My favorite books that transport you to another world, changing your perspective of otherness

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been to, and loved, North, Central, and especially East Africa for over fifty years. Only six times have I been to Africa on holiday; more often, perhaps twenty or more times, as a television producer. Working in Africa gains a perspective of reality that the glories of vacation do not. Each has its place, each its pitfalls like stalled plane rides with emergency landings in the bush or attacks by wildlife. But, in the end, the magic of the “otherness,” what an old friend called “primitava” captures one’s soul and changes your life.


I wrote...

Kidnapped on Safari

By Peter Riva,

Book cover of Kidnapped on Safari

What is my book about?

"Peter Riva’s singular ability to both entertain and inform is captured in this literary tour-de-force; a page-turner in every sense of the term."—David Ariosto, author of This is Cuba: An American Journalist Under Castro's Shadow and executive producer of Intelligence Squared

“Best of all, Riva delivers rat-a-tat action, rarely letting up, building to a nail-biter conclusion. Move over Jason Bourne. Baltazar is here." — Mary Glickman, bestselling author of Home in the Morning and National Jewish Book Award finalist for One More River

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Heart of Darkness

Peter Riva Why did I love this book?

Seeing Africa and the dangers of Western assumption played out on that raw terrain was Conrad’s genius. The “otherness” of that land, reflected in actions and reactions by Marlow stand as examples of seeing reality dissolve in favor of desperate perspective needed to survive. The depth of truth here, the experience he brings to the reader of a land people think (mistakenly) has changed are unique and prescient.

By Joseph Conrad,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked Heart of Darkness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Although Polish by birth, Joseph Conrad (1857–1924) is regarded as one of the greatest writers in English, and Heart of Darkness, first published in 1902, is considered by many his "most famous, finest, and most enigmatic story." — Encyclopaedia Britannica. The tale concerns the journey of the narrator (Marlow) up the Congo River on behalf of a Belgian trading company. Far upriver, he encounters the mysterious Kurtz, an ivory trader who exercises an almost godlike sway over the inhabitants of the region. Both repelled and fascinated by the man, Marlow is brought face to face with the corruption and despair…


Book cover of The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories

Peter Riva Why did I love this book?

Hemingway understood that small things, seemingly insignificant events or (in the case of this story) a burned-out bearing can cause—in the true wild—consequences taking the characters into realms of danger and adventure they never sought nor could anticipate. Hemingway relies on the inner strength of his characters, facing the very reality they find themselves in, to bring dignity and hope to what could otherwise be a tragedy.

By Ernest Hemingway,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Men and women of passion and action live, fight, love and die in scenes of dramatic intensity. From haunting tragedy on the snow-capped peak of Kilimanjaro to brutal sensationalism in the bullring; from rural America with its deceptive calm to the heart of war-ravaged Europe, each of the stories in this classic collection is a feat of imagination, and a masterpiece of description. The Snows of Kilimanjaro is one of the best known and loved collections of stories by one of the greatest literary novelists of the twentieth century.


Book cover of The Mission Song

Peter Riva Why did I love this book?

A man bereft of connection to the modern world is used, agreeing to be so, by the spy world with consequences neither he nor his handlers predicted. A wonderful journey undercutting & exposing Western misuse of Africa and African rights. Nobody writes the ordinary man stepping up to a great task in thrillers better than Le Carré. Le Carré uses intellect as demonstration of character, and in so doing, he finds redemption in morals needed to achieve a thriller’s conclusion.

By John Le Carré, John le Carré,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Mission Song as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Mesmerising' Sunday Times

As an interpreter of African languages, Bruno Salvador is much in demand. He makes it a principle to remain neutral - no matter what he hears. But when he is summoned on a secret job for British Intelligence, he is told he will have to get his hands dirty. His mission is to help bring democracy to the Congo - democracy that will be delivered at the end of a gun barrel.

The Mission Song is an excoriating depiction of a corrupt world where loyalty can be bought and war is simply an opportunity to settle old…


Book cover of The Ipcress File

Peter Riva Why did I love this book?

The perfect example of the anti-hero somewhat reluctantly taking on the responsibility and, in the end, realizing that who he thought was protecting him, were happy to leave him die, if needed. Harry (unnamed in the book) became the perfect anti-hero who wins through.

Deighton always wrote and understood that actions by simple people could rise calamitous events. In his books he writes of simple, brave, actions which, when viewed from the conclusion of events only then, are realized as globally pivotal.

By Len Deighton,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Ipcress File as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Len Deighton's classic first novel, whose
protagonist is a nameless spy - later christened Harry Palmer and made famous worldwide in the iconic 1960s film starring Michael Caine.

The Ipcress File was not only Len Deighton's first novel, it was his first bestseller and the book that broke the mould of thriller writing.

For the working class narrator, an apparently straightforward mission to find a missing biochemist becomes a journey to the heart of a dark and deadly conspiracy.

The film of The Ipcress File gave Michael Caine one of his first and still most celebrated starring roles, while the…


Book cover of Lightseekers

Peter Riva Why did I love this book?

Understanding and writing brilliantly about the reality of African tribalism and desperate clinging to homeland, this book—words hidden in a page-turning thriller—exposes the reality of modern Africa where politics are used to support millenia-old tribal desires.

An anti-hero, thrust into circumstances beyond his normal ability, Dr. Philip Taiwo must—and does—rely on instinct and personal morals to advance his investigation. He soon realizes that he cannot handle events alone, relying on Chica in much the same way Pero, in my novel, relies on Mbuno.

By Femi Kayode,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Lightseekers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Waterstones Thriller of the Month 'Lightseekers is ripe with all the twists and turns you could hope for... A fast-paced thriller that offers insight into the ever present tensions in a poverty stricken community. An action-packed and spirited debut' Oyinkan Braithwaite, author of My Sister, the Serial Killer Selected as a Best Crime Novel of the Month by The Times, Sunday Times, Independent, Guardian, Observer, Financial Times and Irish Times. Winner of the 2019 UEA Crime Writing Prize, Lightseekers is the start of a major new crime series introducing investigative psychologist Dr Philip Taiwo. When three young students are brutally…


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The Road from Belhaven

By Margot Livesey,

Book cover of The Road from Belhaven

Margot Livesey Author Of The Road from Belhaven

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Reader Secret orphan Professor Scottish Novelist

Margot's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

The Road from Belhaven is set in 1880s Scotland. Growing up in the care of her grandparents on Belhaven Farm, Lizzie Craig discovers as a small girl that she can see the future. But she soon realises that she must keep her gift a secret. While she can sometimes glimpse the future, she can never change it.

Nor can Lizzie change the feelings that come when a young man named Louis, visiting Belhaven for the harvest, begins to court her. Why have the adults around her never told her that the touch of a hand can change everything? When she follows Louis to Glasgow, she begins to learn the limits of his devotion and the complexities of her own affections.

The Road from Belhaven

By Margot Livesey,

What is this book about?

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy, a novel about a young woman whose gift of second sight complicates her coming of age in late-nineteenth-century Scotland

Growing up in the care of her grandparents on Belhaven Farm, Lizzie Craig discovers as a small child that she can see into the future. But her gift is selective—she doesn’t, for instance, see that she has an older sister who will come to join the family. As her “pictures” foretell various incidents and accidents, she begins to realize a painful truth: she may glimpse the future, but…


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