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BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: 2014–2015 books recommended by expats & other international creatives (2/2)

Globe Bookshelf Part TwoHello Displaced Nationers! As those who caught Part One of this post last week will know, we are continuing the party we had at the end of last year in publishing a Best of 2014 in expat books list by soliciting various international creatives and other “displaced” contacts for more recommended books.

In Part One, several of my bookworm friends from a previous blog, Novel Adventurers, along with ML and JJ Marsh (JJ writes the Location, Locution column for Displaced Nation), revealed their favorite 2014 reads.

In Part Two, below, kicking off with yours truly, we talk about releases we’re hotly anticipating this year.

A “forthcoming reads” roundtable, if you will.

—Beth Green

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BETH GREEN: I actively search out books by Elizabeth George, the American author of the Inspector Lynley mystery novels set in Britain, and Elizabeth Gilbert, who achieved fame with her travel memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. 2015 is a great year for me as both Elizabeths have books coming out.

A_Banquet_of_Consequence_300s_coverA Banquet of Consequences (Inspector Lynley Book 19), by Elizabeth George, due out in October.
Synopsis: Lynley and Havers are drawn from Cambridge to London to the windswept town of Shaftesbury during one of their most complex cases yet: the murder of a feminist writer and speaker.
Why I’m excited: Though actually not in the “expat” realm, I have to confess it’s the book I’m most looking forward to reading. I’m a huge fan of George’s diverse characters and elaborate stories.

BigMagic_cover_300Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert, due out in September.
Synopsis: Gilbert digs deep into her own creative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity.
Why I’m excited: As some readers may recall, I reviewed her novel The Signature of All Things last fall for this column. It seems that Gilbert is now turning her hand to self-help/motivational books for us creatives. I’m intrigued, and I figure other international creatives should be as well.

Three other upcoming books, by authors I’ve not come across before, have also caught my eye:

Displacement_cover_300Displacement, by Lucy Knisley, due out February 8th.
Synopsis: A graphic-novel-style/comic-book travelogue reporting on a cruise ship trip to the Caribbean Knisley took with her grandparents.
What interests me: Even though I seldom read graphic novels, I’m curious to pick it up, especially given its title(!). Knisley has two previous travelogues in graphic form: French Milk (her six-week trip to Paris to celebrate a milestone birthday) and An Age of License (her all-expenses trip to Europe/Scandinavia).

Meet_Me_in_Atlantis_cover_300Meet Me in Atlantis: My Obsessive Quest to Find the Sunken City, by Mark Adam, due out in March
Synopsis: A few years ago, travel writer Mark Adams made a strange discovery: everything we know about the lost city of Atlantis comes from the work of one man, the Greek philosopher Plato. Then he made a second, stranger discovery: amateur explorers are still actively searching for this sunken city all around the world, based entirely on the clues Plato left behind. Adams decides to track these people down. He reports on what he learns from scientists and amateur historians who all share his curiosity about the facts and fiction surrounding the “lost city.”
What interests me: Count me in that curious group!

The Porcelain Thief: Searching for the Middle Kingdom in Buried China, by Huan Hsu (forthcoming in March).
The_Porcelain_Thief_cover_300Synopsis: The author, raised in Utah, goes back to his ancestral homeland in China, in part to look for porcelain and other treasures his great-great-grandfather may have buried before the family fled the Sino-Japanese War.
What interests me: As a former expat in China, I love anything about this part of the world, and this displaced family saga sounds particularly fascinating!


ML AWANOHARA: I am always on the lookout for books that could be of interest to the Displaced Nation readership. (Whether I end up reading them or not is a different matter!) I’m sure this is just the tip of the iceberg, but thus far in 2015 I have my eye on one novel and several memoirs.

First, the novel:

The_Art_of_Unpacking_Your_Life_cover_300The Art of Unpacking Your Life, by Shireen Jilla (forthcoming in March)
Synopsis: A million miles away from their daily concerns, on a safari in the Kalahari Desert, two women who were once best friends see if they can reconnect.
What interests me: We featured Jilla’s first novel, Exiled, on the Displaced Nation shortly after we started the site as we were curious to as to why, after her own expat life in New York City, she had produced such a dark, dysfunctional family psychodrama concerning a British expat family living on the Upper East Side of New York. (Her answer was extremely satisfying!)

As to memoirs, here are three that were issued in January:

Leaving_Before_the_Rains_Come_cover_300Leaving Before the Rains Come, by Alexandra Fuller (came out in January)
Synopsis: A child of the Rhodesian wars and daughter of two deeply complicated parents, Alexandra Fuller is no stranger to pain. But the disintegration of her own marriage leaves her shattered. Looking to pick up the pieces of her life, she finally confronts the tough questions about her past, about the American man she married in hopes of being saved from the madness of her early life, and about the family she left behind in Africa.
What interests me: I so enjoyed Fuller’s first memoir, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, about growing up in a white family during the Rhodesian Bush War, I have come to think of her as a modern-day displaced heroine, or goddess: larger than life, an extraordinary mix of beauty and brains, out of this displaced world… (Hmmm… No wonder her marriage to a mere mortal didn’t last.)

Russian_Tattoo_cover_300Russian Tattoo: A Memoir, by Elena Gorokhova
SYNOPSIS: In her first memoir, A Mountain of Crumbs, Gorokhova detailed her life growing up with an iron-willed mother in Soviet-era St. Petersburg. In this follow-up, she escapes both mother and country by entering into an unsuitable marriage with an American. When her husband first brings her to live in Austin, Texas, the culture shock is extreme. He then ships her off to Princeton to live with his psychotherapist mother. There she meets her second husband and a happier future.
WHAT INTERESTS ME: Maybe because I lived abroad for so long and then had to readjust to life in the U.S., I identify very closely with immigrant stories. And for personal reasons, I’m always attracted to stories that revolve around the challenges of cross-cultural marriage.

Whipping_boy_cover_300Whipping Boy: The Forty-Year Search for My Twelve-Year-Old Bully, by Allen Kurzweil
SYNOPSIS: As a 10-year-old American shipped to a Swiss boarding school, Kurzweil endured a year of torment. Years later he set out to search for the chief bully, Cesar, who, it turned out, had gone to prison twice, having become a professional con man. In circling the globe to find Cesar, Kurzweil stands up for all who’ve been the victim of bullies.
WHAT INTERESTS ME: As we’ve always recognized on this site, some of us who are “displaced” have gothic tales to tell. Thank goodness in this case the villain picked on a man who was destined to become a world-class writer, hence able to exact an exquisite revenge.

Finally, I just now heard about another memoir whose title alone has me panting to know more: The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Ex-Pats and Ex-Countries, by litblog founder and book reviewer Jessa Crispin, who moved to Berlin in 2009. It’s due out in September; no book cover yet.


JJ MARSH, crime series author and Displaced Nation columnist (Location, Locution): I have a novel and a poem on my list, along with one publishing house.

A_Spool_of_Blue_Thread_300A Spool of Blue Thread: A Novel, by Anne Tyler (forthcoming this month).
Synopsis: It’s not an expat story but rather the opposite: a domestic family saga. The family, Whitshanks, have lived in Baltimore for several generations.
What interests me: Tyler wrote The Accidental Tourist (about the ultra-insular Leary family, who also live in Baltimore) and I’m curious.

“Sentenced to Life”, by Clive James (James, for those who don’t know, is an Australian writer and personality who has long lived in Britain.)
Synopsis: It’s one of James’s recent poems, published in May of last year, and can be read in full on her author site.
What interests me: I heard James on the radio talking about writing poetry about facing death and it humbled me.

I also look forward to whatever Galley Beggar Press puts out because they’re exciting and adventurous and try things other publishers will not. This strategy paid off with their Baileys Prize success of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride last year.


The_Tutor_of_History_cover_300HEIDI NOROOZY, adult TCK, translator and author (@heidinoroozy): This year I’ve resolved to read more books in translation and stories from far-flung parts of the world. And, as I enjoy novels set in foreign locations that are told in local voices, I’ve got these two on my list:

The Tutor of History, written in English by the Nepali author Manjushree Thapa
SYNOPSIS: One of South Asia’s best-known writers, Thapa follows the lives of a variety of characters in the lead-up to local and national elections in a small town in central Nepal.
NOTE: This novel came out in 2012, but I haven’t gotten round to reading it yet.

The_Little_Paris_Bookshop_cover_300The Little Paris Bookshop, by the German author Nina George (forthcoming in English in June).
SYNOPSIS: Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. The only person he can’t seem to heal through literature is himself…but will he manage to do that on a mission he takes to the south of France, with an Italian chef as his companion?
NOTE: I already read the novel in German. In Germany it spent over a year on the bestseller lists.


My_Fellow_Prisoners_cover_300KELLY RAFTERY, translator and writer: In 2015, I am looking forward to being able to read Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s collection of short stories entitled My Fellow Prisoners. Already available in Europe, it is due to have its U.S. release in late February. Convicted on thinly disguised, politically motivated charges, Mikhail Khodorkovsky went from being Russia’s richest man to a labor camp inmate in Siberia. In the decade of his incarceration, Khodorkovsky scribbled short sketches of the men he encountered, jailers and prisoners alike.


SUPRIYA SAVKOOR, editor and mystery writer: In the last roundtable, I mentioned having recently read two gripping memoirs: Not My Father’s Son, by Alan Cumming, and A Long Way Home, by Saroo Brierley. In 2015 I’m looking forward to more books that surprise me as these two did, particularly ones in which the new stories are intertwined with the old ones and make me see the grander scheme of things.


Rebel_Queen_cover_300ALLI SINCLAIR, world traveler and novelist (www.allisinclair.com): I’m a huge fan of Michelle Moran’s books and any book of hers is an automatic buy for me. Moran has an interesting story. Born in Southern California, she was a public high school teacher before becoming a writer, using her summers to travel around the world. It was her experiences as a volunteer on archaeological digs that inspired her to write historical fiction. Moran’s upcoming work, Rebel Queen, will be released in March. It’s about Queen Lakshmi—also known as India’s Joan of Arc because she stood up to the British invasion of her beloved Kingdom of Jhansi. The queen raises two armies—one male and one female—and they go into battle against the well-prepared British.

Moran’s books are rich in historical facts but the stories are so enthralling it never feels like a history lesson. Another reason I’m a fan is because she usually chooses the point of view of someone not so well known. For example, in this story the main character is Sita, one of the Queen’s trusted soldiers and companions, a device that serves to paint a less-biased picture of the more famous Queen Lakshmi.

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Thank you, ML, JJ and guests! Readers, do you have any further 2015 recommendations? Please leave a comment below. And then let’s get our noses back into our books!

Finally, please be sure to sign up for the DISPLACED DISPATCH, which has a Recommended Read every week. You can also follow the Displaced Nation’s DISPLACED READS Pinterest board.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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A valentine to displaced creatives: Let a thousand friendships flourish!

Valentine_Displaced_Friendships

Photo credit: PublicDomainPictures via Pixabay.

In my nearly four years of managing the Displaced Nation, I’ve had about as many face-to-face meet-ups with the creatives I’ve “met” on this site. Let me see…the last one was was about eight months ago, when the delightful Jennifer Eremeeva and I had coffee. Among many other things, we talked about her autobiographical novel based on her two decades of living in Russia: Lenin Lives Next Store: Marriage, Martinis and Mayhem in Moscow (don’t you love the alliteration?).

I suppose it’s not surprising how rare these real-life encounters are, given that, by definition, displaced creatives tend to be on the move and/or opt to live in far-flung corners of the globe. (Jennifer was on her way to her summer home—or dacha, as she jokingly referred to it—in Northampton, Massachusetts, when we met, but would soon be heading “home” to Russia.)

Still, putting a gravatar to a name is one thing, putting an actual face to a name quite another. It cements your friendship in a way that nothing else can.

No doubt that’s why I was so thrilled to learn that another such meet-up has taken place between two writers who first encountered each other here: Cinda MacKinnon, author of the novel A Place in the World, and Rita Gardner, author of the memoir The Coconut Latitudes.

Both Cinda and Rita have kindly agreed to answer a few questions about their flourishing friendship (there’s that alliteration again!). This being February, I offer it as a kind of valentine to the pair of them, who have been great friends not only to each other but to TDN, as well as what they represent about the site’s potential to be a haven from the storm of the displaced life, a “home”.

* * *

Rita and Cinda, welcome back to the Displaced Nation! Why don’t we start by having you recount how you discovered each other on this site?

Cinda&Rita
RITA: I first discovered Cinda when she posted a comment on James King’s interview with me in his delightful “A Picture Says” column for the Displaced Nation. I immediately responded to her and we began our online friendship, which evolved into our discovering we were practically neighbors in the San Francisco Bay Area—and subsequent in-person get-togethers.

CINDA: It is ironic to think that James, who lives in Thailand, is responsible for connecting two writers who now live in the San Francisco Bay Area. James’s blog, Jamorocki, and the Displaced Nation are my two favorites.

Thank you for that lovely compliment, Cinda! We’ll be sure to pass on to James… Tell us, what was the thing that immediately drew you the two of you together?

CINDA: We were both expats who grew up in Latin American and her story reminded me of other foreigners I knew, whose parents exchanged a comfortable life for a more adventurous, exotic one…but sometimes with devastating consequences—have you read/seen Mosquito Coast? Actually, I told Rita that Cocoloco—the name of her family’s coconut finca (plantation) in the Dominican Republic—would have served as an apt alternative title for her book. She said it was her working title but then she changed it to The Coconut Latitudes just before publication.

RITA: Besides the obvious—that Cinda was an expat and a TCK who grew up in Latin America—I was intrigued that she’d written a novel that is set in Colombia.

Cinda, you’ve also been a guest of James King’s photography column. Can each of you tell me what which photo of each other’s you liked best?

Rita & Cinda Fave Pix
RITA: My favorite photo of Cinda’s was “A Profusion of Wildflowers in Arvin.” I liked the subtle angles and composition and it reminded me of the unexpected beauty that can be encountered everywhere flowers bloom.

CINDA: I think the “Wading Chairs.” That is so Latino! You can just picture a couple of islanders lounging there and keeping their feet cool.

By now, I assume you’ve read each other’s books. What were your impressions?

Cinda&Rita covers
RITA: I read the TDN interview with Cinda before reading her book. The first line struck a chord, about how her fiction “was a way to revisit homes she has cherished.” I also appreciated learning about Cinda’s life and her writing process and her list of favorite books, many of which mirrored my own. Once I got to reading the novel itself: I loved so much about it! The first thing was its sensory lushness; I could see, smell, taste, and feel the cloud forest setting and the coffee finca. I felt for Alicia, the main character, as she ached to find her own place in that world amid complicated relationship struggles. It was a satisfying read.

CINDA: I loved reading Rita’s memoir. The honesty—a lot of soul searching went into this work. Although her upbringing was difficult and her entry into adult life harsh, the writing is straightforward. And I have to say, her mother must have done a marvelous job with home schooling. For those who aren’t aware: Rita mostly taught herself to write, I believe. The results are extremely impressive.

One of you chose to write a novel based on your TCK life, whereas the other wrote a memoir. Do you think those were the right choices?

CINDA: If Rita had written this story as fiction, we would have assumed that she was exaggerating any real life background that went in to it. It is a haunting and compelling memoir.

RITA: I wondered of course if Cinda’s novel was autobiographical (which I’ve learned it is not, other than being influenced by her South American roots and her love of botany). I thought it was perfect as fiction. A memoir would not have produced A Place in the World—and since I liked this book just as it is, I’m glad she chose that route. However, I’d love to see her write a memoir, too!

Both of you grew up as Third Culture Kids, which gives you something in common right away, though not all adult TCKs become fast friends, of course. What are the closest parallels you’ve discovered?

RITA: Goodness—the parallels are uncanny: We both grew up in families that roamed the world before settling in Latin America. We both love nature, writing, photography, many of the same authors and books. We both wrote our books as ways to revisit our own past. We both arrived in the U.S. as teens, wearing “the wrong clothes” and struggled to basically “become” North Americans. I could go on!

CINDA: I could immediately relate to this line in Rita’s author bio: “She continues to dream in Spanish and dance the merengue.” Like many TCKs we are multilingual and have a tolerance for and interest in other cultures. Both of us had parents that were somewhat negligent and we were on our own by the time we were 18 (maybe 17 for Rita—and I did have some encouragement elsewhere).

You almost sound like the Bobbsey Twins, but I guess you also have some differences?

CINDA: One major difference is that as children, Rita lived in a very isolated village, home-schooled and restricted to certain contacts, whereas I went to international schools with a mélange of teachers and friends. My siblings and I didn’t see our parents as often as most kids, but they were stable individuals. Also, between the ages of 6 and 12, I spent a month every summer stateside with my cousins and affectionate aunts; this helped me both emotionally and gave me a glimpse of American life.

RITA: Also in terms of our adult lives: Cinda pursued a life as an environmental scientist and has had a successful academic career. She possesses a deep knowledge of botany and geology I’ll never have. I’m sure there are a lot of other differences—and look forward to continuing our friendship and discovering more about each other, whether differences or connections.

Finally, can you each tell me something about the other you think might be interesting to Displaced Nation readers?

CINDA: Rita is not just as a writer but has had a big job reporting to the Vice Chancellor of Administration at UC Berkeley. She also garnered a good review from the acclaimed Dominican American author/professor Julia Alvarez, who declared her an “honorary Dominicana”. Rita is an accomplished artist as well; supporting the TDN theory of the creativity of expats .

RITA: Cinda has a generous heart—evident both in person and through her blog posts. For example: Through her blog I’ve learned about a Cuban musician who defected to the US and now is in the San Francisco Bay Area; she did an excellent interview with him and included links to his music. In ways like that, she expands everyone’s horizons. Likewise, she has gotten the word out to friends and readers about my book, and has introduced me to other writers in the area. Oh, and she loves Burmese food!

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Thank you, Cinda and Rita! Readers, be sure to check out their books if you haven’t already! Any further questions for these two writers and adult third culture kids? Any of your own meet-ups to report?! Let a thousand friendships bloom!! As usual, please let us know in the comments…

STAY TUNED for PART 2 of our 2014-2015 reads!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to subscribe to The Displaced Dispatch, a weekly round up of posts from The Displaced Nation, plus some extras such as seasonal recipes and occasional book giveaways. Sign up for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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TCK TALENT: Gene Bell-Villada, literary critic, Latin Americanist, novelist, translator and TCK memoirist

Gene B-V TCK Talent

Professor Gene Bell-Villada (own photo)

Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang is here with her first column of 2015. For those who haven’t been following: she is building up quite a collection of stories about Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs) who work in creative fields. Lisa herself is a prime example. A Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent, she has developed her own one-woman show about growing up as a TCK, which is receiving rave reviews wherever it goes.

—ML Awanohara

Happy New Year, readers! Today I’m honored to be interviewing Gene Bell-Villada, author of the Third Culture Kid memoir Overseas American: Growing Up Gringo in the Tropics and co-editor of my first published essay in the TCK/global-nomad anthology: Writing Out of Limbo. Gene grew up in Latin America and “repatriated” to the USA for college and beyond; he is a Professor of Romance Languages (Spanish), Latin American Literature, and Modernism at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. He is also a published writer of fiction and nonfiction.

* * *

Welcome to The Displaced Nation, Gene. Like me, you’re an Adult Third Culture Kid of mixed heritage. Since you were born in Haiti and grew up in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Venezuela as the son of an Asian-Polynesian mother from Hawaii and a WASP father from Kansas, your identity development was complex and nuanced, as you make clear in your memoir.  Can you tell us how you identify yourself these days?
Like the title of my memoir, I identify myself as an Overseas American, of mixed WASP and Chinese-Filipino-Hawaiian ethnicity, with a Caribbean-Hispanic upbringing. I wrote my memoir in great measure to disentangle and explain that background—for myself and others! More broadly, in my middle 20s, it dawned on me that, by default, I happened to be a cosmopolitan, and that I couldn’t feel “local” even if I wished to. And so, I set out to make the best of that cosmopolitanism and build on it.

OverseasAmerican_cover

Tell us two things you miss about each of your childhood countries.
From my three childhood countries, I miss mostly the Latin informality and warmth…and salsa dancing! From Puerto Rico, I’ve fond memories of the University campus that was next door to my first home in Río Piedras, and where my mother would take us for walks. From Cuba I miss the richness of the music and folk culture. About Caracas, 3,000 feet above sea level, I remember its mild climate and “eternal spring.”

“Puerto Ricans do a lot of hugging, Dickie reflected. His parents and relatives almost never did.”

Your TCK childhood had extra upheaval due to your parents’ divorce and your two years at a military school in Cuba while your parents each lived in other countries. I imagine that affected your feelings about where you lived.
I must admit, I don’t “miss” most of what I lived in my 17 years in the Spanish Caribbean. I had a very difficult childhood, in which I never really “belonged” to any of those countries, had little contact with the expat community, and was leading a painful, dysfunctional family life. Since my brother and I were put away in a military school in Cuba, it’s not a place that I would “miss.” The circumstances of my upbringing have made childhood nostalgia an elusive sentiment for me.

After a young adulthood in New Mexico (briefly), Arizona, California, Massachusetts, and New York—and some trips to Europe—you settled in Williamstown, MA.  When did you come to feel that it was home, inasmuch as any place can be for an ATCK?
My wife and I actually have had homes in two locations in Massachusetts: Williamstown and Cambridge. So we lived both in the city, where we had our home life, and the country, where I taught. And I guess I realized sometime in the 1970s that New England had become my home. The place had enough cultural density, layered history, and overall cosmopolitanism for me to feel at ease in those parts. (I’d also earned my Ph.D at Harvard.) I even turned down a job offer from UCLA in 1976 because by then I felt attached enough to Massachusetts to stay there. Plus, I didn’t look forward to living in my car on the LA freeways, or putting up with Los Angeles pollution, which was fairly serious back then!

“‘Ah, but you speak such good Spanish…'”

Have you returned to any of the Latin American countries in which you grew up? 
I’ve been back to Puerto Rico and to Venezuela, always experiencing those mixed feelings. When I visited my old neighborhood in Hato Rey, PR, in 2012, I found it largely changed. Moreover, during a previous visit to San Juan in 1985, I went for a stroll at the University grounds. At the sight of the palm trees at the entrance and the tower looming above it all, I fell to the ground, crying. It was a reminder that much of my youth there, when I’d believed that I was an “American” boy in the tropics, had been illusory.

As for Cuba, I could only go back under very specific conditions—not because of the regime, which I’m not against, but owing to my painful personal memories of the place. I worry that seeing certain streets and buildings might elicit a wrenching sadness in me.

Since you’re a professor of Latin American literature and have written about the heavyweights in the field, I presume you’ve also visited quite a few countries in the region at this point. What were your impressions?
Inasmuch as I’ve written books and articles about Borges, García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, and Mexican literature, I’ve been more than once to Argentina, Colombia, Perú, and Mexico. Going to and traveling in those countries brought insight into their literary works that one cannot get simply from reading them in one’s study. On the other hand, my Latin American and Caribbean background proved enormously helpful in accessing the culture and the society of those places. Indeed, García Márquez’s world is the Caribbean coast of Colombia; exploring that area in 1982 and 1988 was a lot like being back in San Juan and Havana! Writing about it was fun, a bit like a return to my childhood, without the pain.

“She was from New York. Didn’t people from New York listen to classical music?”

Although you have always had a passion for classical and Latin music, you ultimately found ways to express yourself through writing fiction and nonfiction. Does music still play a big role in your life? 
Music is my first love. If I hadn’t had a late start at the piano (a fact that unfortunately set me back several years), I might have stayed with it. I turned to literature, in some measure, because it didn’t require advanced hand-muscle skills! But once I got involved with the written word, I strived to make my prose style as artistic, expressive, and fun as music can be, and I worked to give it rhythm and melody. (Someone has remarked that I write like a musician.) I still play piano, though.

Is there a particular work that you are most proud of having written, and if so, why?
I feel equally attached to all of them! Each one has had its role in my life. My books on Borges and García Márquez (which have sold well and gone through second editions) are used in AP courses, and are consulted by general readers, here and abroad. From early on, I had set out to be a “cultural mediator” between Latin American literature and U.S. readers, and those volumes serve that purpose.

My book Art for Art’s Sake and Literary Life, on the other hand, grew out of my cosmopolitanism and my desire to deal with the uses of art as both escape and expression. (In some subliminal way, it’s autobiographical.) The volume covers the phenomenon of aestheticism in Europe, the U.S., and Latin America. I felt vindicated when the thing was a finalist for the 1997 National Book Critics Circle Award (there I was, sharing space with Cynthia Ozick and William H. Gass). It also got translated into Serbian and Chinese! When I asked my two translators just what had drawn them to the book, they both replied that what I’d said about Latin American aestheticism was also applicable to analogous 19th-century movements in Serbia and Taiwan. So my cosmopolitanism had shed light on some corners elsewhere in this world.

My two books of fiction focus in part on TCK issues, plus such cultural-specific matters as American relativism or the seductive influence of Ayn Rand.

But I finally turned to memoir because I felt it was the way to confront head-on the question of my crazy, mixed-up background, to make sense out of it all and give it a living shape. The process of remembering that past, and crafting it and getting it out there, has proved enormously therapeutic. It also led to my meeting Nina Sichel and, then, you, Lisa, via our essay collection, Writing Out Of Limbo!

My latest volume is a kind of experiment, starting with its very title: On Nabokov, Ayn Rand and the Libertarian Mind: What the Russian-American Odd Pair Can Tell Us about Some Values, Myths and Manias Widely Held Most Dear. Besides dissecting the two authors, I tease out my troubled relationship to them, delve once again into my own life history, and finally move on to the larger problem of a rising, spreading libertarianism in this country. There’s even an Appendix in which I throw in a number of spoofs of my own of hard-line libertarians! (I’ve been playing with satires of something or other ever since I was in middle school in Puerto Rico…)
on-nabokov-ayn-rand-and-the-libertarian-mind_cover

You’re a true international creative, with works that run the entire gamut! Tell us, what’s next? Fiction? Nonfiction? Something else?
I have stuff in the works, but am in the process of rethinking my projects in the wake of my wife’s death in 2013. (Widowerhood does things to your mind and spirit, alas.)

Where can people find your works?
All my books are available from Amazon and local bookstores, as well as from any good library!

Thank you, Gene, for sharing your wonderfully inspiring story with the Displaced Nation. So, readers, any questions or comments for Gene? Be sure to leave them in the comments!

Editor’s note: All subheadings are taken from Gene’s book The Pianist Who Liked Ayn Rand: A Novella & 13 Stories.

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This expat arrived in the tropics without any saucepans—but then cooked up a potboiler of love, horror and adventure!

LDF in DR Collage

Las Mameyes, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic (Morguefiles); Lindsay de Feliz (her own photo).

My guest today, the author Lindsay de Feliz, was scuba diving in the Maldives when one night she found herself on a tiny island in the middle of the Indian Ocean gazing up at the stars, the warm water lapping up against her toes.

She thought about life, love and the meaning of the universe. And then she had an epiphany: she no longer wanted the life she had made for herself in the UK. She would leave her husband of ten years, her cats, her house, her cars and her successful career, and buy a one-way ticket to Paradise (she hoped).

“What about your saucepans?” her mother responded upon hearing of this momentous decision. Possibly she was thinking her daughter had gone potty, but instead of saying that, she talked about the set of expensive pans she and Lindsay’s father had bought her for her birthday and Christmas the previous year.

Lindsay did not pack her saucepans and, when she accepted a job as a diving instructor in the Dominican Republic, was glad she didn’t—especially once she’d settled down with her Dominican boyfriend, Danilo. His son, who lived with them as well, had a habit of throwing pans in the bin because he didn’t like washing them.

Yet her mother’s question stuck in her mind, and she decided to write a memoir called What About Your Saucepans?, which was published last year.

I am thrilled to have the chance to talk to Lindsay about this memoir today, which I found an extraordinarily gripping read. Although Lindsay finds her pot of gold in terms of a man who loves her and a life on her own terms, it all goes to pot at a couple of points. And how she copes with these setbacks is as interesting as anything she has to say about the details of life within the country that has the distinction of being the most visited in the Caribbean (though her account of Dominican life is compelling, too).

And now, before we start, can you hear me banging on a saucepan as I yell out: BE SURE TO LEAVE A COMMENT; YOU’LL HAVE A GOOD CHANCE OF WINNING A DIGITAL COPY!

* * *

Saucepans-Cover_pmHola, Lindsay. ¿Que lo que? Can we start, please, by having you tell us what prompted your decision to write a memoir after a decade of living in the Dominican Republic?
I used to send monthly emails to friends and family about what I was doing and many of them said that I should write a book. I know people often say this, but the longer time went on the more the idea started to grow on me. However, the major prompt was when I was shot by a couple of burglars I’d apprehended at the gate to my home. The bullet passed through my throat and then went straight through my right lung. I made it to the local hospital being carried, then draped over the back of a motorbike, and eventually in a car. After a botched tracheotomy, I was taken to a hospital in the capital, where they put in chest drains. I went home after 12 days.

Wow! So being shot was what motivated you to write about your expat life?
There were lots of things I couldn’t remember about the incident—to this day, my recollections of it are a bit fuzzy—so I asked those who helped me what happened, and then wrote it all down. That became a chapter in the book, and then I filled in before and after.

C5 Bullet stuck in my back 2 weeks after the shooting

The bullet went through Lindsay’s lung and got stuck in her back. Here it what it looked like two weeks after the shooting (Lindsay’s own photo).

Did you ever think of writing a novel instead? I ask because your memoir almost reads like a novel. I felt as though I get to know all the characters and missed them when I put the book down.
No, I never thought about writing a novel—my life was like a novel!

I understand the life you left behind in the UK was somewhat more mundane. Can you describe a typical day?
Typically, I would drag myself out of bed at around 5:30 a.m. in the dark. Get showered and dressed in a power suit making sure high heeled shoes and jewelry matched. Wrap up warm and walk 20 minutes to the train station. Train to Central London. Tube to the city. Another tube to Canary Wharf. Total journey time around two hours assuming no delays, which there often were. Work out in the gym and then walk or train to the office. Work all day long, maybe lunch at The Ivy with agencies or journalists, then the same journey home again, getting home around nine and falling into bed to do the same thing the next day.

What was the trigger (so to speak) that made you decide to pack it all in and become a scuba diving instructor?
I adored scuba diving in tropical places and managed to go a few times a year and it just seemed daft to work so hard to pay to go diving when I could dive all the time and earn enough to live off doing something I loved.

How did you end up in the D.R., of all places?
I started off in the Maldives, then went east to Asia, found it impossible to obtain work permits so ended up in Menorca, an island in the Mediterranean belonging to Spain. I decided I should learn Spanish as I already spoke French and German (as an instructor, the more languages you can speak the better). I wanted to get back to the tropics and a job came up in the Dominican Republic, so off I went.

Every pot will find its lid

February is a month for celebrating romance and love. How did you meet Danilo, the Dominican man who became your second husband?
I had seen him around, but I wasn’t even thinking about a relationship. My plan was simply to learn Spanish then head for Costa Rica and work as an instructor there as the diving was supposed to be excellent. One night at a bar Danilo was there and offered me a lift home on his scooter.

Was it love at first sight?
No, although he was seriously cute. But once Dominicans decide that you are the one, they are like Rottweilers and never let you go! He pursued me with a vengeance.

Lindsay&family

A happy family, Caribbean style: Lindsay with her husband, Danilo, and two sons.

Your courtship led to a ready-made family (his kids) and marriage. Was that a difficult decision?
Not at all. Danilo moved in with me after a couple of weeks courting—as I said they move fast, and as soon as he moved in I was called his “wife” (the vast majority of Dominicans don’t actually get married they just live together but are known as husband and wife). He moved his three children in a week later. We were like that for three years, so most of the big cultural adjustments had already taken place—and there were many, which I discuss in the book. He gave me what I wanted in terms of doing everything to make me happy and to make my life easier, and most of all he made me laugh.

But isn’t “happily ever after” particularly challenging for those of us in cross-cultural marriages?
I must admit, due to the fact we were from such different backgrounds I doubted that we would ever become soul mates, in the way you dream of as a child. However, over the past couple of years—we have now been together for 12 years—he has become my media naranja, as they say here—my half an orange—and is totally my soul mate, my best friend and more. Much I think is due to fact that he is now at university, so we have more “intellectual” conversations, and my Spanish is now much more fluent than it was in the early days. We still laugh all the time and I could not contemplate life without him.

If ifs and ands were pots and pans…

Looking back over the decade you’ve lived in the Dominican Republic, what was your most “displaced” moment: when you thought, what’s a nice girl like me doing in a place full of superstition, political corruption, thievery, and the many other cultural quirks you mention in your book?
You are right, there are many—so many I don’t know where to start. Maybe squatting down to have a pee in the sugar cane fields, taking photographs of dead people in their coffins as their families wanted a picture and had no camera, going into a store and being asked to wait while they catch a rat, going to a jail to get prostitutes out, delivering a baby to a Haitian women on the mud floor of her hutand of course having been shot, which, although I didn’t realize it at the time, meant being taken to hospital draped over the back of a motorbike because there are no ambulances or emergency services where I live.

Goodness, that’s quite a selection! Can you also pinpoint your LEAST displaced moment, when you felt you were much more comfortable living in that place than in your native UK?
I feel like that every day now as I have become totally adjusted to Dominican life. Dominicans call foreigners like me aplatanado—literally, “like a plantain banana,” signifying we’ve become one of them. Nowadays I don’t care what I wear, no make up, material possessions are not important, I don’t get annoyed if the car is scratched—a whole different set of values to those I had before. Instead of dragging myself out of bed, I leap out, happy to see what the day has to bring. I go downstairs and look across at the mountains and watch the sun rise drinking fabulous Dominican coffee. I have never been happier. I talk in the book about my search for joy. Those moments of pure joy that you experience occasionally. Now here I have them every single day. No one could ask for more.

Could you ever live in the UK again?
No, I could never live in the UK again. In the D.R., there are very few rules, which, while it does give rise to some problems, also means one has the freedom of being able to park wherever you want, smoke a cigarette where you want, not wear a seat belt if you choose not to, and so on. I love that. Also, in the UK, Danilo and I have experienced racism—groups of youths making monkey noises on the trains—because I am white and he is brown. I could never ask him to suffer that. Here we have never been made to feel uncomfortable.

Does your husband feel the same way?
My husband loves the organization in the UK, the fact that people queue, the lack of litter in the street and the trains. But even if we did want to live in the UK, we couldn’t as the new immigration regulations mean that I would have to earn a salary I could never earn, and he would have to speak pretty fluent English, which would be very hard for him.

Panning for a publisher

Moving on to the book: what was the most difficult part of the writing process for you?
The first draft was easy. I tend to think for days about what I want to write—in bed before I go to sleep, when I am walking the dogs… I wait and wait and wait until I am bursting to write it down. It is so satisfying when you actually write then. Just like when you eventually find a toilet when you have been dying for a pee for ages. The hard bit was changing it to incorporate what the publisher and editor wanted. They wanted me to write much more dialogue, which I found hard, and to talk about things I didn’t really want to talk about. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, and in a memoir you really need to tell the truth. They were right, of course, and the book was much much better as a result; but it was difficult for me to describe all of the emotions.

You published with Jo Parfitt of Summertime Publishing. How did that happen?
The path to publishing was not an easy one. I wrote to literary agents and publishers, and some said no and others told me to get it edited and then resubmit—which I did, but it all cost money. I think in some instances they were just helping out their editor mates as they all said no even after I resubmitted it. In the meantime, I’d started a blog of the same name, which began to build me an audience ready for when the book came out. In the end I found Jo Parfitt, who directed me to a great editor, Jane Dean. Between them they knocked me and the book into shape.

What audience did you have in mind for the book, and has it been reaching those people?
Originally, I had in mind people who were interested in the Dominican Republic. Yes, it has been reaching them, but it is constant work to make sure you find them and tell them about the book. Luckily, the reviews have been fabulous and those who read the book have said that everyone should read it, not just those who like the DR.

I agree, I think it appeals on many levels, not just to those with an interest in the Caribbean.
Thank you for saying that. Apart from being about life in the Dominican Republic, it’s a love story, a horror story, it has adventure, and I like to think that it might make some people reevaluate their lives and what is important to them.

Do you have any advice for others who are writing memoirs and hoping to publish them?
Firstly, write the memoir. Do it. It is great fun and also cathartic. Never stop writing at a point where you are stuck or it takes ages to pick it up again. Stop when you know exactly what you want to write next. I would also say don’t give up when you are looking for a publisher, just keep at it. It must have taken me over a year at least to find Jo. And when I did she set me targets to achieve, which gave me a purpose and a goal. You must also be honest with yourself as to whether people will be interested in your story and what it can do for them, not just what it might do for you. And finally, don’t be arrogant and precious when your editor and publisher suggest changes. They know the market a million times better than you. Take their suggestions on board. In the end it will produce something much better than you could on your own.

10 Questions for Lindsay de Feliz

Finally, I’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
1. Last truly great book you read: In the Time of the Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez, a historical novel about the Mirabal sisters, who opposed the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic.
2. Favorite literary genre: Murder mystery
3. Reading habits on a plane: I haven’t been on a plane since Kindles and such like came out(!). But I used to read novels—the latest Patricia Cornwell or Tom Clancy—which I would buy at the airport.
4. The one book you’d require President Obama to read, and why: Mine. Because I know he would enjoy it, it would make him smile and help him to understand all of the Dominicans in the USA. He would also enjoy the part about Dominican politics. I can just see him reading bits of it to Michelle in bed in his stripey pajamas and them both laughing.
5. Favorite books as a child: Enid Blyton‘s The Famous Five series; the What Katy Did series by Sarah Chauncey Woolsey, under her pen name Susan Coolidge; Heidi; and books about horses and ballet dancers. As I moved into my teens I loved Georgette Heyer books.
6. Favorite heroine: Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: This is someone who hasn’t yet published a book so I hope that counts: Aisha Ashraf. Her writing simply blows me away and I could never write like she does. I am a story teller and she has a way of touching your heart. I would love to meet her one day.
8. Your reading habits: I don’t read as much as I would like now. However, when the electricity goes off (which it does here quite a lot) I grab a book and devour it. I also read books online by other Summertime authors which they send to me.
9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: Mine again! I know it would make a great film. My dream is to go to the Oscars. I just need to make it happen.
10. The book you plan to read next: Linda Janssen’s The Emotionally Resilient Expat. She is another Summertime author, and I am really looking forward to getting into this one.

* * *

Thanks so much, Lindsay. Readers, what I love about Lindsay is her attitude. Some of us might think that she went out of the frying pan (a life she could no longer stand in the UK) and into the fire (getting shot in the Caribbean), but she doesn’t see it that way at all. In fact, as she explains in the book, after surviving the shooting, she has even more purpose in life and even more devotion to her adopted home.

So, any COMMENTS or QUESTIONS for Lindsay? Do you think you would react in the same way to hardships?

And don’t forget, there’s a copy of the book to be won for the best comment! NOTE: If you can’t wait to read the book or don’t win, What About Your Saucepans? is available from Amazon, Apple iTunes, Kobo and Barnes and Noble. And you can also start following Lindsay on her blog, of course!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another episode in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby, told from the point of view of her husband, Olivera rare treat! (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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LOCATION, LOCUTION: Expat author JJ Marsh on bringing a location to life through writing

jill 3Today we welcome expat crime writer JJ Marsh to the Displaced Nation. JJ grew up in Wales, Africa and the Middle East, where her curiosity for culture took root and triggered an urge to write. Having at this point lived in Hong Kong, Nigeria, Dubai, Portugal and France—she finally settled in Switzerland—JJ certainly belongs in our midst! But what makes her even more special is that she has offered to impart her knowledge to other international creatives about the portrayal of “place” in one’s works.

Currently halfway through her European crime series, set in compelling locations all over the continent and featuring detective inspector Beatrice Stubbs (on loan from Interpol), today JJ begins a new series for us, entitled “Location, Locution.” In the opening post, she will answer the questions she plans to ask other displaced authors in future posts.

JJ, we are positively THRILLED (in more ways than one!) to have you as a new columnist. Welcome! And now to get to know you a little better…

Which comes first, story or location?
Story, always. Or at least the bare bones of the plot. Then I audition various places before beginning to write. I have to know the setting, even before populating the novel with characters. The place IS a character. For example, once I knew the victims would be corporate Fat Cats in Behind Closed Doors, the first in my Beatrice Stubbs series, I looked around for a financial centre with the right kind of atmosphere. Turns out my home town of Zürich fitted the bill and even gave me the title.

How do you go about evoking the atmosphere of a place?
I’d say by really looking at it and digging deep. Not only that, but try to look at it from the perspective of your reader. It’s no coincidence that in many European languages, one asks for a description using the word “How”.

Como é?
Wie war es?

Yet in English, we say “What is it like?” We want comparisons to what we know. I actively chose to use a foreigner arriving in a strange country/city, so as to look at it with new eyes.

Which particular features create a sense of location? Landscape, culture, food?
I start with the senses. We notice sights, sounds and smells first, and add to our impressions with tastes and textures, all the while comparing them to our expectations. Food and drink are essential, as they reveal something of the region but also much about the characters. Cultural differences have to be treated with great care in fiction. Lumpen great dumps of information are poison to pace. But subtle observations can be woven into the story, provided they are relevant. I’ve just abandoned a book set in Rome which was clumsily pasted chunks of guidebook against a sub-par Eat, Pray, Love plot. The reader wants to be immersed in the world of the book, not subjected to the author’s holiday snaps.

How well do you need to know the place before using it as a setting?
Speaking for myself, extremely well. I feel insecure describing an area I’ve never visited. But that’s not true for everyone. Stef Penney, who wrote The Tenderness of Wolves, created a beautiful story set against the backdrop of the frozen wastes of Canada. She’d never even been there.

While I am awed by that achievement, I don’t think I could do it. I need to ‘feel’ the place and also, to understand the people.

My nomadic past and interest in culture led me to study the work of Geert Hofstede and Fons Trompenaars. One of their models is to analyze culture like an onion. The outer layer is Symbols—what represents the country to outsiders/its own people? The next is Heroes—who do the people worship and venerate? Peel that away and explore its Rituals—on a national and personal level. At the centre of the Onion, you will find its values, the hardest part of a culture to access. But that’s where the heart is.

Could you give a brief example from your work which you feel brings the location to life?
The recent UK horsemeat scandal amused me, as it’s part of the average menu in Switzerland. Here my combative detectives, one Swiss, one British, have just finished lunch.

Beatrice patted her mouth with her napkin. “Herr Kälin, your recommendation was excellent. I thoroughly enjoyed that meal.”

“Good. Would you like coffee, or shall I get the bill?”

“I’ve taken up enough of your time. Let’s pay up and head for home.” Beatrice finished her wine.

Kälin hailed the waitress. “I wasn’t sure you’d like this kind of farmer’s food.”

“Farmer’s food is my favourite sort. Solid and unpretentious. Not the sort of fare they would serve in those crisp white tents at the polo park.”

Kälin let out a short laugh. Beatrice cocked her head in enquiry.

“It would definitely be inappropriate at the polo park, Frau Stubbs. We’ve just eaten Pferdefleisch. Horse steak.”

Which writers do you admire for the way they use location?
Val McDermid, particularly for A Place of Execution. Not only place but period done with impressive subtlety. Kate Atkinson, for making the environment vital to the plot in a book such as One Good Turn. Monique Roffey for bringing Trinidad to life in The White Woman on the Green Bicycle. Alexander McCall Smith enriches his stories with a wealth of local detail, be it Botswana or Edinburgh. And Kathy Reichs for making her dual identity an advantage. Donna Leon’s Venetian backdrop, Scotland according to Iain Banks in Complicity, and Peter Høeg’s Copenhagen in Smilla’s Sense of Snow.

There are many, many more.

* * *

Thank you, JJ! Readers, any further questions to JJ on her portrayal of “place”, or authors you’d like to see her interview in future posts? Please leave your suggestions in the comments. You may also enjoy checking out the first three books in JJ Marsh’s Beatrice Stubbs series:

  • Behind Closed Doors: Takes place in Zürich, where someone is bumping off bankers.
  • Raw Material: Takes place between London and Pembrokeshire. Here Beatrice is joined by wannabe sleuth, Adrian. Amateur detectives and professional criminals make a bad mix.
  • Tread Softly: Unfolds in the Basque Country of Northern Spain. Beatrice is supposedly on sabbatical, but soon finds herself up to her neck in corruption, murder and Rioja.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s interview with Lisa Egle, author of Magic Carpet Seduction, two copies of which we’ll be giving away!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Images: Typewriter from MorgueFile; picture of JJ Marsh and her book cover supplied by herself; map from MorgueFile

19 more films that depict the horrors of being abroad, or otherwise displaced

Readers, we have to confess, ever since horror novelist, former expat and Third Culture Kid Sezin Koehler suggested 15 horror films on travel and the expat life, we’ve become rather addicted — and have invited her back here today for another hit. Go ahead and indulge yourselves — it’s Halloween, after all!

Being the horror-obsessed film nut that I am — and loving how my expat/traveller life has collided with my scary movie self — I offer here are a few more honorable mentions within the three sub-genres I presented in last week’s post:

  1. The expat.
  2. The world traveler.
  3. The otherwise displaced.

1. Expat Horror: Caveat expat, or expat beware (or in some cases, beware of the expat!).

1) Blood and Chocolate, about an American orphan who goes to live with her aunt in Bucharest. Oh, and the orphan is a werewolf.

 

 

 

2) Drag Me To Hell, in which a Romany shaman in the US is evicted from her home and takes her rage out on the lowly loan officer who refused to give her a mortgage.

 

 

 

3) In The Hole we find an American student in a British boarding school who gets trapped in a World War II bomb shelter with a few classmates. So we’re led to think…

 

 

 

4) In The Grudge, Sarah Michelle Gellar gets far more than she ever bargained for living and working in Japan as a nurse, when a malevolent creature in her house begins an awful campaign of harassment, mayhem and torture.

 

 

 

5) Orphan finds us with a family interested in adopting a young Russian girl, only the longer she’s with them the more the mother suspects she’s not the child she claims to be.

 

 

 

6) + 7) The Joss Whedon marvels Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, both of
which feature a number of prominent expats — a few are slayer trainers sent over to California from the Old World (Britain), a few are expat vampires who’ve decided the anonymity of the United States better suits their feeding habits.

 

 

2. Traveler Horror: “Let your suitcases gather dust!”, cry these films.

8) In Shrooms, a group of young Americans go to meet their Irish friend on his home turf in order to experience the hallucinogenic mushrooms indigenous to the fairylands of Ireland’s bonnie green forests. He forgot to tell them that their chosen “tripping” site is also the home of a haunted and abandoned insane asylum. And that not all the mushrooms are the magic type.

 

 

9) In Open Water, two Carribbean cruise snorkelers are left behind, to be tormented by a shark. Based on a true story — and one of many reasons why I keep my feet on dry land despite now living in Florida.

 

 

 

10) In the same vein we have Piranha 3D, in which half-naked spring-breakers are set upon by prehistoric piranha that have been released through an underground fault.

 

 

 

11) The Hills Have Eyes features a family on a road trip through the post-nuclear testing New Mexico desert are set upon by a group of psychopaths who live in the hills.

 

 

 

12) Worlds collide in From Dusk Till Dawn when a reverend on a road trip to Mexico with his children is hijacked by two ruthless killers on the lam from the law after a series of brutal murders and robberies. They find themselves like fish out of water when their rest-stop bar turns out to be a haven for vampires.

 

 

 

13) When a group of friends go white water rafting in Appalachia, the idylic back country scene turns nightmare when a group of inbred locals terrorizes the group, and one of its members in particular. Deliverance is not for the faint of heart.

 

 

 

I could keep going with this sub-genre, but surely you get the point by now. Stay home!

3. Displaced Horror: “Think twice about moving or taking a sojourn outside the ‘hood” is the moral here.

14) Rosemary’s Baby, in which Mia Farrow discovers that her new Manhattan residence is also the home to a group of mad Satanists who’ve got their sights on her unborn baby.

 

 

 

15) The slasher musical Don’t Go In the Woods features a band on the verge of a breakthrough go camping to write some new tunes. Only, there’s something else in there with them that’s picking them off one by one.

 

 

 

16) Every incarnation of the Alien series brings us a group of Earth’s citizens in outer space, battling a wretched and basically unkillable xenomorph. Keep your feet on land. Save yourself the trouble.

 

 

 

17) In Friday the 13th, a group of summer-camp goers are stalked by a relentless killer. Man, this one makes me glad I never went to summer camp, even though growing up I always wanted to.

 

 

 

18) A writer on a summertime retreat to a supposedly peaceful cabin is brutalized by a gang of locals. One of my personal favorites, I Spit On Your Grave is a grotesque revenge fantasy come to life and suggests one might be better off simply working from home.

 

 

 

19) And we can’t forget one of the most iconic examples of Displaced Horror: The Shining, in which Jack Torrance, temporary caretaker of the historically creepy and ever haunted evil Overlook Hotel, goes mad and tries to murder his family. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, eh?

Happy Hallowe’en!

* * *

So, are you ready to burn your passport and throw away all your travel gear yet? 😉

And while we’re still at it, do you have any other films you’d add to Sezin’s best-of abroad horror list?

Sezin Koehler, author of American Monsters, is a woman either on the verge of a breakdown or breakthrough writing from Lighthouse Point, Florida. Culture shock aside, she’s working on four follow-up novels to her first, progress of which you can follow on her Pinterest boards. Her other online haunts are Zuzu’s Petals, Twitter, and Facebook — all of which feature eclectic bon mots, rants and raves.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, in which our fictional expat heroine, Libby Oliver, checks in and lets us know how she’s doing back at “home” in Merry Olde.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Some like it boiled: When it’s hot outside, go somewhere even hotter for vacation!

“Have a good summer!” The doctor’s receptionist hands me my receipt. “Are you going away?”

“Yes, to Florida,” I say. (Wait for it, wait for it…)

“Florida?” she screeches. In August?”

Bring quickly to the boil…

That old saying, the one about only mad dogs and Englishmen going out in the midday sun, apparently has a Northeast American variation: Only mad dogs and Englishmen go south to the midsummer sun.

On the face of it, it makes sense. Why bother to fly south when the mercury is already at 90 degrees in New England, as it has been for much of this summer?

That’s all well and good, but no one questions your sanity in winter, when you announce you’re leaving the cold February gloom to find even colder weather in which to ski. If anyone did question it, the reasoning would be: “But the snow’s better in Colorado/Italy/Switzerland!”

Simmer for 7 days…

Well — she said defiantly —  in summer, the sun and palm trees are better in Florida. Or Aruba. Or the Cayman Islands. While I love the maple and oak trees of New England in the Fall, they don’t look right amid tropical temperatures. It’s like lying on a sun lounger on an expanse of white sand, waiting for a margarita, and the waiter bringing you a cup of tomato soup instead. It’s just wrong.

“A-ha!” someone is bound to say. “But what about the hurricanes?”

True enough. Tropical Storm Isaac is right now barreling its way toward the Gulf Coast, where it is expected to reach hurricane strength. Yet the Northeast is not immune to summer storms, either. Exactly one year ago, Hurricane Irene arrived in Connecticut, downing trees and knocking out power for days. Two months later, the same thing happened again, but this time with a snowstorm called Alfred.

Now, you don’t see that very often in the Keys.

Remove from the heat…

The people who shun the roasting climes in summer prefer to go south in the colder months, and that’s fair enough. As I said in a post last Christmas, I would love to spend December 25 in a desert-island-like setting (albeit with room service.) That, however, means going farther south than good old Florida. I’ve had friends do the Disney water rides at Thanksgiving and come back home with streaming colds to prove it.

Thank you, but I’ll pass on that particular souvenir.

…And serve in July.

Perhaps this perverse determination to find somewhere hotter than my home climate stems from my nationality. I am from the country whose residents flee for two weeks every year in search of the summer that nearly always evades England.  Perhaps I am genetically programmed to be suspicious of summer’s consistency in my place of residence, imagining that it can only be guaranteed a few thousand miles nearer the equator.

The only solution to this state of suspicion and dissatisfaction, as I see it, is to move there permanently. Perhaps it would have its drawbacks: people who move to Florida or the Caribbean often say they “miss the seasons.”

Me, though, I would happily give some seasons a miss.

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STAY TUNED for Tuesday’s post, in which Tony James Slater tells us what it’s like to be an expat writer!

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Image: MorgueFile

BOOK REVIEW: “Expat Life Slice By Slice” by Apple Gidley

TITLE: Expat Life Slice by Slice
AUTHOR: Apple Gidley
AUTHOR’S CYBER COORDINATES:
Website: www.expatapple.com
Blog: my.telegraph.co.uk/applegidley
Twitter: @ExpatApple
PUBLICATION DATE: March 2012 (Summertime Publishers)
FORMAT: Ebook (Kindle) and Paperback, available from Amazon
GENRE: Memoir
SOURCE: Review copy from author

Author Bio:

Apple Gidley became an expat at the tender age of one month old, in Kano, Nigeria. Since her early initiation into global wandering, she has relocated 26 times through 12 countries, acquiring a husband and two children en route.

Apple is known to thousands as ExpatApple, through her popular blog at the Daily Telegraph.

Summary:

“From marauding monkeys to strange men in her bedroom, from Africa to Australasia to America, with stops in Melanesia, the Caribbean and Europe along the way, Apple Gidley vividly sketches her itinerant global life. The challenges of expatriation, whether finding a home, a job, or a school are faced mostly with equanimity. Touched with humour and pathos, places come alive with stories of people met and cultures learned, with a few foreign faux pas added to the mix.”

(Source: Amazon.com book description)

Review:

If anyone is qualified to issue advice on expat life, Apple Gidley is that person. Born to an English father and Australian mother, she takes the label “Serial Expat” to new heights.  She was a TCK before the term was invented (instead classed unflatteringly as an “expat brat”) and continued the global wandering throughout her adult life, with 26 relocations through 12 countries to date.

Her memoir provides fascinating reading, about places and lifestyles that most of us will never experience, and at times is almost anachronistic:  reading her reminiscences about servants, voluntary work, and charity committees, there’s a time warp sensation of stepping into a Somerset Maugham short story.

Although the book is a record of Apple’s patchwork life, most expats will relate to the emotional experiences she describes, no matter where in the world they are or  how many countries they’ve lived in. For example, we worry that leaving our family and friends behind will increase the emotional distance as well as the physical. After a while, we realise that this is mostly not the case, and that those who allow physical distance to become an obstacle weren’t so emotionally close in the first place. In Chapter 8, “Eighth Slice: Staying Connected”, she says:

As we age we draw closer still. We believe in family but do not see each other for years at a time, and yet we are all aware of where each of us is in the world, still scattered and testaments to a global upbringing.

In “Ninth Slice: Death at a Distance”, Apple deals with the elephant-in-the-room topic: the illness or death of a family member while we are thousands of miles away. During such times, it’s easy to beat ourselves up for choosing a nomadic lifestyle;  if our associated guilt trips were eligible for air miles, we could afford to fly back and forth to be with our loved ones as often as we wanted. In describing her own experiences of bereavement, Apple’s practical, matter-of-fact approach, plus her insights gleaned from other cultures’ attitudes to old age and death, reminds us that the old cliché of “life goes on” holds true, even after “death at a distance”.

Whether you’re a veteran expat, a re-pat, or are just about to embark upon your first move to another country, “Expat Life Slice By Slice” should be on your reading list.

Words of wisdom:

On TCKs:

For those children brought up as TCKs…a nonjudgmental and accepting attitude to different customs, colours and cultures is the norm. As this demographic grows, let’s hope for an even greater understanding of cultural differences for all our children.

On voluntary work:

Volunteering is work, sometimes harder than a paid position because it is the cause keeping you there and not the salary.

On making new connections:

Picking up people around the world to share your life with is one of the greatest pleasures in life, and sometimes you know straight away they will continue to stay in it.

On “Home”

Home is with me wherever I go…It is not a single building or a single country, but many of them.

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STAY TUNED for Wednesday’s post.

Image:  Book cover – “Expat Life Slice By Slice”

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Which country produces the people who travel the farthest, the longest — and with the most credit cards?

The Displaced Nation was contacted about doing a post on a recent survey by Travelex on “How the World Vacations” — the results of which are summed up in a cool infographic (see bottom of this post).

Since Travelex helps travelers with their foreign currency needs, they were particularly interested in finding out not only where people are traveling internationally but also how they are financing their vacations.

I thought I’d go over some of their findings and see if it helps me to understand this Big Wide World of Travel.

Really? Did I? Or did I do something altogether more irresponsible, and just pull it apart for my own amusement? Well, you all know me by now. You decide…

What’s up with international travel?

More people are doing it now than ever before. Even in the most parochial parts of England, folk are pulling the ferrets out of their trousers, staring at glossy magazine adverts and dreaming of something more glamorous than a weekend caravanning in Skegness.

Rumor has it that almost ten percent of Americans now own a passport; even more significantly, some of them have actually used them!

Yes, travel beyond one’s borders is growing — but so is the human race. So it’s only to be expected, right? (The numbers of people going abroad did decline, however, in 2008 due to the global recession, but in 2009 the upwards trend resumed.)

And now for some stereotype-busting!?

I’m not sure how much the survey tells us that we didn’t already know, to be honest — but I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise, if one of you is a better statistician than I am.

Where do the Brits go on holiday? Hmm. Tough one.

If you guessed Spain, you can give yourself a pat on the back. It is Spain. For two weeks. The survey doesn’t tell us this, but most of them spend the entire fortnight lying lobster-red on the beach before heading for the nearest bar. Had the survey asked what they ate, the finding would have been 85 percent fish and chips, of which most would have been washed down with beer — the local variety of course, because it’s so staggeringly cheap.

The destination that comes in second for the Brits? Right again! France. The main surprise is how few are going to the United States nowadays: just nine percent (versus over fifty percent to Spain and France).

The Americans? They head to Mexico and Canada. Goodness, that’s a revelation! And if they venture any further, it’s usually to Europe, especially the UK and Italy, or to the Caribbean. That said, there are a few brave American souls visiting China these days.

The survey doesn’t report this, but most Americans when they go abroad eat burgers and fries, even when sitting in an Italian restaurant. They drink beer, too — but the good stuff, because it’s still cheap, and imported, which makes everything taste better!

Noticed any Chinese tourists lately?

Thanks to its booming economy, China gets pride of place in this survey. (The Japanese used to be the most well-traveled of all Asians, but I’m afraid they’ve been displaced!)

Interestingly, the 1.3 billion Chinese are represented by a sample of 20,000; anyway, for most of them the average length of holiday is six days. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that they end up going to Hong Kong — which I’m not sure counts as foreign these days. (Didn’t my country transfer sovereignty to China in 1997, or have I misremembered something?)

Chinese mostly use credit cards to pay their way, despite almost a third of those being refused. Which is a shame, though I can’t say it surprises me. Would you take a Chinese credit card? Be honest.

And a surprising number, about a third, travel by boat. Still trying to puzzle that one out, given how short their vacations are. Fear of flying, perhaps? I’ve heard some nightmare stories about China Airlines.

How about Brazilians?

Another booming emerging economy is Brazil, which is the fourth country to be featured in a big way in the survey. Guess where most Brazilians go? You got it, their wealthy neighbor to the North, the United States!

But what I’d really like to know is whether the five percent of Brazilians who had their bank cards stolen were the same ones that said they traveled by rail — in which case, it serves ’em right. Everyone knows that if you take a train in Brazil, you get robbed — it’s, like, common knowledge.

International holiday central

Australia, my adopted and much beloved homeland, makes a brief appearance in the statistics for “how long they stay.” We’re at the top of the charts. Did you know that Aussies having the longest holidays IN THE WORLD, by almost a week?

The survey doesn’t tell you how often we go abroad and where we go, however.  Because if you knew that every man, woman, child and most of the sheep here take a foreign holiday every single year — and that the vast majority spend it in Bali — you’d have perished of jealousy by now (or else looking into emigrating!).

As it is, I’m worried that if the Chinese see that Aussie vacations are almost three times longer than theirs, it will trigger a revolt, for which Australia will somehow be blamed! 🙂

Herzlichen Glückwunsch!

In their write-up of the survey findings, Travelex said:

We were surprised to find that the most consistent destination for international travel seems to be Germany. That’s right! Germany. We guess lederhosen and lagers hold a certain amount of appeal no matter what native language you speak.

It’s a fair point — who’da thunk it? Even the Chinese went to Germany. Well, 1.9 percent of them did. (Which, out of the 20,000 vacationers surveyed, means at least 382 out of a country of 1.3 billion.) Germany must be thrilled at this news of its new-found popularity across cultures.

I suppose another surprising finding is that while Chinese are busy having their credit cards turned down, Brits tend to err on the side of caution, doing their money exchanges before they leave, while many Americans are still getting away with using dollars — despite the recent talk of abandoning the U.S. dollar as the single major reserve currency.

* * *

It’s often said that statistics can be made to say whatever you want them to say. And then of course, there’s the old truism that 97.6 percent of statistics are made up on the spot…

Not that I’m saying Travelex did any of this, of course. Far be it from me to cast aspersions on their information-gathering tactics. I’m just wondering if something like this can tell us much. Still, it’s a pretty infographic — the designer of which has certainly earned a vacation overseas, in my opinion!

Please talk to me in the comments. Are you into travel surveys? Have I missed something earthshaking in this one? Am I being too flippant? I’d love to know your thoughts!

Additionally, you can hit us up on Twitter: @DisplacedNation and/or @TonyJamesSlater

And now for that fabuloso infographic:

STAY TUNED for Tuesday’s post reviewing some books by expats in Dubai.

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Infographic courtesy of Adria Saracino, Distilled Creative.

Living La Dolce Vita with Heather Hamilton — Writer, Sailor & Adventurer

One year ago almost to the day, Heather Hamilton and her husband cast off their docklines in Annapolis, Maryland, in their 40-foot ketch. Since then, they’ve covered over 3,500 miles, up the east coast of the U.S. and down through the Caribbean island chain. Life on the open seas with nary a care in the world — sounds like La Dolce Vita, doesn’t it? I asked Hamilton to share the sensory highlights of her nautical adventures, along with a few “sweet life” tips for confirmed landlubbers.

Most heart-stopping sights

On the terrifyingly heart-stopping end of the spectrum: the sight of my mizzen-mast rocking back and forth (definitely something you don’t want) while the boat lurched in 12-foot seas and 45-knot winds. It nearly caused a heart attack. It was our first coastal offshore passage, and we were already sleep deprived and exhausted by the time the storm blew up overnight. We hove-to — that is, basically set the sails so that the boat could kind of “park” and wait out the blow. Pip was below, trying to get some rest, when I noticed that the mizzen sail just kept getting looser and looser, despite my many attempts to tighten it. Then I noticed the mast moving. PANIC!

Turns out, we had just had the rigging replaced, and during the big storm the new rig decided to undergo its initial stretching. The loosening of the stays had allowed the chocks to fall out of the mast’s base.

Despite the howling wind and lurching seas, Pip was able to tighten the rig and replace the chocks — only to discover that the pounding into the waves had splintered the bowsprit platform. After hours of work, we had finally secured the boat. We collapsed in a heap for some rest.

On the heart-stoppingly beautiful side of the spectrum: the hundreds of dolphins that danced around us on our trip down the Chesapeake Bay from Annapolis to Norfolk, Virginia. Despite having spent my childhood sailing with my dad in California and having sailed for five years on the Chesapeake, I’d never seen dolphins in the wild. On this particular day, I saw more than I’ve ever seen since: the pod stretched literally further than the eye could see. We radioed a sailing buddy who was two miles ahead of us and he was also surrounded. They played in our bow wave and did acrobatic flips around the boat — but the most astounding thing was their sheer numbers. Hundreds is probably an understatement; there may well have been a thousand dolphins frolicking around us. It was magic.

Most intoxicating scent

Ganja. It’s ever-present in many of the Caribbean islands, and its characteristic skunky smell is nothing if not intoxicating. Local youths and gnarled old rastas alike lounge around the town square smoking their joints; in certain places you get the impression that half the population is stoned. Boat vendors — the men who approach your boat in an anchorage to help you anchor, sell you fish/fruit/veggies, do your laundry, or otherwise do just about anything you will pay them for (uh, no thanks…) — seem particularly fond of weed, often puffing away as they row their boats along.

As we entered a bay in St. Vincent, one particularly ill-mannered vendor shouted at me for declining his services. He sported a spliff literally the size of a stogie, leading Pip to dub him “Stoner Churchill.” His aggression was surprising. Given the amount of weed he’d clearly ingested, one would have expected a much mellower response!

Dreamiest sounds

When I was at home, I had a fancy-schmancy alarm clock that allowed you to fall asleep or awaken to different sounds, like a Zen bell or running water. My two favorites to listen to while falling asleep were the ocean waves and the frogs. Who doesn’t love to fall asleep to the sound of surf? And the sound of the frogs reminded me of the few weeks every spring when the spring peepers went wild in the remote Appalachian area where I grew up.

One night, when we were moored in the national park in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, I fell asleep in the cockpit to these two sounds playing in harmony: the real surf gently breaking on the rocks only a hundred yards from the boat, and the nighttime frogs’ chorus providing the treble counterpoint. Heaven.

Most delicate flavors

Tree-ripened mango in Dominica — actually, the taste itself is nowhere near delicate, but I enjoyed the subtle distinctions between the different kinds of mango the island has. We arrived in Dominica in mid-April, just as these tropical fruits were coming into season. Everywhere you looked, sticky children and adults were peeling mangoes and gnawing the flesh off the seed as they walked down the street, chilled on their porches, or waited for the bus. Mangoes rolled in the gutters, where they became treats for street dogs and chickens. Since mango trees are everywhere, it’s simple to pick up a long stick and knock down a few ripe ones anytime you get the craving.

One day, we hiked several miles to the top of a hill where we were greeted by the sight of a stunningly beautiful little farm nestled in the jungle. There were coconut palms, banana trees, taro and sweet potato plants cascading down the steep hills. The farm’s owner, Ti-Babe, was a gnarled old man with approximately six remaining teeth and the warmest smile and eyes you can imagine. Ti-Babe answered all of our questions about his farm before insisting that he load us up with mangoes, peeling open both the large and small mangoes he grew so that we could taste the difference between the two. (The smaller mango had an amazing flavor, with a little sour to balance the sickly sweetness characteristic of a really ripe mango, but was very fibrous.) We sucked on mangoes the whole way back, arriving back at the boat exhausted, sticky and sated.



Softest physical sensations

The feel of the current across my skin while floating along snorkeling in perfectly clear turquoise waters, bright tropical fish flitting underneath in the dappled sunlight. (Pretty much every other physical sensation on a cruising sailboat is intense, painful, or just uncomfortable!)

Most interesting unexpected encounter with a stranger

The other day, I talked the owner of a local beach bar in Bequia, the largest island in the Grenadines, into allowing me to write an article about how she makes her roti, which are a flat bread wrapped around curried fillings, a kind of West Indian burrito. I’d heard that her roti were excellent, but was most intrigued as other sailors had cautioned me that she took a long time to make them — mixing and rolling out the tortilla-like dough for each order rather than making several in a batch. We’d chatted with Ruthie briefly at the bar the day before, when her eight-year old son proudly served us our beers. Her wicked sense of humor promised a fun afternoon in the kitchen.

Ruthie chopped ingredients for the fillings and then walked me through the labor-intensive process of creating the dough, which involves folding cooked, mashed yellow split peas into a flour dough and then rolling it out carefully. While the dough rested, she demonstrated how to make the fillings — both the vegetarian (black-eyed pea/pumpkin) and fish kind, both of which are strongly flavored with Trinidadian curry powder, which is milder and sweeter than the spices used for Indian curries in the States.

As Pip and I tucked into the final, delicious product, we invited Ruthie to sit with us and chat — and that’s when the real fun started. She regaled us with stories of island life, including a side-splitting story about a gay dog she once had. We talked about life and politics and travel, laughing the afternoon away over beers and her delicious food. It was the first serious conversation I’ve had with a local that lasted more than ten minutes, and I know that when we return to Bequia in the future, I’ll seek out Ruthie right away to catch up and continue building our friendship.

The place that stimulates all five senses

Because my life is constant travel, my boat is that place. Living on a voyaging sailboat means that your senses are constantly being stimulated — and not always in pleasant ways. You are stimulated for instance by the smell of a full holding tank, the sight of an approaching squall, the sound of a storm howling in the rigging, the sensation of a rough anchorage that makes you seasick in your own home, and the bitter, dry taste of fear. On the other hand, taking your home with you opens amazing possibilities: staying in one place for long enough to really get to know it; taking days off to do nothing, knowing that another hike or snorkel or town will be there the next day to explore; meeting not just locals but adventurers who have sailed from all over the world; and — most importantly — going to sleep every night in a bed of your very own, cats cuddled at your side. A sailor’s life is bittersweet.

Favorite artist with a sense of dolce vita

In the British Virgin Islands, I was entranced by the art of a man named Aragorn, who had started an artists’ cooperative, complete with pottery studio and organic garden, in the town of Trellis Bay. Every month, Aragorn’s Studio hosts a full moon party, a traditional Caribbean jump-up held on the beach. Trellis Bay’s party is legendary because of Aragorn’s art. Known for his sculpture, Aragorn recently started creating large outdoor fire sculptures: steel spheres, pyramids or cubes that come to life with fire. He hand cuts elaborate silhouetted shapes into the steel to tell a story. On full-moon night, he mounts these sculptures in the sea just beyond the shoreline, fuels them with firewood and sets them ablaze. The roaring fire within the sculptures, each of which is the height of a man, makes the almost prehistoric-style figures seem to dance in the darkness, evoking the earliest cave paintings. All of the elements — water, earth, wind, fire — combine to evoke a kind of primal beauty.

Favorite travel quote

“Every great and commanding moment is the product of some enthusiasm.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

I truly believe that without enthusiasm, life risks not only being terribly boring, but meaningless as well. Great things do not generally occur because one stumbles into them, but instead are the product of passion. Travel, with its many discomforts and trials, requires that one persevere with enthusiasm and passion. If you manage to do that, you’ll be rewarded accordingly — with great and commanding moments.

Advice for living la dolce vita under more mundane circumstances

The very same thing that makes travel great — but takes the most work — is something you can do at home: seek out new experiences and take the time to talk with people you meet while having them. I spent 15 years in Washington, DC, and while I hit the art museums more than some people would, I certainly didn’t begin to plumb the depths of experiences I could have had in that city. I wish I had taken the time to attend a service at the African-Methodist-Episcopalian church around the corner, whose rockin’ gospel shook the neighborhood windows every Sunday morning. I didn’t take any funky, historical tours or visit the off-the-beaten-path attractions. Most importantly, I didn’t take as much time to talk to people about their lives as I would have liked. When I travel, I’m good at asking questions and drawing people out; at home, I was in such a hurry to get things done that I didn’t take the time to ask the quirky characters omnipresent in any city about their lives. Travel is definitely a state of mind, a way of becoming an observer rather than a doer. Take a day now and then to become a traveler in your home town; it’s amazing what stories people have to tell.

A self-described “overachieving save-the-worlder” who used to run an international affairs advocacy group in Washington, D.C., Heather Hamilton is enjoying her newest incarnation as a writer, sailor and adventurer in the company of her husband, Pip Fryers. (Fryers has been sailing since he was a wee laddie in the Lake District of northern England.) You can learn more about this adventuresome pair and see where their boat is right now on their Picaroon Blog.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another expat book review, by Kate Allison.

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