The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

10 expat books ripe for movie adaptations

Those who have been following this blog for some time are probably all too aware of my unhealthy preoccupation as to what constitutes an expat or travel book.

Is it, as often seems the case when I browse the expat blogosphere, that expat books must occupy themselves with the oh-so-amusing hi-jinks of expat life? The result almost invariably of such approach is that we are depressingly left with another third-rate knock-off of Bill Bryson for us to throw on the bonfire.

So when considering which expat books are ripe for movie adaptations, my first thought is that the film world, not to mention the world in general — at least, the one I want to live in — really doesn’t need any more travesties such as Under the Tuscan Sun, A Good Year or — most horrifying of all — Eat, Pray, Love. So with that in mind I will nominate the following 10 expat books as being ripe for interesting adaptations.

10. A Moveable Feast (1964, revised 2009)

Author: Ernest Hemingway
Synopsis: Hemingway’s posthumously published memoir detailing his years as a young American expat in Paris socializing with the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound.
Film pitch: Perhaps now is the perfect time for an adaptation of A Moveable Feast. The surprising success of Woody Allen‘s Midnight in Paris will perhaps have whetted Hollywood’s appetite for a more serious take on the same subject matter.

9. One Fat Englishman (1963)

Author: Kingsley Amis
Synopsis: Inspired by a year Amis spent teaching at Princeton, One Fat Englishman follows the badly behaved Roger Micheldene with Amis’s typical brio. An English gentleman who is affronted by everything on the American scene, Roger fails to see how his presence might adversely affect Anglo-American relations.
Film pitch: Cast Timothy Spall as Roger and watch the fireworks.

8. A Burnt Out Case (1960)

Author: Graham Greene
Synopsis: A man named Querry arrives at a leper colony in the Congo. He assists the colony’s doctor, who diagnoses him as suffering depression. It is revealed that Querry is in fact a world-famous architect, though he is hiding other secrets, too.
Film pitch: Perhaps Greene’s bleakest work — which may explain why it hasn’t been filmed previously despite being optioned twice by Otto Preminger (Greene was said to be thankful that it was never made). I would argue, however, that it has all the material for a fascinating film.

7. Travels through France and Italy (1766)

Author: Tobias Smollett
Synopsis: After the sad death of his daughter, Tobias Smollett and his wife left England for a tour of France and Italy. Detailing the quarrels Smollett has on his journey with those pesky Continentals, this is a very funny book.
Film pitch: Yes, I am suggesting that someone should make a movie based on an 18th-century travelogue. If Robbie Coltrane and John Sessions can turn Boswell and Johnson’s tour of the Hebrides into a delightful TV movie then I think the same could be done with this.

6. The Long Day Wanes: A Malayan Trilogy (1956-59)

Author: Anthony Burgess
Synopsis: Burgess’s first three novels are concerned with the character of Victor Crabbe, a teacher in a village in Malaya (now Malaysia). Based upon Burgess’s own experiences as a British civil servant in Malaya, the three novels that make up The Long Day Wanes detail the death of Empire and the birth pains of a newly independent nation.
Film pitch: Other than A Clockwork Orange, whose adaptation Burgess had strong misgivings over, Burgess’s work often seems overlooked for movie adaptations. It really shouldn’t be.

5. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (2010)

Author: David Mitchell
Synopsis: Until Commodore Perry in 1853 anchored four warships off the Japanese coast and so opened up Japan to western trade, Japan had been a “locked country” (sakoku) where it was illegal for a foreigner to enter Japan and for a Japanese subject to leave. The exception to this was at Dejima, in Nagasaki, where trade with some select foreign powers was allowed. This fascinating piece of history is the basis for David Mitchell’s latest novels. Set in 1799, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet details a young Dutch trader who has come to Dejima to make his fortune though he discovers a lot more.
Film pitch: The book has all the makings of a wonderful historical epic.

4. Up Above the World (1966)

Author: Paul Bowles
Synopsis: Dr and Mrs Slade are an American couple touring Central America. A chance encounter with an elderly woman leads to a tense and gripping chain of events.
Film pitch:A disturbing and intense work typical of Bowles, it would make for a deeply compelling thriller.

3. Burmese Days (1934)

Author: George Orwell
Synopsis: Similar to Burgess’s The Long Day Wanes, this novel is concerned with the dying days of Empire. Orwell, who was himself an officer in the Indian Imperial Police Force in Burma, paints a depressing picture of expatriate life that is based around the stultifying social hub of the European club.
Film pitch: Orwell’s first novel and while certainly not his best work, even a bad Orwell novel is still worthy of consideration.

2. Henderson the Rain King (1959)

Author: Saul Bellow
Synopsis: Eugene Henderson is a rich American with an unfulfilled desire. Not knowing quite what it is, he hopes he will discover it by going to Africa. Through a series of misadventures Eugene Henderson finds himself away from his original group and in the village of Wariri in Africa. After performing a feat of strength, Eugene is adopted by the villagers as the Wariri Rain King.
Film pitch: Bellow’s funniest book, Henderson the Rain King could be pitched as an intellectual Joe Versus the Volcano (or maybe not — that’s a terrible pitch).

1. Turkish Embassy Letters (1763)

Author: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
Synopsis: An important writer in her own right, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was the wife of Edward Wortley Montagu, who was appointed as the ambassador at Constantinople. Accompanying her husband just after recovering from contracting smallpox marring her famed beauty, Lady Wortley Montagu wrote about her observations in numerous letters. These letters form a fascinating look at the Ottoman Empire — from how they inoculated against smallpox to the zenanas, special areas of the house reserved for women — as observed by an aristocratic English woman of the time.
Film pitch: Just think what a great biopic you could make about her.

Note: If you click on the book titles in the above list, you’ll be taken to Amazon, where the books can be purchased — except in the case of Tobias Smollett’s travelogue, which goes to Gutenberg, where he can be read FOR FREE!!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, an interview with first-time novelist Meagan Adele Lopez, and her plans for turning the book into a film.

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5 responses to “10 expat books ripe for movie adaptations

  1. Anne O'Connell (@annethewriter) February 21, 2012 at 10:11 pm

    I vote to add ‘Perking the Pansies – Jack and Liam Move to Turkey’ to this list. I think it would make a great comedy!

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