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Cities in Audiobooks

By Cameron Phillips, Kathryn Alley, Sarunicka Satkuruparan and Nuria Berbel Torres

This week we wanted to focus on stories that were told around, or that highlighted, major world cities. The cities we grow up in and live in often shape us in many different ways, and this is no different in literature. So here are our picks for our favourite audiobooks based around “worldly” cities.

Cameron’s Pick: Bioshock: Rapture, written by John Shirley and narrated by Jeffrey Kafer

I’m choosing a totally fictional city, but this fictional city is one that is heavily influenced by real world ideology and politics. Rapture was the dream and creation of Andrew Ryan, an American business tycoon who grew tired of both capitalist and socialist models of government in the 1940s. He created Rapture as a safe haven for those who felt chained by society: the artists, the scientists, the workers. The city is hugely inspired by Randian objectivism.

Shirley’s novel is a fantastic expansion of the existing lore of the underwater city, serving as a prequel to the first Bioshock game. Following numerous characters such as Ryan, Frank Fontaine and Dr. Bridgette Tenenbaum, the book delves deeper into the themes of ethics and morality, free will, altruism vs. egoism and power. Kafer’s narration excels in covering a cast of enigmatic, colourful and conflicted characters.

The city of Rapture is an amazing storytelling extension of what the game-writers, and Shirley, were trying to achieve. It is incredibly unique as a mechanical and physical allegory for when human ingenuity and progress comes at the cost of moral and ethical boundaries. It is absolutely brilliant and, even more so, you don’t have to be a fan of the games to love this book.

Kathryn’s Pick: Four Seasons in Rome, written and narrated by Anthony Doerr

Four Seasons in Rome is one of those audiobooks that you don’t just listen to, you truly experience it. Written in a compelling memoir style, Doerr’s audiobook is an illuminating account of a man’s life-changing stay in the City of Light.

The narrative follows Tony Doerr after the birth of newborn twins as he embarks on a journey to discover Rome and rekindle his passion for writing. Four Seasons in Rome invites listeners on a beautiful adventure as Doerr spends the next year of his life learning, crafting and writing in Italy. Rome becomes the source of his inspiration as the city’s culture and vibrancy encourages him to think outside of his usual patterns.

Doerr is one of my favourite writers and he narrates with brilliant description and emotion throughout the entire listen. What began as a daily travel diary has now transformed into a gorgeous memoir audiobook that brings Doerr’s memories and experiences to life. Toward the end of the memoir, Doerr resolves that it is the people in Rome who embraced his family and imaginative spirit that truly made the City of Light home.

Sarunicka’s Pick: The Colossus of New York, written and narrated by Colson Whitehead

Written in a series of vignettes, reflections and memories, The Colossus of New York captures the chaos, promise, exhilaration and heartbreak of New York. Through providing a native New Yorker point-of-view, encapsulating the hopes of newcomers to the city, highlighting the challenges people have overcome and spotlighting those who have fallen victim to its cruelties, this is a multi-layered portrait of life in the Big Apple.

Whitehead’s writing style mirrors his descriptions of New York; he switches from first to third to second person. He elevates the beauty of the mundane, exploring the city through the lens of rain and commuting. The imagery is vivid, adding to the allure painted by Whitehead and making you feel like you’re experiencing the city for yourself.

Ultimately, this is an exceptional tribute to the city of New York. It captures its essence so well and is written with so much intent, passion and thoughtfulness. The descriptions are captivating, the stories are evocative and the listen is one of joy.

Nuria’s pick: Brown Girls, written by Daphne Palasi Andreades and narrated by Tashi Thomas

This wonderful book is based in Queens, New York, and it narrates the story of multiple women and their immigrant families. Palasi Andreades’ fierce prose introduces you to the lives of a group of young women of colour experiencing their lives. In a place where the streets echo with languages from all over the world, girls like Gabby, Nadira and Trish try to reconcile their backgrounds with the American culture they come of age in. From the innocence of childhood, it moves on to explore their ambitions in womanhood.

This amazing and poetic story illustrates the collective portrait of childhood, sisterhood, motherhood and beyond whilst exploring class, race and marginalisation in the USA. Palasi Andreades narrates so many women, so many stories and so many variables, but, to them, Queens is a constant in their lives. A place they always return to that connects them all.

This was a wonder to listen to. Tashi Thomas does a perfect job of narrating the prose and bringing life to so many women and so many stories.


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