why women travel writers have a very distinct voice, and their narratives are different too.
To mark International Women's Day and Women's History Month, we have put together a list of books by women writers which will open up whole new worlds, and change the way you travel and explore different spaces. Apart from Amazon, you will find most of these at independent boosktores such as Rachna Books in Gangtok, Champaca in Bengaluru, and more. And they all deliver across India. Take a look at our list of indie bookstores here.
A Field Guide To Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
You can think of this as a guide to how we should really travel, and view the world. An activist, historian, feminist, and writer-philosopher, she muses upon the concept of “getting lost”, embarking on a journey with no fixed destination, wandering through places that are never found in guidebooks. What is special about her writing is the way she meanders through subjects, linking them all in an unifying thread. We suggest that you also look at another book by her, Wanderlust. In it, she traces the relationship between walking and culture and politics. And she looks at women fighting for the right to wander as men do, without attracting attention or scandal. If walking supplies “the unpredictable incidents . . . that add up to a life,” Solnit writes, anyone dissuaded from it is denied a “vast portion of their humanity.”
Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul by Taran Khan
Indian writer Taran Khan on Friday won the 2021 Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year prize for her debut novel Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul. Most people view Kabul, and Afghanistan, through the lens of conflict and war. Khan paints a lyrical, personal, and meditative portrait of the city through its bookstores, cinemas, the glittery wedding halls, its graveyards and poppy palaces. A woman walking around post-Taliban Kabul isn’t something you come by every day. And yet, Khan did it daily, and for years. The stories start from 2006, when she first arrived in Kabul, five years after the Taliban regime was overthrown. And end in 2013, when she returned to India. Read our review here.
Empires of the Indus by Alice Albinia
From Karachi to Tibet, award-winning travel writer Alice Albinia journeys along one of the oldest and largest rivers in the world, the Indus, to experience the people, history, and cultures along the route. This is a river that has fostered civilisations and religions, including Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism. She travels through the 2,000 miles it flows through, exploring geographic and cultural landmarks of eastern Afghanistan, Pakistan, northwestern India, and the Tibetan plateau. Her narrative links the past and present, as she navigates borders in four different countries.
To The Lake by Kapka Kassabova
Kassabova writes about two lakes, and explores the region's turbulent history as well as the key to its enduring allure. Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa are both significant to her maternal family. She meets a crossroads of civilisations on her way to the hometown of her grandmother. The lakes are set within the mountainous borderlands of North Macedonia, Albania and Greece, and crowned by the old Roman road, the Via Egnatia. Through various encounters and conversations, she explores the melange of cultures in what was once a trading and spiritual hub of the southern Balkans, and remains one of Eurasia's most culturally diverse areas.
Flaneuse by Lauren Elkin
A writer, translator, professor, traveler, and urban wanderer, Elkin has written about women walking, exploring their cities and the world. If the word flâneur conjures up visions of Baudelaire, boulevards and bohemia – then what exactly is a flâneuse? In this book, Elkin defines her as ‘a determined resourceful woman keenly attuned to the creative potential of the city, and the liberating possibilities of a good walk’. Part cultural meander, part memoir, Flâneuse traces the relationship between the city and creativity through a journey that begins in New York and moves us to Paris, via Venice, Tokyo and London, exploring along the way the paths taken by the flâneuses who have lived and walked in those cities.
ALSO READ: Kolkata: How Women Walk the City