Have you come across the French word, flâneur? According to the book The Art of Flaneuring by Erika Owen, it is used to describe well-to-do French men who would stroll city streets in the 19th century. But it has evolved 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 had to almost always men writing about it. But in the past couple of decades, women have been breaking that stereotype. So it is time we recognised the 'flâneuse'. Women travelling, alone. Their stories are always different from the solo male traversing the world, which is why women travel writers have a very distinct narrative.
These 5 books by women writers will open up whole new worlds, and change the way you travel and explore different spaces. You will find most of these at independent boosktores such as Rachna Books in Gangtok, Champaca Books in Bengaluru, and more. The stores deliver across India.
A Field Guide To Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
You can think of this as a guide to how we should travel, and view the world. An activist, historian, feminist, and writer-philosopher, Solnit explores tales of travels and stories we use to navigate our way through the world, and the places we traverse, from wilderness to cities, in finding ourselves, or losing ourselves. She muses upon the concept of “getting lost”, embarking on a journey with no fixed destination, wandering through places open to stumbling on discoveries, that are never put down in guidebooks. She meanders through subjects, linking them all in an unifying thread. It is like a reflection on the interconnectedness of things. And the perfect book to read before, during, or after an immersive journey.
We suggest that you add to this another book by her, Wanderlust, as a companion. In it, she traces the relationship between walking and culture and politics. She explore the walks that many poets, philosophers, revolutionaries, undertook. 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.”
Empires of the Indus by Alice Albinia
From Karachi to Tibet, 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.
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.
To the Lake by Kapka Kassabova
This oustanding book is about two connected lakes, Ohrid and Prespa, in the Balkans. As Kassabova notes, “Sometimes, history’s thoroughfares are disguised as geography’s outposts.” The lakes have a tricky geography - about six miles apart with the Galičica mountains in between, and Ohrid is spread across Albania and North Macedonia. She used to visit the area during her childhood holidays.
Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul by Taran Khan
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.