As we settle into the winter holidays (perhaps a bit closer to Geneva than during a normal year) consider checking out some books based in Switzerland!  A cup of hot tea and a cozy nook is all you need to enjoy a bit of Swiss-based storytelling. 

If Nonfiction is your preferred genre, check out some of the following titles:

Scrambles Amongst the Alps (Edward Whymper).  This 1871 classic describes Whymper’s efforts to become the first man to reach the summit of the Matterhorn.  Written with dry humor befitting his English upbringing, the book focuses on the at-last successful (on the 8th attempt) Matterhorn climb in 1865.  Sadly, on the descent, a devastating accident occurs that haunts Whymper for the rest of his life.  The book includes his own illustrations, well-executed as a result of his professional career as a wood engraver.  If you enjoy climbing or mountaineering, consider giving this book a try.  And then imagine making the same climb under 1865 conditions: without proper maps, GPS, modern equipment or the possibility of rescue.  

La Place de la Concorde Suisse (John McPhee). Published in 1983, this short book is a deep dive into the Swiss military.  McPhee embeds himself within a unit of French-speaking soldiers of the Swiss Army, exploring how mandatory military service (for men) keeps Switzerland unified around the Porcupine Principle.  The book also sheds light on Swiss culture more broadly, using this military lens.  For example, he details a link between the Swiss military and elite business culture.  Significant military reforms have occurred since the book was published, but still, it’s worth a read.  You are guaranteed to learn something new about our politically neutral (but very well-armed) country.  

Swiss Watching: Inside the Land of Milk and Honey. (Diccon Bewes).  A more recent title (2018) is Diccon Bewes’ light-hearted book, Swiss Watching, covering Swiss life in the 21st century.  First published in 2010 but now in its 3rd edition, Bewes adds sections on Swiss elections, the naturalization process, and the impact of Brexit.  He weaves personal anecdotes together with historical facts, in a Bill Bryson-esque style.  A fun and entertaining read for Swiss citizens, temporary residents, or just those passing through on holiday.  

If you prefer Fiction, there is also plenty of choice.  Here’s a few to get you started:

A Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemingway). Published in 1929 when Hemingway was 30 years old, this novel is loosely based on his life and experience during WW1.  Two lovers, an American ambulance driver and an English nurse, struggle through the horrors of battle on the Italian front.  They escape to Switzerland to find a brief moment of calm in the final stretch of the book.   

Frankenstein (Mary Shelley).  Set partially in Geneva, this classic 1818 novel tells the story of a young scientist, Victor Frankenstein, who creates a monster during a most unusual experiment.  His 8-foot tall creation, finding itself feared and rejected by humans, quickly sets about committing terrible crimes as revenge.  Written by an 18-year old Mary Shelley to pass the time during a rainy summer in Cologny, the book received mixed reviews by critics.  However, it achieved immediate popular success and has endured for more than 200 years.  Do you know an emerging tween or teen author?  This book might be the perfect last-second Christmas gift idea.  

The Watchers (Jon Steele). Needing a bit of suspense, mystery, and intrigue?  This dark and gothic-tinged tale is set in Lausanne, and features the iconic Lausanne Cathedral as nearly a character in its own right.  Three strangers must come together to solve a series of murders and other mysteries haunting the city.  After a slow-moving 2/3 of the book, the action quickly unfolds into a battle of good versus evil.  At 592 pages, this book may fill up a good portion of your holiday time.  

Young readers (looking ahead to their two-week holiday) might take an interest in the following books:

Heidi (Johanna Spyri).In the most famous novel about Switzerland, first published in 1880, a 5-year old orphan is sent to live with her grandfather in the Alps.  A sweet and charming tale, the story describes the happy life the child leads on the mountain.  Heidi plays with goats and flits about like a little sprite, bringing love and healing to those she meets.  Eventually, an aunt arrives to collect Heidi and take her to live in Frankfurt.  The little girl, missing her Swiss home and grandfather, quickly begins to deteriorate.  Upon her return to the mountain, more healing ensues, and not just for Heidi.  This book may very well land on your child’s ‘favorite’ list.  

Pitschi (Hans Fischer).In this 1947 Swiss children’s classic, a plucky little kitten named Pitschi sets out to find her place among the animals on Old Lisette’s farm.  She practices being a rooster, a goat, a rabbit, and so on, but discovers there are trade-offs when trying to be something other than herself.  The bold and curious little heroine will charm all readers, and is a good choice for very young children and those just learning to read.  As a bonus, the simple illustrations are adorable.    

William Tell: One Against an Empire (Paul D. Storrie). This retelling of the legendary Swiss hunter’s story is presented in graphic novel format.  Comic book aficionados will appreciate the fast-paced storyline and Thomas Yeates’ cool illustrations.  Aimed at kids aged 9-14, Tell’s impossible choice (whether to shoot an apple off his son’s head) will be a compelling arc and, at the very least, will teach the mythology of one of Switzerland’s most important folk heroes.  

We are a group of international women living in Geneva, Switzerland. If you would like to learn more about our activities and excursions, visit our website at  http://www.aiwcgeneva.org/