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Top 60 books for, by & about expats and other global creatives in 2016 (2/2)

Global bookworms, have you finished gorging on the 36 works of fiction featured in Part One of this post? Or perhaps you haven’t finished but fancy trying out a different flavor? In either case, you’re in luck. In Part Two, we’re adding 24 works of nonfiction—memoirs, travelogues, anthologies—that came out in 2016, bringing the grand total to 60.

Again, some of the titles may seem familiar—especially if you subscribe to our Displaced Dispatch—but I reckon you’ll still enjoy munching through the list: the whole is somehow greater than the sum of its parts.

As has become our practice, we’ve included indie as well as traditionally published works, and the books are presented in reverse chronological order.

* * *

Fall 2016

Squirrel Pie (and other stories): Adventures in Food Across the Globe (Bloomsbury, November 15, 2016)
Author/Illustrator: Elisabeth Luard
Expat credentials: After marrying novelist, travel writer and early proprietor of Private Eye Nicholas Luard, London-born-and-bred Elisabeth Luard lived in southern Spain (Andalusia) for nine years, where she produced four children and also painted birds and flowers to supplement the family income, later adding cookery writing to the mix. After Spain, the family relocated to the Isle of Mull (off the west coast of Scotland). As empty nesters, Elisabeth and Nicholas moved to a house in rural Wales they’d inherited from a friend (after Nicholas’s death, Elisabeth downsized and moved to London to be near her grandchildren). All told, Luard’s extensive travels with her husband have taken her to some extraordinary places.
Synopsis: Luard shares tales and dishes gathered from her global ramblings, from scouring for snails in Crete to sampling exotic spices in Ethiopia to tasting pampered oysters in Tasmania. She forages from forest, field, and stream, from the Andes to the Arctic—and provides more than fifty authentic recipes, each one a reflection of its unique place of origin, along with illustrations.
How we heard about: The book earned a mention in Sara Wheeler’s recent article for Guardian Books: “Where have all the female travel writers gone?” She called it “an excellent addition to the voguish ‘foodoir’ category, which overlaps often with travel writing—both being, in the end, hybrid genres.”
Why we recommend: Trying new foods is one of the major benefits of global travel; and if you haven’t yet learned how to spot a truffle lurking under an oak tree, it’s about time you did. You’ll also end up with recipes for Boston bean-pot, Hawaiian poke, Cretan bouboutie, mung-bean roti, roasted buttered coffee beans, Anzac biscuits, and Sardinian lemon macaroons.


Rituals of Separation: A South Korean Memoir of Identity and Belonging (Tojang Press, November 7, 2016)
Author: Elizabeth Rice
Expat credentials: Rice grew up in Seoul, South Korea. After working for a number of years in the NGO sector, she started to write a book about her childhood in South Korea. She is currently living between Costa Rica and Vermont.
Synopsis: When her American family returns to the U.S. after 16 years in South Korea, Elizabeth Rice is a hidden immigrant. She may be a white woman with American roots, but the United States is not her homeland. Part memoir, part history, her book captures the tension of living between identities, the deep longing for home, and the determination to find healing in the face of unrecoverable loss.
How we heard about: A listing in Summertime Publishing’s expatbookshop.com.
Why we recommend: Rice tells the classic Third Culture Kid story of being torn between two cultures, in an eloquent and moving way.


America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness Is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks (St. Martin’s Press, October 4, 2016)
Author: Ruth Whippman
Expat credentials: A British author, journalist and filmmaker who started her career at the BBC, Whippman moved to Berkeley, California, with her family when her husband took a job with a tech start-up. (She holds American citizenship because her mother was born in the United States.) Notably, it was the move from always-cynical Britain to always-sunny California, that stimulated her to research this book.
Synopsis: Whippman explores the multibillion dollar happiness industry in her adopted country, and the question of why Americans always seem to be searching for contentment and never finding it. Is it that quest for happiness itself that is generating so much anxiety?
How we heard about: New York Times Sunday Book Review
Why we recommend: Whippman has been called a “whip-sharp British Bill Bryson” for her feat of making cogent observations on the American way of life.


The Big Cat Man (Bradt Travel Guides, October 1, 2016)
Author: Jonathan Scott
Expat credentials: In a blog post of last August, Scott writes that he knew from an early age that “England was not for me”—that he wanted “a life of adventure combined with a window on to the wilderness.” Nowadays he and his wife, Angela, who is also a wildlife photographer, divide their time between a house in a leafy suburb of Nairobi, with giraffes as neighbors, and a cottage on the Maasai Mara.
Synopsis: Scott decides that instead of writing natural history narratives about animal characters, he will write his own story: of how he went from growing up on a Berkshire farm in the UK, to training as a zoologist, to working as wildlife artist and safari guide in the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, to becoming a presenter for BBC’s Big Cat Diary and Animal Planet’s Wild Kingdom. The story includes his marriage, in his forties, to Angela; the pair’s travels to Antarctica, India and Bhutan; and the trauma of facing Angela’s serious illness, which put them on a spiritual journey to rival anything they had faced before.
How we heard about: Through Scott’s interview with Wanderlust travel magazine.
Why we recommend: As Lyn Hughes, co-founder and editor in chief of Wanderlust, says, it was “a brave move for a boy from the Home Counties to move to Africa in the 1970s.” But Scott was undaunted and soon fell in love with the land, the wildlife, the people: “there’s nowhere like it.” He has also fought hard to preserve the future of African wildlife.

Summer 2016

When in French: Love in a Second Language (Penguin Press, September 13, 2016)
Author: Lauren Collins
Expat credentials: Born and bred in North Carolina, Collins didn’t venture beyond U.S. borders until she was an adult and became an expat reporter in London. She became further displaced when she met and fell in love with Olivier, a French mathematician who, after a bumpy cross-cultural courtship, would become her husband. When Olivier was required to move to Geneva for his work, she followed, upending their “his continent, my language” balance and forcing her to confront his Francophone world. The couple now lives in Paris with their young daughter.
Synopsis: Collins offers up her marriage as a case study of what happens when one partner tries to learn the other’s native tongue. How much of one’s sense of self is tied up in language?
How we heard about: When The New Yorker, where Collins has been a staff writer since 2008, ran her article “Love in Translation” last August.
Why we recommend: According to New York Times reviewer Suzy Hansen, the book is “far more ambitious than the average memoir about moving abroad” because it also includes a “meditation on the art of language and intimacy” and a tribute to the “delights of cross-cultural fusion.”


The Illustrated Book of Sayings: Curious Expressions from Around the World  (Ten Speed Press, September 13, 2016)
Author/Illustrator: Ella Frances Sanders
Expat credentials: Calling herself an “intentional” global nomad, Sanders has lived in Morocco and Switzerland, but has now settled back in her native UK (the town of Bath). She first uncovered her creative potential when living in, and interning for a company in, Morocco.
Synopsis: A collection of strange idioms, adages and philosophies from around the world, the book highlights just how culturally specific language can be, with many of the nuances seemingly muddled, bemusing or lost in translation. Sanders’s illustrations imagine these metaphors as literal scenarios, while her accompanying commentary serves to unravel these cultural conundrums.
How we heard about: Sanders has been on our radar ever since she produced her first book, Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World, which made our 2014 list (it grew out of a 2013 blog post of hers that went viral: “11 Untranslatable Words From Other Cultures”). She calls this second book “a sort of older sibling” to the first.
Why we recommend: Sanders says she writes her books to enable people able to connect with ideas that came from a place other than the one they grew up in.


Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century (Summertime Publishing, August 15, 2016)
Author: Tanya Crossman
Expat credentials: Crossman is technically a third culture kid: although she grew up in Australia (Sydney and Canberra), she spent two of her high school years in Greenwich, Connecticut. As a young adult, she has lived and worked in China and also spent time in Cambodia. Right now she is back in Sydney studying for her master’s degree but hopes to go abroad again soon.
Synopsis: Crossman’s book examines the impact international life can have on the children through the personal stories of hundreds of individuals who have grown up as so-called third culture kids, or TCKs: kids who grow up outside of the country of origin of their parents. The book also offers practical suggestions for how best to care for and support this special group of expats, not only while they live overseas, but also when they return to their passport countries and mature into adults.
How we heard about: We follow Summertime on social media; plus Crossman was the second interviewee by TCK Talent columnist Dounia Bertuccelli.
Why we recommend: Crossman is a passionate advocate for the special needs of TCKs. As she told Bertuccelli, her book differs from other TCK resources

“…because I act as an advocate and a ‘voice’ for young TCKs. I’m trying to express how they really feel about the experience of growing up in a third culture. They have a different experience of the world to their parents. Recognizing this is essential for giving them the support they need.”


The Glamour of Strangeness: Artists and the Last Age of the Exotic (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, August 9, 2016)
Author: Jamie James
Expat credentials: A native Texan who became an art reviewer for the New Yorker, James spent years traveling the globe until he finally left New York and moved permanently to Bali in 1999. The move has given him the chance to indulge in his passion for Pacific culture, Indonesian in particular, producing fiction and nonfiction with local and regional themes.
Synopsis: Drawing on his own career as a travel writer, James offers biographical sketches of six artists whom he would categorize as “exotes” because they ran away to discover who they are and where they belong, thereby joining the “school of no nation, or all nations”:

  • German painter Walter Spies, who settled in Bali
  • Raden Saleh, the Javanese painter who found fame in Europe
  • Isabelle Eberhardt, a Russian-Swiss writer who roamed the Sahara dressed as an Arab man
  • Russian-born American filmmaker Maya Deren, who went to Haiti and became a committed follower of voodoo
  • French post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin, who left France for Tahiti
  • French doctor and writer Victor Segalen, who immersed himself in classical Chinese civilization in imperial Peking

How we heard about: New York Times Sunday Book Review
Why we recommend: James’s book reveals a generation of creative people who not only wished to escape from their homelands but also found their new surroundings stimulating for producing art. In refusing to stay put in the country to which they’d been assigned by birth, were they anticipating the world we have today, in which commerce and communications and culture flow easily across national boundaries? We stand on their shoulders! The only thing is, we expats and global creatives are now so common we are no longer considered exotic.:/


Cultural Chemistry: Simple Strategies for Bridging Cultural Gaps (July 19, 2016)
Author: Patti McCarthy
Expat credentials: Originally from the UK, Patti McCarthy grew up a third culture kid. She has lived and worked in England, Belgium, the United States, Botswana, Singapore and (now) Australia, where she runs her own business called Cultural Chemistry providing cross-cultural and relocation support to expats. Not only has she been an expat for over forty years, but her husband, two dogs, and three children were all born in different countries.
Synopsis: Intended as a handbook for anyone who works in a multi-cultural business environment, the book details hundreds of cross-cultural misunderstandings and introduces McCarthy’s four-step process for handling, which she calls the Four R’s: Rewards, Research, Reflect, and Reach Out.
How we heard about: From a tweet by UYD Management
Why we recommend: We’ve hopefully all mastered the three R’s by now. Onwards to the next challenge!


A Scorpion in the Lemon Tree (July 1, 2016)
Author: Marjory McGinn
Expat credentials: Born in Scotland, McGinn was brought up in Sydney, Australia. As a young adult she traveled back to Scotland in search of the cultural links she thought she might be missing, and then across Europe. When she got to Greece,  she liked it so much she stayed on in Athens and worked for a year. Upon her return to Australia, she took up a career as a newspaper journalist; but by the time the 21st century dawned, she yearned to go back to Scotland, accompanied this time by her partner and fellow journalist, Jim. In 2010, the couple and their Jack Russell terrier, Wallace, set off on an adventure to the southern Peloponnese that lasted four years and became the basis for McGinn’s three travel memoirs. These days “home” is East Sussex, England.
Synopsis: Following Things Can Only Get Feta and Homer’s Where the Heart Is, the third in McGinn’s Peloponnese series covers house rental dramas, scorpion threats, and a publishing upheaval. Despite setbacks, McGinn and her companions can’t help but be seduced by the charm of Koróni, on the Messinian peninsula, making new friends while also reconnecting with some of the memorable characters of their days in the wild Mani region.
How we heard about: McGinn is a Displaced Dispatcher and has been featured on the Displaced Nation in Tracey Warr’s Location, Locution column.
Why we recommend: McGinn renewed her love affair with Greece at a time when she thought it would be of mutual benefit. Greece was sliding into economic crisis and had to be bailed out repeatedly—and she wanted to record the country’s rural way of life before it disappeared. At the same time, though, McGinn’s chosen profession of journalism was in crisis. Could her times in Greece inspire her to become a travel writer?

Spring 2016

All Strangers Are Kin: Adventures in Arabic and the Arab World (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, June 14, 2016)
Author: Zora O’Neill
Expat credentials: O’Neill lived in Egypt and studied Arabic in graduate school during the 1990s. This started her on the path of becoming an international creative, interested particularly in languages and traditional foods of other countries. From New Mexico originally but now based in Astoria, Queens, O’Neill has written or contributed to more than a dozen guidebooks, and co-authored a cookbook. Besides the Arab world, particularly Egypt, she has gotten to know Amsterdam and Mexico.
Synopsis: A travel memoir about studying Arabic, the book recounts O’Neill’s linguistic Grand Tour of the Middle East, through four countries that represent the main dialects of the Arab-speaking world. She starts her journey by re-acquainting herself with Egyptian Arabic in Cairo (where she studied Arabic in grad school) in late 2011. She moves to Emirati Arabic in Dubai, to Lebanese Arabic in Beirut, and to several cities in Morocco where she can use Darija, the Arabic spoken in western North Africa. Every time she moves from one country to another, she undergoes a fresh culture shock. As her journey progresses, she convinces us that the various dialects of fushá (Modern Standard Arabic) are the gateway to a fascinating culture.
How we heard about: From a review by M Lynx Qualey, whom we follow on twitter (@arablit).
Why we recommend: It’s impressive that over 25 years, O’Neill never gave up her dream of learning Arabic. She studied classical Arabic in the 1990s and earned her master’s in Arabic literature. But it would be two decades later, on the trip across North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula described in this book, that she finally felt natural speaking it.


A Chorus of Cockerels: Walking on the wild side in Mallorca (Summersdale, June 9, 2016)
Author: Anna Nicholas
Expat credentials: After an eccentric childhood in Kent and London that involved quite a bit of travel in Eastern Europe, Nichols traveled the world for the Guinness Book of Records and then ran her own travel and luxury lifestyle PR firm in London. About 15 years ago, she left Britain with her husband and son to live in northwest Mallorca, aka Majorca, the largest island in the Balearic Islands archipelago (part of Spain). Since then, she has done more writing, not only journalistic articles but also a series of books about rural island life. In May she will be accompanying explorer Colonel John Blashford-Snell to the Amazon (Colombia).
Synopsis: A merger of her PR firm with another London agency has given author and journalist Nichols more time to explore her adopted home. The upshot is this book, Nichols’s sixth Mallorca title, discussing the Spanish island’s Roman and Moorish history and culture. The cockerels of the title refer to her family’s growing menagerie: at last count, 40 hens and cockerels, along with assorted cats, frogs, donkeys, and Johnny the Toad.
How we heard about: Nichols was one of the original group of bloggers on Telegraph Expat. More recently, she produced a summary piece on expat life for Expat Explorer.
Why we recommend: “Intrepid” is Nichols’s middle name. She once organized an expedition to carry a piano to a remote Amerindian tribe in South America (it was the subject of a BBC documentary). Thus you can be confident you’re in good hands when she sets out to explore her adopted island home. She will leave no stone (be it farm, factory, Moorish myth) unturned; she even finds time to hike the Camino de Santiago along the way…


What Language Do I Dream In? (Virago, June 7, 2016)
Author: Elena Lappin
Expat credentials: Born in Moscow, Lappin grew up in Prague and Hamburg, and has lived in Israel, Canada, the United States and—longer than anywhere else—in London.
Synopsis: Lappin’s memoir tells the story of growing up in five languages—Russian (she uses with her parents), Czech (she uses with her brother, as they grew up in Prague), German (from their days in Hamburg), Hebrew (from living in Israel), and English (she has lived in Canada, the US, and now London). A writer-editor, she feels grateful that English finally adopted her, though it did not adopt her brother (he writes in German).
How we heard about: We follow Virago Press on Facebook.
Why we recommend: Most of us struggle to become bilingual let alone multilingual. What happens when not only you but your entire family is multilingual because of having been serial immigrants—how do you communicate with each other? Which of these languages do you teach your children? And if you dream of becoming a writer, as Lappin did: how do you choose a dominant language to think and write in?


Once Upon an Expat (May 31, 2016)
Editor/Author: Lisa Webb
Expat credentials: A Canadian, Webb got swept into the the expat world when she and her husband decided to live in France in 2010. Five years later, they moved with their two children, both of whom were born in France, to Borneo, Indonesia, for a year. They now call the Congo home. Webb has a popular blog, Canadian Expat Mom.
Synopsis: An anthology of stories by women who’ve experienced firsthand what it means to set up life in a foreign country. Areas of the world include Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Australia, and the Americas.
How we heard about: From tweets by Sally Rose and Brittani Sonnenberg. 
Why we recommend: Among the 20 contributors are several familiar names—including Amanda van Mulligen, who blogs at Turning Dutch; Olga Mecking, who blogs at the European Mama; and the aforementioned Displaced Nation columnist Sally Rose (Sally contributed the story “What Mattered Most”).


Mother Tongue: My Family’s Globe-Trotting Quest to Dream in Mandarin, Laugh in Arabic, and Sing in Spanish (Avery, May 17, 2016)
Author: Christine Gilbert
Expat credentials: Growing up in rural Massachusetts, Gilbert never traveled as a youth. But the death of her grandfather from a severe form of dementia changed all that. It set her on a path to seek out how to become bilingual in the belief that bilingualism helps delay the onset of the disease. Gilbert quit her corporate job and, with her husband, Drew, and toddler son in tow, launched an ambitious eighteen-month-long, three-country quest to become fluent in Mandarin, Arabic, and Spanish. The family (they now have three children) are currently settled in Oaxaca, Mexico, in a house on the Sierra Madre—with Thai herbs from their travels growing in the garden. The couple has started their own video production company and are filming a series about the anthropology of food.
Synopsis: The book is divided into three sections, each named for the place the family settles in order to immerse themselves in the language: China (daunting), Lebanon (welcoming), and Mexico (not surprisingly, learning Spanish is the easiest of the three challenges). The story is part personal memoir, part travelogue, and part literacy narrative. In the end, Gilbert comes to value biculturalism as well as bilingualism.
How we heard about: We first heard about Gilbert when she and Drew were named 2014 National Geographic Travelers of the Year.
Why we recommend: Gilbert is super creative: she is a photographer, a writer, a filmmaker, a coach. But at the time when she uprooted her family to move around the world, she was also a young mother with an all-American husband. That takes guts—a quality Gilbert appears to have in spades.


Bonjour Kale: A Memoir of Paris, Love, and Recipes (Sourcebooks, May 3, 2016)
Author: Kristen Beddard
Expat credentials: Pittsburgh-born American Kristen Beddard moved to Paris in 2011 with her husband for his job. An advertising executive, she found herself without a job and, surprisingly, without one of her favorite vegetables, kale. (The couple repatriated to New York City in 2016.)
Synopsis: Beddard decided she didn’t want to live in Paris for five years without a vegetable that for her, a vegetarian of many years, was like comfort food. The book recounts her launching of the Kale Project, an initiative to reintroduce kale—a légume oublié (lost/forgotten vegetable)—to the country of croissants and cheese. The project succeeded (Beddard’s campaign even made the front page of the New York Times), and the French now enjoy harvesting and eating le chou kale.
How we heard about: From her fellow American expat in Paris, pastry chef David Lebovitz, whom we follow on social media. In fact he wrote about her again in a recent post.
Why we recommend: Reintroducing an heirloom veggie to a country that prides itself on heirloom foods is a feat beyond what most expats, however creative, can ever hope to accomplish. No wonder the New York Times dubbed Beddard “The Kale Crusader.”


Life without a recipe: A Memoir of Food and Family (WW Norton, April 18, 2016)
Author: Diana Abu-Jaber
Expat credentials: The child of a Jordanian father and an American mother (with Irish-German roots), Abu-Jaber grew up in the middle of two very different, and often clashing, cultures. On the one hand she had her tough, independent sugar-fiend of a German grandmother, wielding a suitcase full of holiday cookies; on the other, her flamboyant, spice-obsessed Arab father, full of passionate argument. The two could not agree on anything. Apart from two years her family spent living in Jordan, however, Abu-Jaber has always lived in the United States. She currently lives in Portland and south Florida.
Synopsis: The sequel to Abu-Jaber’s first memoir, The Language of Baklava, this book focuses on writer Abu-Jaber’s attempt to navigate early and middle adulthood. Unable to decide whether she wants her life sweet or spicy, she has two short-lived marriages. By the time she reaches her 40s, she realizes she has to carve out life on her own terms, not those of her family’s. That’s when she meets and marries the outdoors-loving Scott, and they adopt a daughter.
How we heard about: We read her November 2015 essay for the New Yorker, “Lamb Two Ways,” which was drawn from her forthcoming book.
Why we recommend: Abu-Jaber provides an honest account of her struggle to define her identity as Arab and American, as writer and family member. Besides, who can resist spending time with a woman who is baking her way through life? Her sense of life-as-adventure and obsession with all things culinary make her great company.


An Octopus in my Ouzo: Loving Life on a Greek Island (April 14, 2016)
Author: Jennifer Barclay
Expat credentials: Born in Manchester, UK, Barclay grew up on the edge of the Pennines—but as an adult she has led a peripatetic life, attempting to put down roots in Canada and France while also trying out life in Guyana and South Korea. But in the end she settled on Greece, particularly after she discovered the remote island of Tilos, where she now lives for most of the year.
Synopsis: The book tells the story of Barclay’s first few years of immersion in island life, which included getting pregnant (the island is a ferry ride away from a hospital). It’s the sequel to her previous memoir, Falling in Honey, about how Tilos stole her heart after her love life fell apart back in the UK.
How we heard about: Barclay’s “Gathering Road” podcast interview with Elaine Masters brought her onto our radar screen.
Why we recommend: Barclay’s first memoir was one of my picks for Beth Green’s column. I was intrigued by the title of the book that she wrote after living in South Korea: Meeting Mr Kim: Or How I Went to Korea and Learned to Love Kimchi.


Winter 2016

Five Flights Up: Sex, Love, and Family, from Paris to Lyon (March 15, 2016)
Author: Kristin Louise Duncombe
Expat credentials: Duncombe grew up overseas as the child of a US diplomat and has lived overseas for most of her adult life and in Europe since 2001. A trained psychotherapist, she specializes in working with international and expatriate families. She and her family currently live in Geneva.
Synopsis: This is Duncombe’s second memoir. In the first, Trailing, she chronicled her experience of being swept off her feet by an Argentinian Médecins Sans Frontières doctor. Abandoning her plans to set up a psychotherapy practice in New Orleans, she followed him to East Africa—which proved to be even more of an adventure than the couple had bargained for. In the second memoir, ten years have passed and Duncombe has established a successful Paris-based psychotherapy practice—only to find she must uproot herself from Paris to Lyon, again because of her husband’s job. The new book explores the challenges of managing two-career marriages and raising bicultural kids, along with the eccentricities of life in France.
How we heard about: We’ve read a number of the author interviews on her blog.
Why we recommend: Duncombe’s unique specialty is helping “trailing spouses” maintain their sanity while following their other half around the globe. But she must reconfigure everything she thought she knew about her “expat expertise” when her child sinks into existential crisis, and tea time is to be had with glamorous French moms whose sex lives include swingers’ parties. The book should appeal to memoir for anyone facing a move, dealing with marital ghosts, or confronting the professional death of starting anew.


Gardens of Awe and Folly: A Traveler’s Journal on the Meaning of Life and Gardening (Bloomsbury, March 1, 2016)
Author/Illustrator: Vivian Swift
Expat credentials: Swift is not an expat but a perpetual wanderer. When not traveling, she lives on Long Island Sound. (Yes, one of the gardens is from her own Long Island, proving the worthiness of Emily Dickinson’s observation that you can find everything worth discovering in your own backyard.)
Synopsis: From Scotland to Key West, from Brazil to Paris, Swift tracks down nine of the world’s gardens that are considered to be masterpieces. She illustrates her travelogue with her own watercolors.
How we heard about: Swift’s Le Road Trip: A Traveler’s Journal of Love and France made our previous year-end list (we learned about that book from her blog).
Why we recommend: Swift seduces through whimsical words and pictures; she even offers a lesson on how to paint falling leaves.


Bed, Breakfast & Drunken Threats: Dispatches from the Margins of Europe (Jean-Albert Dadas Press, February 17. 2016)
Author: Dave Seminara
Expat credentials: Born in Buffalo, NY, Seminara joined the U.S. Foreign Service upon graduation from university. His diplomatic career included stints in Macedonia, Trinidad and Hungary, and in the Bureau of Central African Affairs in Washington, D.C. He is now a roving reporter—he writes a regular column for BBC Travel called “BBC Travel Pioneer”—and prize-winning photographer. These days he calls Bend, Oregon, home.
Synopsis: A collection of 24 travel stories that unfold across 14 European countries, the book is a tribute to Seminara’s quest to understand Europe. We learn that he wishes he had Norwegian roots, envies the Basques, and feels certain that the best places in Italy and Greece have yet to be discovered.
How we heard about: Social media
Why we recommend: At a time when Europe has fallen out of fashion with travel writers (even Rick Steves says his favorite country is India!), it makes a nice change to find a book by an unabashed Europhile.


Knocked Up Abroad: Stories of pregnancy, birth, and raising a family in a foreign country (January 28, 2016) and Knocked Up Abroad Again: Baby bumps, twists, and turns around the globe (November 17, 2016)
Editor/Author: Lisa Ferland
Expat credentials: A public health expert from her previous life in the US, Ferland has lived abroad in Sweden with her family since 2012. She says that parenting has been her greatest adventure, and the fact that she’s combined this with an expat life has led to some of her most exciting discoveries about herself. Nowadays she works as a writer, editor and publisher.
Synopsis: The first book in the series contains 24 stories about the trials and joys experienced by 21 mothers and two dads who had babies and raised their families abroad, ranging from the spa-like treatments for postpartum women in Japan to insatiable pregnancy cravings in the Seychelles to non-functioning toilets in West Africa. The second book is an anthology of stories by 25 women in 25 different countries—again recording what it’s been like to raise children in a country that looks, sounds, and expects completely different behaviors than the culture in which the mother was raised herself.
How we heard about: We follow Ferland on social media.
Why we recommend: The collection includes stories by two writers we love: Amanada van Mulligen and Clara Wiggins.


How to Talk about Places You’ve Never Been: On the Importance of Armchair Travel (Bloomsbury, January 26, 2016)
Author: Pierre Bayard (translator: Michele Hutchison)
Expat credentials: Bayard is a French author, professor of literature and connoisseur of psychology. He is not an expat but has gained an international following through his books presenting revisionist readings of English literary classics: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and Shakesperea’s Hamlet.
Synopsis: Bayard takes readers on a trip around the world, giving us essential guidance on how to talk about all those fantastic places we’ve never been. He examines the art of the “non-journey,” a tradition that a succession of writers and thinkers, unconcerned with moving away from their home turf, have employed in order to encounter the foreign cultures they wish to know and talk about. He cites examples of famous writers who were able to write vividly about places they hadn’t visited.
How we heard about: From a conversation between Bayard and Paul Holdengräber at Albertine, a French and English bookshop in Manhattan, a project of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy fostering French-American intellectual exchange (attended via livestream).
Why we recommend: Besides being irreverent and thought provoking, Bayard makes cross-cultural comparisons that would never have occurred to us. For instance, he says that, whereas Americans were shocked to learn that this revered writer had fabricated much of the story of his travels across America with his dog in his work Travels with Charley: In search of America, in France people were unfazed. The French believe it’s possible to convey the spirit of something without having experienced it directly.


The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain (Anchor, Jan 19, 2016)
Author: Bill Bryson
Expat credentials: From Des Moines, Iowa, Byrson has been a resident of Britain for most of his adult life, returning to the United States between 1995 and 2003. He served as the chancellor of Durham University from 2005 to 2011, and since 2007 has been serving as the president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. He now holds dual nationality (a relatively recent decision) and has an OBE.
Synopsis: Twenty years after his classic Notes from a Small Island was published (it is still one of the bestselling travel books ever written), the Bryson decided to deliver another valentine to his adopted home, which in the interval has given the Iowan writer both a wife and a career in journalism. He set himself the challenge of going the longest distance one can travel in a straight line without crossing saltwater: from Bognor Regis in the south to Cape Wrath in the Scottish Highlands. The result is another entertaining travelogue with stories of “pleasing Britannic things” as well as a few of his pet peeves. And no, there’s no such place as Little Dribbling: Bryson made it up as an ode to eccentric British place names.
How we heard about: New York Times Sunday Book Review
Why we recommend: Two of the Displaced Nation’s founders, both of them British, listed Bryson as one of their favorite expat writers. I rather doubt they’re his only fans!

* * *

And so we have it: our top picks for displaced nonfiction that came out in 2016. What do you think, dear reader? Are we missing something you think deserves to be on the list? Kindly let us know in the comments! (Until next year…)

ML Awanohara, one of the Displaced Nation’s founders and its current editor, has a section in the weekly Displaced Dispatch where she mentions the latest expat books. Why not subscribe as a treat to yourself during the winter doldrums?

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Photo credits: All photos via Pixabay or Morguefiles.

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Top 60 books for, by & about expats and other global creatives in 2016 (1/2)

top-60-books-2016-part-one-fiction

Are bookworms like earth worms: do they come to the surface during the spring rains? In which case, the Displaced Nation’s timing—we publish our yearly roundup of recommended books for, by, and about expats and other global creatives in late February and early March—may not be as eccentric as all that. And at least we’re not competing with lots of other “best of 2016” lists that came out in December!

Without further ado, we’re calling on all of you displaced bookworms to come out and start feasting! This year there are 60 books on our list, a first. Hopefully it means you’ll find a title or two that you missed. Or perhaps you’ll see books whose titles sound familiar—especially if you subscribe to our Displaced Dispatch—but of which you forgot to make a note.

Part One, published today, presents 36 works of fiction, both novels and story collections, indie as well as traditionally published works. Part Two will add 24 works of nonfiction, bringing the total to 60. As in years past, the books appear in reverse chronological order.

* * *

Fall 2016

the-good-officer_coverThe Good Officer: Can they love again? (Newhurst Press, November 18, 2016)
Author: Helena Halme
Expat credentials: Born in Finland, Halme lived in Sweden as a child and felt displaced when her family moved back to Finland when she was 14. She left Finland to live in England (now London) after meeting and marrying a British man (yes, he was in the military!), but she still celebrates Finnish customs.
Synopsis: Kaisa has betrayed her husband, the handsome English naval officer, Peter. What can she do but move back to her native Finland? But then she takes a job in London and meets Peter again by chance. Can they love each other again? The third novel in The Englishman series following the tumultuous 1980s love affair between a Finnish student and a British naval officer, based loosely on Halme’s own life story.
How we heard about: Halme has been featured several times on the Displaced Nation: see, for instance, her Random Nomad interview, still one of our best!
Why we recommend: How often do you get to read a Nordic military romance?


a-year-and-a-day_coverA Year and a Day (Penguin Books, Nov 17 2016)
Author: Isabelle Broom
Expat credentials: Broom travelled through Europe during her gap year and went to live on the Greek island of Zakynthos for an unforgettable and life-shaping six months after completing her degree in media arts in London (her first novel, My Map of You, is set on that island). Since then, she has travelled to Canada, Sri Lanka, Sicily, New York, LA, the Canary Islands, Spain and lots more of Greece. She loves to write books set in far-flung locations.
Synopsis: Three different couples find themselves staying in the same hotel in Prague, and we follow them as they mingle and get to know each other and form a bond.
How we heard about: Trip Fiction review,with Prague promo.
Why we recommend: According to several of Broom’s Amazon reviewers, the Prague of this book is “magical” and becomes an “additional character.”


swing-time_coverSwing Time (Penguin, November 15, 2016)
Author: Zadie Smith
Expat credentials: Smith is the product of a black mother and a white father, whom her mother married after migrating to England from her native Jamaica. Now a professor of fiction at New York University, Smith has traded London for New York City for at least part of the year.
Synopsis: Set in England and West Africa, the story concerns the friendship of two mixed-race girls who meet in a tap dance class in London in 1982. One has talent; the other has ideas.
How we heard about: New York Times Sunday Book Review
Why we recommend: Particularly when the action moves to West Africa, the novel parses race and global politics in a way only a writer of Smith’s caliber can.


tokyo-short-stories-book-1_coverPostcards from Tokyo, Book 1 (November 3, 2016)
Author: Wendy Nelson Tokunaga
Expat credentials: Born in San Francisco, Tokunaga has lived in the Bay area all her life except for when she lived in Tokyo during the early 1980s. Her husband is Japanese.
Synopsis: Six stories that are all inspired by Tokyo, a place that writer Tokunaga has observed both first-hand and from afar. Highlights include a story about a young American who leaves her hostess job to become a kept woman but instead of finding solace is unable to escape her own demons, and a story about an American cat that becomes a stowaway with the intention of becoming a social media sensation in Japan.
How we heard about: We have featured Tokunaga a couple of times on the Displaced Nation (see, for instance, this interview) and follow her on social media.
Why we recommend: Tokunaga has a knack for telling stories about Japan that are culturally insightful while also being highly entertaining.


je-taime-maybe-book-coverJe T’Aime…Maybe? (TGRS Communications, November 3, 2016)
Author: April Lily Heise
Expat credentials: April Lily Heise is a Canadian writer and romance expert who has been living in Paris for over a decade. This is her second novelized memoir on her romantic misadventures.
Synopsis: After barely surviving a turbulent series of relationships in the City of Love (shared in the first volume of the series, Je T’aime, Me Neither), our heroine Lily is ready to throw in the towel on amour. That is, until she receives a very unexpected email—one which revives her hope in finding true love…yet at the same time awakens the mischievous, passionate energy of Paris. Will she manage to connect with her potential soul mate, located on the other side of the globe?
How we heard about: We follow the HIP Paris Blog.
Why we recommend: Readers of Heise’s blog and book appreciate her for being “hilarious,” “brutally honest” and “badass” about love in the city that celebrates that emotion. As one of them puts it, this book is a “sort of Parisian-style Bridget Jones’s Diary.”


a-portrait-of-emily-price_coverA Portrait of Emily Price (HarperCollins, November 1, 2016)
Author: Katherine Reay
Expat credentials: After living all across the United States and a few stops in Europe, Katherine and her family recently moved back to Chicago. It’s also the first book Reay has written that’s based in a place where she hasn’t lived, though she did visit Italy multiple items when living in Europe.
Synopsis: Art restorer Emily Price has never encountered anything she can’t fix—until she meets Ben, an Italian chef, who seems just right. They marry and Emily follows Ben home to Italy, where she finds she can’t quite adjust to his family and culture.
How we heard about: From Publishers Weekly listing
Why we recommend: It’s interesting that an author who usually takes her inspiration from Jane Austen has entered Henry James territory, portraying clashing worldviews and other cross-cultural miscommunications. What’s more, the book includes sensually evocative descriptions of Italian food and scenery, for which it has earned comparisons with Frances Mayes’s Under the Tuscan Sun.


the-boat-rocker_coverThe Boat Rocker (Pantheon, October 26 2016)
Author: Ha Jin
Expat credentials: Xuefei Jin, who publishes under the nom de plume Ha Jin, is a China-born but United States-based author. A former Chinese army soldier, he chose to stay in the United States after the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Synopsis: Chinese expatriate Feng Danlin is a fiercely principled reporter at a small news agency that produces a website read by the Chinese diaspora around the world. Danlin’s explosive exposés have made him legendary among readers—and feared by Communist officials. But his newest assignment may be his undoing: investigating his ex-wife, Yan Haili, an unscrupulous novelist who has willingly become a pawn of the Chinese government.
How we heard about: New York Times Sunday Book Review
Why we recommend: At a time when the press is under attack, it is interesting to read a novel by a writer who has lived under two very different sets of rules: the Communist Party’s elaborate control of mass media and the free market’s complicated influence on what we read and watch.


how-to-pick-up-a-maid_coverHow to Pick Up a Maid in Statue Square: Stories (Thistledown Press, Oct 16, 2016)
Author: Rea Tarvdas
Expat credentials: When her husband, a management consultant, was transferred to Hong Kong in 2000, Tarvdas placed her job as a psychiatric emergency-room nurse on hold and packed up the house and moved for two years to Hong Kong. She has since repatriated to Calgary, Canada.
Synopsis: A collection of stories that creates a fictional community of hardworking men and women, bankers and brokers, maids and househusbands, who are, in the author’s words, “all trying to find their way through the space in which loneliness and alienation intersect.”
How we heard about: From Tarvdas’s personal essay in Quill & Quire.
Why we recommend: Tarvdas has used fiction to channel the intense feelings that come up when you’re an expat, particularly a trailing spouse, in Southeast Asia, including dislocation, loneliness, alienation, and even sexual redundancy.


from-pavlova-to-pork-pies_coverFrom Pavlova to Pork Pies: From New Zealand to England searching for love, laughs, and the way home (Writer’s Cat, October 2, 2016)
Author: Vicki Jeffels
Expat credentials: Jeffels has lived in four countries, both hemispheres and has travelled around the world only to end up back where she started, in Auckland, New Zealand.
Synopsis: Based on a true story and an award-winning blog, the plot concerns a divorced mother-of-three from New Zealand who goes on a European tour and meets the man of her dreams, an Englishman, in the City of Light; starts a long-distance relationship with him; and then moves with her family to live with him in the UK, only to have disaster strike when she and her kids are threatened with deportation.
How we heard about: We have known Jeffels back in the day when she was blogging about being an expat in Britain, married to a Brit she met in Paris—she was one of our early Random Nomad interviewees.
Why we recommend: Jeffels has a droll sense of humour and loves travel, chocolate, food, and wine. You can’t go wrong with an author like that.


conquest_coverConquest: Daughter of the Last King (Impress Books, October 1, 2016)
Author: Tracey Warr
Expat credentials: Warr was born in London and lives in the UK and France.
Synopsis: The first in Warr’s new Conquest trilogy, the book is set in the early middle ages when Britain was invaded by William the Conqueror. It concerns the fate of Nest ferch Rhys, the daughter of the last independent Welsh king, after she is captured by the Normans following their assault on her lands, taken to their lair in Cardiff, imprisoned in the motte, and forced to learn Norman.
How we heard about: Warr is our Location, Locution columnist.
Why we recommend: With so many people being displaced by war in the present era, it seems strange to think that this kind of thing was going in the 12th century as well. Is forced displacement an inevitable part of the human condition?


cartes-postales-from-greece_coverCarte Postales from Greece (Hodder, September 22, 2016)
Author: Victoria Hislop
Expat credentials: Hislop has nurtured a passion for Greece for more than three decades. She speaks Greek and keeps a second home in Crete, where she spends several months of every year.
Synopsis: Englishwoman Ellie mistakenly receives a series of tantalizing postcards from Greece. Once the cards stop coming, she spontaneously organizes her own trip to Greece and, with the help of a mysterious notebook she receives just before her departure, discovers a wonderful world of tradition, folklore, love and betrayal—a world not usually accessible to first-time visitors.
How we heard about: TripFiction’s interview with the author
Why we recommend: Hislop traveled in Greece with a Greek photographer and has used his photos to illustrate the book. In some cases, the stories developed because of the photos; in other cases, it was the other way around. The idea was to have the words and pictures work very closely together. The idea sounds super creative, and we’re curious how it turned out.

Summer 2016

the-pull-of-it_coverThe Pull of It (Underground Voices, September 21, 2016)
Author: Wendy J. Fox
Expat credentials: Fox was raised in rural Washington state, and lived in Turkey in the early 2000s. She was still living in Turkey when she started the manuscript. She now lives in Seattle.
Synopsis: The story of a young wife and mother who takes a solo vacation in Turkey to recharge, and ends up diving into a new culture. She skips her flight home and boards a bus to the interior of the country, where she will stay for another six months, until her previous life pulls her home and she must confront her demons.
How we heard about: Writer Lisa Morrow quotes from Fox’s novel in Part One of her interview with us, published in November of last year.
Why we recommend: The premise of the story sounds interesting. As Fox told reviewer Mark Stevens, she thought her protagonist would need to be immersed in a “realm that was totally foreign” as only then could she “get down to the core of herself and understand what she wants.”


the-other-side-of-the-world_coverThe Other Side of the World (Atria Books, September 20, 2016)
Author: Stephanie Bishop
Expat credentials: Her grandparents migrated from England to Australia in the 1960s. Although her grandmother lived more than half her life in Australia she still thought of England as home and Bishop grew up listening to her complain about how much she missed Britain. As a young adult, Bishop herself experienced “dual homesickness” as she moved back and forth between England and Australia for her education (she got her Ph.D. from Cambridge and will soon have a visiting fellowship at Oxford).
Synopsis: A novel set in England, Australia, and India in the early 1960s. Charlotte is struggling with motherhood, with the changes brought on by marriage and parenthood, and with never having the time or energy to paint. Her husband, Henry, an Anglo-Indian, cannot face the thought of another English winter. A brochure slipped through the mailbox—Australia brings out the best in you—gives him an idea. Charlotte is too worn out to resist, and before she knows it they are traveling to the other side of the world. But upon their arrival in Perth, the southern sun shines a harsh light on the couple and gradually reveals that their new life is not the answer either was hoping for.
How we heard about: Nina Sichel promoted it on the Writing Out of Limbo Facebook page.
Why we recommend: The novel explores Bishop’s fascination with a dual sense of longing and nostalgia about two places one considers to be “home.”


him-me-muhammed-ali_coverHim, Me, Muhammad Ali (Sarabande Books, September 19, 2016)
Author: Randa Jarrar
Expat credentials: Jarrar grew up in Kuwait and Egypt. She moved to the United States after the first Gulf War, at the age of 13.
Synopsis: Stories about Middle Eastern women much like Jarrar herself, strong girls and women who’ve somehow landed in the United States, interlaced at times with magic. We travel from Cairo to Yonkers, from the West Bank to Wyoming.
How we heard about: From a tweet by M. Lynx Qualey (@arablit).
Why we recommend: This is Jarrar’s first story collection, following the debut of her first novel, A Map of Home, which won an Arab-American Book Award. As one critic writes, the anthology reflects Jarrar’s own experience of moving between continents and cultures through characters that always seem to be searching for that one place where they fit in: “Often, they don’t, so it’s the nebulous in-between space where their lives unravel.”


tea-planters-wife_coverThe Tea Planter’s Wife (Random House Broadway Books, September 13, 2016)
Author: Dinah Jefferies
Expat credentials: Jefferies was born in Malaysia and moved to England at the age of nine. Her idyllic childhood always held a special place in her imagination, and when she began writing novels in her 60s, she was able to return there—first in her fiction and then on annual research trips for each new novel.
Synopsis: An historical family drama set in Ceylon in the 1920s. Gwendoline, a young Engliah woman, fresh off the boat who has come to join her new husband at his tea plantation. She faces a big culture shock and then a mystery surrounding this man.
How we heard about: Tracey Warr’s interview with Jefferies in her Location, Locution column (published 3 December 2016).
Why we recommend: One of Warr’s other interviewees, Hazel Gaynor, chose this book by Jefferies for its “wonderful sense of location.”


singapore-love-stories_coverSingapore Love Stories (Monsoon Books, September 2016)
Author/Editor: Verena Tay (she contributed “Ex” )
Coordinator/Compiler: Raelee Chapman (she contributed “The Gardener”)
Expat credentials: Tay is based in Singapore but was educated internationally. Chapman is an Australian writer living in Singapore.
Synopsis: Leading Singaporean and Singapore-based writers explore the best and worst of the human condition called love, including grief, duplicity and revenge, self-love, filial love, homesickness and tragic past relationships.
How we heard about: Valentine’s Day post by Trip Fiction, replete with travel tips and giveaway
Why we recommend: The writers are a diverse group, including Singaporeans and expats, both Western expats and expats from within Asia, and also established writers and those published for the first time.


behold-the-dreamers_coverBehold the Dreamers (Penguin/Random House, August 23, 2016)
Author: Imbolo Mbue
Expat credentials: Mbue moved from Cameroon to New York City ten years ago.
Synopsis: The story of a Cameroonian couple and their son who settle in Harlem hoping to capture their piece of the American dream amidst the 2008 financial and housing market crisis.
How we heard about: New York Times Sunday Book Review
Why we recommend: Inspired by Toni Morrison’s novel Song of Solomon, Heinemann’s African Writers Series and British classics she read growing up, Mbue told one interviewer that she decided to write about what she knows best: the Cameroonian immigrant experience.


monsoon-summer_coverMonsoon Summer (Simon and Schuster, August 9, 2016)
Author: Julia Gregson
Expat credentials: Gregson has worked as a journalist and foreign correspondent in the UK, Australia, and the US. She grew up a military brat as her father was in the Royal Air Force. She has worked as a jillaroo in the Australian outback as well as a model for Hardy Amies in London.
Synopsis: An epic postwar love story moving from England to India. English nurse Kit meets Anto, a young Indian doctor finishing up his training at Oxford. They secretly marry and set off for South India—where Kit plans to run the maternity hospital she has already been helping from afar. But life in India does not turn out as she imagined.
How we heard about: From Tracey Warr’s Location Locution interview with Dinah Jefferies, who said she loved Gregson’s East of the Sun for the way it evokes a particular time in India,
Why we recommend: Critics praise Gregson for understanding both the harshness and beauty of India, its land, culture, and history. When researching this novel, Gregson went to Kerala and lived with an Indian family. She traveled in a rice boat up many of the back waters she describes in the book.


still-here_coverStill Here (Hogarth Random House, Aug 2, 2016)
Author: Lara Vapnyar
Expat credentials: Russian-born author Lara Vapnyar moved from Moscow to Brooklyn in 1994 as an adult, picked up English quickly, and started publishing short stories about the daily-life concerns of Russian émigrés like herself.
Synopsis: Vica, Vadik, Sergey and Regina met in Russia in their college days but remained in touch. They now have very different, yet intertwined, lives as immigrants in New York City. The story follows them as they grapple with love and tumult, the challenges of a new home, and the absurdities of the digital age.
How we heard about: New York Times Sunday Book Review
Why we recommend: One reviewer has praised it as “minutely observed, razor funny and wholly wonderful.” That’s a spectacularly high endorsement!


this-must-be-the-place_coverThis Must Be the Place (Knopf, July 19, 2016)
Author: Maggie O’Farrell
Expat credentials: O’Farrell is a domestic expat of sorts. Born in Northern Ireland, she was brought up in Wales and Scotland, and now lives in Edinburgh.
Synopsis: A New Yorker living in the wilds of Ireland, Daniel Sullivan has children he never sees in California, a father he loathes in Brooklyn, and a wife, Claudette, who is a reclusive French-English ex–film star given to pulling a gun on anyone who ventures up their driveway. Once the most glamorous and infamous woman in cinema, she orchestrated her own disappearance, retreating to the seclusion of an Irish farmhouse. All seems well enough until the couple must struggle to hold things together in the face of a secret from Daniel’s past.
How we heard about: New York Times Book Review
Why we recommend: As one Amazon reviewer says, O’Farrell has created a set of “misplaced and lost characters, searching for an authentic place within themselves.” She notes that their “searching leads to external travels and internal jaunts. They are searching: for love, for connection, for identity, for affirmation, for understanding.”


dancingwiththetiger-_coverDancing with the Tiger (Putnam, July 12, 2016)
Author: Lili Wright
Expat credentials: A former journalist who has lived a year in Paris, a year in Italy and two years in Mexico, Wright, who recently earned an MFA, is now a professor at DePaul University in Indiana. During her many trips to Mexico, she has studied Spanish, lived with Mexican families, and had many adventures including watching dancing tigers parade down the streets.
Synopsis: Anna flees her dead-end life in New York City (she has just broken up with her fiancé) to hunt down what her father, a mask collector, believes to be the death mask of Aztec King Montezuma, from an American looter in Mexico.
How we heard about: A press release
Why we recommend: Wright says she tends to mix French, Italian, and Spanish together, but critics say she gets her cultural references just right in her debut novel, set in Mexico.


intrusion_coverIntrusion (Little A, July 1, 2016)
Author: Mary McCluskey
Expat credentials: Born in Warwickshire, McCluskey lived and worked in a number of cities in Europe—London, Brighton, Vienna, Munich, Athens—before finding a home in Los Angeles, California, where she married and gave birth to two sons. She now lives in Stratford-upon-Avon, twenty miles from where she was born, though still spends time in LA. She considers both LA and Stratford “home.”
Synopsis: A psychological drama about a couple dealing with the hardest of losses: the death of their only child, set against the backgrounds of Southern California and Sussex, UK. The marriage is thrown into a tailspin when the wife’s old schoolmate from England shows up, ostensibly to help the couple get over their grief.
How we heard about: TripFiction interview with the author
Why we recommend: McCluskey has lost a child (an experience a couple of authors on our site have had) and knows how it feels. She also has a nuanced view of the differences between the UK and the US.


the-lovers-portrait_coverThe Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery (Traveling Life Press, June 22, 2016)
Author: Jennifer S. Alderson
Expat credentials: After traveling extensively around Asia and Central America, Alderson moved to Darwin, Australia, before finally settling in the Netherlands with her Dutch husband and their son.
Synopsis: In the second of a series following the adventures of traveler and culture lover, Zelda Richardson, Zelda scores an internship at the prestigious Amsterdam Museum, where she works on an exhibition of paintings and sculptures once stolen by the Nazis, When two women claim the same portrait of a young girl entitled Irises, Zelda is tasked with investigating the painting’s history.
How we heard about: Alderson’s first Zelda Richardson novel, Down and Out in Kathmandu, was one of Booklust Wanderlust columnist Beth Green’s three book picks in honor of Mother’s Day this past year. (Notably, Alderson also contributed to Green’s column canvassing several writers on their recommended reads for the not-quite end of summer.)
Why we recommend: The novel draws on the author’s experiences gained while studying art history in the Netherlands and working for several Dutch museums.

Spring 2016

the-girl-and-the-sunbird_coverThe Girl and the Sunbird: A beautiful, epic story of love, loss and hope (Bookouture, June 17, 2016)
Author: Rebecca Stonehill
Expat credentials: Stonehill is from London but currently lives in Nairobi with her husband and three children where she teaches creative writing to school children. Synopsis: East Africa 1903: When 18-year-old Iris Johnson is forced to choose between marrying the frightful Lord Sidcup or a faceless stranger, Jeremy Lawrence, in a far-off land, she bravely decides on the latter. But when Iris meets Jeremy, she realizes in a heartbeat that they will never be compatible. Determined to make the best of her new life, she begins to adjust to her surroundings; the windswept plains of Nairobi and the delightful sunbirds that visit her window every day. And when she meets Kamau, a school teacher, Iris finds her calling, assisting him to teach the local children English.
How we heard about: TripFiction’s interview with Stonehill about her adopted home city of Nairobi
Why we recommend: Many readers compare Stonehill with Victoria Hislop, who has also made our list. Her first book, The Poet’s Wife—based on the 18 months she spent living in Granada—was a big hit with readers.


i-promise-you-this_coverI Promise You This: Book Three in the Love in Provence Series (Lake Union Publishing, May 17, 2016)
Author: Patricia Sands
Expat credentials: A Canadian, Patricia Sands lives in Toronto, but her heart’s other home is the South of France. An avid traveler, she spends part of each year on the Côte d’Azur and occasionally leads groups of women on tours of the Riviera and Provence.
Synopsis: The series follows the adventures of Katherine Price, a sensible Canadian woman who is undergoing a midlife crisis, a symptom of which is falling for a Frenchman named Philippe. She follows Philippe to his idyllic home in Provence but worries it’s a fantasy life. So, is Katherine ready to leave everything behind for an unknown life abroad? We find out in the conclusion to this trilogy about second chances.
How we heard about: TripFiction’s giveaway of Sands’s trilogy
Why we recommend: Sands herself is a good example of second chances, having taken up writing in her 60s. She chose a theme close to her heart: France, which she first fell in love with when she backpacked around the country for a year when she was 21, a love affair that has only grown throughout her life. She considers herself to be a “possibilatarian” and encourages the rest of us to do the same.


the-mirror-thief_coverThe Mirror Thief (Penguin Random House, May 10, 2016)
Author: Martin Seay
Expat credentials: As Seay put it in an interview, one of the sparks that led to the book was his memory of “a couple of misty Lenten backpacker days” in Venice: “at the time and still today the strangest place I’ve ever been.” He now lives in Wheeling, Illinois.
Synopsis: The novel consists of a series of nested stories telling of three Venices in three locations and eras: the Venetian casino in Las Vegas in 2003; Venice Beach, CA, in 1958; and the original city-state, in 1592, the time when its mirror-making industry was at its peak. Seay weaves all three stories together in a tour-de-force.
How we heard about: Made the Publishers Weekly list of most anticipated debut novels of Spring 2016
Why we recommend: The book came out to huge critical praise and has been called, among other things, a “masterpiece,” a “startling gem,” a “beautifully plotted potboiler,” and a “true delight.”


back-to-moscow_coverBack to Moscow (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, May 3, 2016)
Author: Guillermo Erades
Expat credentials: Guillermo Erades was born in Málaga, Spain. As a career diplomat for the European Union, he has held posts in Moscow, Berlin, Baghdad and Brussels, where he is currently based. He has also lived in Leeds, Amsterdam, and Luxembourg. He wrote this book, his first novel, during a two-year posting high-security compound in Baghdad, where there were few distractions.
Synopsis: Martin came to Moscow at the turn of the millennium hoping to discover the country of Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and his beloved Chekhov. Instead he found a city turned on its head, where the grimmest vestiges of Soviet life exist side by side with the nonstop hedonism of the newly rich. Along with his hard-living expat friends, Martin spends less and less time on his studies, choosing to learn about the Mysterious Russian Soul from the city’s unhinged nightlife scene. But as Martin’s research becomes a quest for existential meaning, love affairs and literature lead to the same hard-won lessons. Russians know: There is more to life than happiness.
How we heard about: Made the Publishers Weekly list of most anticipated debut novels of Spring 2016
Why we recommend: The novel draws on Erades’s life in Moscow at the beginning of the Putin years. It was his first EU posting, and he was in his twenties. He found it to be a special time: “There was a lot of fun and adventure and a Wild West feeling.” His book is the expat version of a Bildungsroman. He intended it as an ode to the city of his (mis?)spent, as well as displaced, youth, a motive that those of us who spent our formative years in foreign countries can well understand.


amotherssecret_coverA Mother’s Secret: A beautiful, heartbreaking novel of love, loss and hidden tragedy (Bookouture, April 6, 2016)
Author: Renita D’Silva
Expat credentials: Now living in the UK, D’Silva grew up in a coastal village in South India.
Synopsis: Jaya, the British-born daughter of immigrants, struggles with the unexpected death of her mother, Durga, followed by the loss of her baby son in a tragic cot death. Looking through her mother’s belongings, Jaya finds diaries that unlock the secrets of her mother’s unhappy past, before she emigrated to England. Part of the story is told by Durga, through diary excerpts, and part by Kali, a mad old lady who, like Durga, was doing her best to survive and succeed in traditional Indian culture.
How we heard about: D’Silva’s latest novel was featured in Beth Green’s Booklust, Wanderlust post last May, celebrating displaced female protagonists in honor of Mother’s Day
Why we recommend: D’Silva’s debut novel, Monsoon Memories, about an Indian woman who’d been exiled for more than a decade and is living in London, was a Displaced Nation pick for 2014.


reader-i-married-him_coverReader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre (HarperCollins, March 22, 2016)
Author: Tracy Chevalier
Expat credentials: American by birth, British by geography, Chevalier lives in London with her husband and son. Her first novel, which made her famous, was The Girl with a Pearl Earring.
Synopsis: A collection of short stories by writers across the globe whom she’d asked to respond to the famous opening line of Jane Eyre: “Reader, I married him.” Turkish author Elif Şafak, for instance, contributed a story about an Islamic woman who becomes infatuated with a young Dutchman who has arrived in her town to learn Turkish. Hm, but does she marry him? Linda Grant’s “The Mash-Up” tells of a disastrous wedding between a Jewish woman and a Persian man. (Yes, she did, unfortunately!)
How we heard about: The book release was commissioned as part of the commemorations for Charlotte Brontë’s 200th birthday, for which Chevalier also curated an exhibition at the Brontë Parsonage Museum.
Why we recommend: It’s one of literature’s best-known lines, and we love the idea of having it interpreted by a group of global creatives.

Winter 2016

shelter_coverShelter (Picador, March 15, 2016)
Author: Jung Yun
Expat credentials: Yun was born in South Korea, grew up in North Dakota, and was educated at Vassar College, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She now lives in western Massachusetts.
Synopsis: The story of young Korean American professor Kyung Cho and his Irish-American wife, which leads to the story of the complicated relationship that Kyung has with his wealthy parents. Kyung’s parents immigrated from Korea to the US as his father went to graduate school in engineering. Growing up, they gave him every possible advantage—private tutors, expensive hobbies—but they never showed him kindness.
How we heard about: New York Times Sunday Book Review
Why we recommend: It’s a family drama with a cross-cultural dimension: Kyung chose a white woman in part to distance himself from the rules of his own Korean upbringing, but can he make all of these relationships work?


forty-rooms_coverForty Rooms (Penguin, Feb 16, 2016)
Author: Olga Grushin
Expat credentials: Grushin was born in Moscow but is now based in the United States. She is an American citizen but retains Russian citizenship.
Synopsis: A Russian-born woman aspires to be a poet but ends up becoming Mrs. Caldwell, a housewife and mother in suburban America.
How we heard about: New York Times Sunday Book Review
Why we recommend: Displaced writer Alexandra Fuller, who made my own list for 2015, was favorably impressed.


ways-to-disappear_coverWays to Disappear (Little, Brown and Company, Feb 9. 2016)
Author: Idra Novey
Expat credentials: Born in western Pennsylvania, Novey has lived in Chile, Brazil, and New York.
Synopsis: A noirish literary mystery with a translator at its center. Deep in gambling debt, the celebrated Brazilian writer Beatriz Yagoda is last seen holding a suitcase and a cigar and climbing into an almond tree. She abruptly vanishes. In snowy Pittsburgh, her American translator Emma hears the news and, against the wishes of her boyfriend and Beatriz’s two grown children, flies immediately to Brazil and tries to unravel the mystery.
How we heard about: Made the Publishers Weekly list of most anticipated debut novels of Spring 2016
Why we recommend: Novey is an award-winning poet. This is her first novel and it draws on her experience of working as a translator of Spanish and Portuguese literature.


the-photographers-wife_coverThe Photographer’s Wife (February 2, 2016)
Author: Suzanne Joinson
Expat credentials: For ten years Joinson worked part-time in the literature department of the British Council, traveling regularly in the Middle East, China, Russia, and Eastern and Western Europe. She has worked in and explored Yemen, Egypt, Syrian, Greece, and many other countries.
Synopsis: The casually glamorous Eleanora Ashton scandalizes the British expatriate community in Jerusalem by marrying a famous Arab photographer. But then she falls for William Harrington, a British pilot who is working for the architect Charles Ashton. The affair threatens her marriage, particularly when William discovers that her husband is part of an underground nationalist group intent on removing the British. Years later, in 1937, Ashton’s daughter Prue is an artist living a reclusive life in Shoreham, Sussex, with her son. Harrington arrives and what he reveals unravels her world.
How we heard about: New York Times Sunday Book Review
Why we recommend: Like Joinson’s first novel, A Lady ­Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar, set in Central Asia, the book is concerned with people who feel displaced; as the New York Times reviewer puts it, “they are looking for a guide, a map, some thread to lead them through the maze of their own lives.”


black-deutschland_coverBlack Deutschland (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, February 2, 2016)
Author: Darryl Pinckney
Expat credentials: A black writer from Indiana, Pinkney somehow ended up in the divided Berlin of the seventies and eighties and fell in love with it. Currently he divides his time between New York City, and Oxfordshire, UK.
Synopsis: It’s the early 1980s, and Jed, a young gay black American from Chicago who suffers from an addiction problem, has just finished reading Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories. He is inspired to flee to Berlin in the tradition of other black writers and musicians: he hopes to escape American racism and homophobia.
How we heard about: New York Times Sunday Book Review
Why we recommend: For black writers and musicians in the postwar era, Europe’s cultural capitals provided a space for people like Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Dexter Gordon, Nina Simone and many others to practice and be appreciated first and foremost as artists, rather than be caught up in America’s race tragedy. Pinkney’s second novel imparts an appreciation for this history.


what-belongs-to-you_coverWhat Belongs to You (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, January 19)
Author: Garth Greenwell
Expat credentials: Greenwell moved to Bulgaria to teach at the American College of Sofia in 2009. Because of his non-fluency in Bulgarian, he lived “between languages” but claims to have liked that experience.
Synopsis: An American teacher in Sofia, Bulgaria is barely able to keep up a conversation in Bulgarian or ascribe concrete value to the leva and stotinki he keeps in his wallet. But then he enters into a transactional romance with a handsome and enigmatic Bulgarian male hustler named Mitko. His love for Mitko remains unrequited, but the relationship forces him to grapple with his own fraught history, the world of his southern childhood where to be queer was to be a pariah. There are unnerving similarities between his past and the foreign country he finds himself in.
How we heard about: Made the Publishers Weekly list of most anticipated debut novels of Spring 2016
Why we recommend: As Jeffery Zuckerman puts it in his review for The New Republic:

“Garth Greenwell’s writing is alive to the foreign and the unknown; he opens our eyes to worlds we had not realized existed alongside our own. Even the landscape of Bulgaria, one of the poorest and least-known countries in Europe, is made vivid and vibrant.”


the-expatriates_coverThe Expatriates (Penguin Books, January 12, 2016)
Author: Janice Y. K. Lee
Expat credentials: Janice Y. K. Lee was born and raised in Hong Kong. She received a BA in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard College. A former editor at Elle magazine, Lee lives in New York with her husband and four children.
Synopsis: Lee explores with devastating poignancy the emotions, identities, and relationships of three very different American women living in the same small expat community in Hong Kong.
How we heard about: From the special “Border Crossings” edition of the New York Times Sunday Book Review, focusing on books about global migration.
Why we recommend: As novelist Maggie Pouncey put it in her review of the book, Janice Y.K. Lee is a “female, funny Henry James in Asia.”

* * *

And so we have it: our top picks for displaced fiction that came out in 2016. What do you think, dear reader? Are we missing something you think deserves to be on the list? Kindly let us know in the comments!

ML Awanohara, one of the Displaced Nation’s founders and its current editor, has a section in the weekly Displaced Dispatch where she mentions the latest expat books. Why not subscribe as a treat to yourself during the winter doldrums?

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, and much, much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Photo credits: All photos via Pixabay or Morguefiles.

LOCATION, LOCUTION: For acclaimed British novelist Simon Mawer, not feeling at home anywhere fires creativity


Tracey Warr is here with the extraordinary Simon Mawer, whose work is on a par with Australian-born, U.S.-based Peter Carey and Sri Lankan-born Canadian Michael Ondaatje. Like them, he has used his displacement to produce an award-winning body of fiction.

Greetings, Displaced Nationers.

My guest this month is world-class novelist Simon Mawer.

As ML implied, Mawer is a natural fit for the Displaced Nation. Though British, he has lived in Italy for many years and to this day finds his imagination fired by the extraordinary and the unfamiliar.

He also had a peripatetic upbringing. His father served in the Royal Air Force, and his family spent three years on the island of Cyprus—an experience that informed his novel Swimming to Ithaca (2006)—and a total of five years in Malta.

About his childhood spent in other cultures, Mawer has this to say:

These experiences planted in me a love of the Mediterranean world which has lasted my whole life. They also gave me a taste for exile which I have never lost. When people ask me where I come from I am still unable to reply. I have lived in Italy for more than three decades, but Italy is not home. Home is where the mind is, perhaps.

Returning to the UK for boarding school, Mawer attended Oxford University where he earned a degree in zoology. He spent three years teaching biology at the secondary-school level in the Channel Islands, two years in Scotland, and two in Malta, before moving to Rome where he has lived ever since, teaching biology for over thirty years at St George’s British International School in Rome (he retired in 2010). Because teaching took up so much of his time, he didn’t publish his first novel, Chimera, until age 40, when he sold it to Hamish Hamilton.

Mawer’s ten novels are imbued with a compelling sense of time and place. His characters grapple with their own fraught and hybrid identities. The Bitter Cross (1992) is the only one set in the distant past: taking place in the 16th-century Mediterranean, it explores the theme of exile and belonging through the eyes of one of the last of the English knights, from the vantage point of retirement on the fortress island of Malta.

But the rest of Mawer’s novels take place in the early 20th century, with settings ranging through 1930s Czechoslovakia, 1940s occupied France, wartime Rome, 1950s London during the Cold War, Cyprus, Israel and Palestine.

The following six have won high accolades:

  • Mawer’s first novel, the aforementioned Chimera (1989), tells the story of a part-Italian, part-English archeologist who is haunted by his own past. On an archeological dig in central Italy, he recalls being parachuted into wartime Italy as a Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent. It won the McKitterick Prize for First Novels.
  • Mendel’s Dwarf (1997), described by the New Yorker as “furious, tender and wittily erudite,” blends fact and fiction by telling the story of the fictional Benedict Lambert, a distant descendant of real-life founder of the modern science of genetics, Gregor Mendel. Like Mendel, Lambert struggles to unlock the secrets of heredity and genetic determinism. However, Benedict’s mission is particularly urgent—he was born a dwarf. The book reached the last ten of the Booker Prize and was a New York Times “Book to Remember”.
  • Set partly in wartime Britain and partly in the anarchic world of British rock-climbing in the early seventies, The Fall (2003) is about many kinds of falling: off mountains, into love, out of love, from grace. It was the winner of the 2003 Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature.
  • The Glass Room (2009) centers on a couple who who live in a modernist house that resembles the real-life Villa Tugendhat, which the German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe designed for a wealthy Jewish man and his gentile wife in Brno (now in the Czech Republic). But then the storm clouds of World War II gather and the family flees through Switzerland to the United States. This work was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction and the Wingate Prize, and was a bestseller in the US and the UK. The Guardian described it as “a thing of extraordinary beauty and symmetry,” and the Washington Post found it “eerily erotic and tremendously exciting.” The Glass Room was adapted for the stage from the book’s Czech translation for a performance in the city of Brno (which, incidentally, is the seat of the priory where Mendel performed his experiments).
  • Mawer’s ninth novel, The Girl Who Fell From The Sky (Trapeze in the US) (2012) was described by the Daily Telegraph as “an absorbing novel full of treachery, twilight and terror.” Set during World War II, the novel follows the path of the half-English half-French diplomat’s daughter Marian Sutro. Her hybrid status is an advantage in wartime, and she ends up serving as an agent in occupied Europe. The Guardian once described Sutro as “perhaps the closest thing to a female James Bond in English literature.”
  • Mawer must have enjoyed the company of this complex female protagonist as Marian Sutro returns again in his most recent novel, Tightrope (2015), a cold war thriller set in 1950s London. One of a handful of surviving agents of the Special Operations Executive, Sutro tries to cast off her identity as heroine of the resistance, but the memories of torture, heartbreak and betrayal won’t leave her—nor will the longing for adventure. Tightrope was described by the Sunday Times as “a sophisticated, deviously constructed story,” and by the Mail on Sunday as “gripping stuff, with a sinuous plot and some haunting bedroom scenes.” It won the 2016 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction and was Waterstones Novel of the Month (March 2016).

Mawer has also written two nonfiction books:

* * *

Welcome, Simon, to Location, Locution. Which tends to come first when you get an idea for a new book: story or location?

This very much depends on the book. Most begin with an idea—for example my last pair of novels, The Girl Who Fell From The Sky (Trapeze, in the US) and Tightrope, began with the idea of a young woman—a mere 19 years old—being recruited into a clandestine warfare outfit in the middle of the Second World War. Everything else followed from that. Similarly The Fall began with a literal fall, in this case the fall of a climber from a mountain wall. But once I’d got a mountain involved it was pretty obvious that location was going to become important. Indeed the Sunday Times reviewer drew attention to precisely this:

“What makes The Fall truly valuable, and truly unusual is its sense of landscape. Much British writing these days seems to be self-consciously urban. Mawer’s novel, distinguished by its keen descriptive sense of rock-face, crag, lake, snow and stone, bucks that trend beautifully.”

However, two novels later The Glass Room most definitely began with a location—the mesmerising Tugendhat House in the Czech Republic that I first visited in 1994. Standing in rooms that seemed to have barely changed from the 1930s, in a building that to this day remains a touchstone for modernist design, it was obvious for me to think, “There’s a story here.” I’m a writer of fiction so the subsequent story had to be my own creation rather than the true story of the family that built the house; but there is no doubt that location came first.

the-glass-room-collage-w-quote

What is your technique for evoking the atmosphere of the various places where you’ve set your four novels?

If there were only one technique it would be easy (and dull). There are many techniques but for me underlying everything is the idea that the reader must do some work. The writer’s task is to stir the imagination not replace it. So you evoke place with small hints, little details, small observations, and you rely on the intelligence of the reader to create the whole picture in his or her head. Don’t underestimate the literary intelligence of the reader—the ones without it are probably watching TV anyway. At best they’ll only be reading Dan Brown.

Which particular features create a sense of location: landscape, culture, food?

It depends on the location. For landscape one tends to resort to descriptive devices, leavened with metaphor of course. But it’s important not to overdo it and to restrain yourself from indulging in purple prose. Description should be brushed into the narrative with rapid, impressionist strokes. Urban locations, on the other hand, lend themselves to cultural references (see the example below).

Can you give a brief example from your writing that illustrates place?

How about Paris immediately after the war, as described in Tightrope:

Her first visit to the city since the war. Paris with a superficial gloss to it, like a piece of silver plate that has been polished up but is still worn away in places to show the base metal beneath: the drab buildings in need of cleaning, the broken pavements, the impoverished shops. But Paris with a strange, febrile vitality, Paris that was home to the theatre of the absurd and was itself a kind of theatre with people performing on its various stages, writers in the cafés of the Left Bank, politicians treading the boards of the National Assembly or berating crowds in place de la Bastille, black jazzmen from America sounding off in basements and cellars, models strutting on catwalks wearing clothes that outraged the poor of Saint-Denis and Belleville, tarts and pimps on the pavements of Pigalle. Paris canaille.

Paris canaille? Coarse, tawdry, crooked Paris. It’s the title of a song of the time written by Léo Ferré and first made popular by Catherine Sauvage. If the readers get that, great. If not, it doesn’t matter. But give them the opportunity to find out if they want to. You’ll find it here.

In general, how well do you think you need to know a place before using it as a setting?

It is possible to know a place too well. I have lived in Italy for about 40 years and have written very little that is set in this country. It is too familiar to me (yes, Italy can become too familiar!). What fires my imagination is the extraordinary and the unfamiliar—so I’ve set novels in Israel/Palestine, Czechoslovakia, World War II London, Cyprus, 16th-century Malta. Of course once your imagination has been lit, then it is necessary to get to know the place sufficiently to write about it with conviction without ever losing the sense of newness and discovery.

Which writers do you admire for the way they use location?

Perhaps one writer above all: Graham Greene. He was a master at location, so much so that critics even bestowed his name on the world that his characters inhabit: Greeneland. You know it. It’s hot, arid, run down, plagued with dust and corruption and lost faith. That’s the ultimate achievement, to create a world so vivid that it transcends any real location and instead belongs entirely to you, the creator.

So true! I should tell you that my last guest, the novelist Dinah Jefferies, chose one of your books—The Girl Who Fell from the Sky—in answer to this question.

Thanks so much, Simon, for joining us. It’s been a pleasure, as always.

* * *

Readers, any questions for Simon? Please leave them in the comments below.

Meanwhile, if you would like to discover more about Simon Mawer and his novels, I suggest you visit his author site. You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

À bientôt! Till next time…

* * *

Thank you so much, Tracey and Simon! I have to say I’m particularly intrigued by Simon’s statement that he’s written very little in Italy despite (because of?) having lived 40 years in the country. That suggests that we international creatives should get started sooner rather than later if we decide to write about our adopted homes! —ML Awanohara

Tracey Warr is an English writer living mostly in France. She has published two medieval novels with Impress Books. She recently published, in English and French, a future fiction novella, Meanda, set on a watery exoplanet, as an Amazon Kindle ebook. Her latest medieval novel, Conquest: Daughter of the Last King, set in 12th-century Wales and England, came out in October.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of biweekly posts from The Displaced Nation and much, much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Photo credits:
Top visual: The World Book (1920), by Eric Fischer via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); “Writing? Yeah.” by Caleb Roenigk via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); author photo, supplied; Roman scene via Pixabay; Cyprus. Nicosia 1969 – 70, by Brian Harrington Spier via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); and Street and Glastonbury Tor taken from Walton Hill, by Edwin Graham via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0).
“Glass Room” visual: (top) Mies van Der Rohe- Tugendhat House, 1930, by Rory Hyde via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); (bottom left) The Glass Room on stage at the City Theatre, Brn (Pavla Vitázková as Liesel, Svetlana Jantová as Kata), supplied; and Simon Mawer relaxing in the living room of the Tugendhat House, with the director of the house, Iveta Černá looking on, supplied.
“Paris as theatre” visual: (clockwise from top left): Acetate fabrics by Robert Perrier, 1951 Autumn-Winter via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0); Screenshot from Catherine Sauvage “Paris Canaille” (live official), Archive INA; Waiting for Godot (cover detail) via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0); and Zsa Zsa Gabor playing Jane Avril in the film Moulin Rouge (1952) via Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain 1.0).

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Best of expat fiction 2015

The title of this post is a lie: you didn’t miss anything. It’s we who missed our deadline of publishing, at the end of 2015, a list of books for, by and about expats.

Dare I suggest that our procrastination could prove fortuitous? Most of us have more time to read now that the holidays are over and the doldrums have set in—along with, for some of us (I refer to those on the East Coast of the USA), a spell of blizzardous weather. What better time to curl up with a book that in some way relates to the themes of international adventure and displacement?

Without further ado, allow me to offer my curated list of the best novels by, for, and about expats and other international creatives in 2015. (Nonfiction coming soon, we promise!)

PLEASE NOTE: The books, which include indie as well as traditionally published novels, are arranged in reverse chronological order.

* * *

Year of the GooseYearoftheGoose_cover_400x (Unnamed Press, December 2015)
Author: Carly J. Hallman
Expat credentials: A native Texan, Hallman lives in Beijing. This is her first novel.
Synopsis: A comic novel about China’s era of the instant tycoon, which has been described as “unhinged”, “outrageous”, “deranged” and “hilarious. The oligarchical, tabloid-driven society it portrays is not unlike our own, which may be why the book was listed as one of the BBC’s 10 books to read in December 2015 as well as selected for the December 2015 Indie Next list.
How we heard about: The Anthill blog


TheNavyWife_cover_400xThe Navy Wife (December 2016)
Author: Helena Halme
Expat credentials: Originally from Finland, Halme has lived in the UK with her British husband for many years.
Synopsis: The sequel to Halme’s well-received autobiographical novel The Englishman (reviewed here by Displaced Nation founder Kate Allison), which concerns a long-distance romance between a Finnish woman, Kaisa, and a British naval officer, Peter. We see the couple, despite having tied the knot, facing a number of obstacles and threats to living happily ever after—especially when Kaisa doesn’t take well to the life of a military spouse in a foreign country.How we heard about: Social media, and a comment by Halme on one of our posts.


Seafled_cover_400xSeafled (November 2015), Burnt Sea (August 2015) & Seaswept (April 2015)
Author: Jordan Rivet (aka Shannon Young)
Expat credentials: An American, Young has lived in Hong Kong for the past few years with her half-Chinese husband, a Hong Kong native.
Synopsis: A post-apocalyptic adventure series set on a souped-up cruise ship, featuring a prickly female mechanic named Esther. The series, called the Seabound Chronicles, consists of three books and a prequel.
How we heard about: Young writes the popular “Diary of an Expat Writer” column for the Displaced Nation.


TheJapaneseLover_cover_400xThe Japanese Lover (Atria Books, November 2015)
Author: Isabel Allende
Expat credentials: Born in Lima, Peru, to a Chilean diplomatic family, Allende lived in various countries, including Chile, Bolivia, and Beirut. As an adult she worked in Belgium and elsewhere in Europe; she also lived for over a decade in Venezuela. She currently lives in San Rafael, California.
Synopsis: A cross-cultural love story that sweeps from present-day San Francisco to WWII-era Poland the United States. It explores questions of identity, abandonment, and redemption.
How we heard about it: Who hasn’t heard about it? It was one of the most anticipated books of 2015!


TheDisobedientWife_cover_400xThe Disobedient Wife (Cinnamon Press, November 2015)
Author: Annika Milisic-Stanley
Expat credentials: Born to Swedish and Anglo-German parents, Milisic-Stanley grew up in England and now lives in Rome. She says she based the plot on stories she heard when living in Dushanbe as a humanitarian aid worker for several years.
Synopsis: The story of the friendship that forms between a poor, courageous local woman in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, and her employer, a trailing expat wife married to a British diplomat.
How we heard about: An interview with Kristin Louise Duncombe, an American writer who has lived in Europe since 2001.


CrimeRave_cover_400xCrime Rave (The Margins Press, November 2015)
Author: Sezin Koehler
Expat credentials: Koehler is an adult Third Culture Kid who lived in Prague for some years and now lives in Florida. She has written several posts for the Displaced Nation, including a two-part series listing movies that depict the horrors of being abroad or otherwise displaced.
Synopsis: The second installment to her debut novel, American Monsters. Picking up where that one left off while jumping genres, the new book presents an alternate universe in which goddesses have free reign over humans, trauma goes hand in hand with superpowers, and Marilyn Monroe lives.
How we heard about: A Facebook post by Koehler


ADecentBomber_cover_400xA Decent Bomber (November 2015)
Author: Alexander McNabb
Expat credentials: A Brit who has been working in, living in and traveling around the Middle East for some thirty years, McNabb was featured on The Displaced Nation three years ago for his “Levant Cycle” trilogy.
Synopsis: Another political thriller—but this one is set in Northern Ireland and concerns a former IRA bomb maker who is drafted against his will into joining the War on Terror.
How we heard about: He sent us a heads up, and Beth Green reviewed the book in her last column. She found it well researched, well written and an enjoyable read.


ThePalestInk_cover_400xThe Palest Ink (Lake Union Publishing, October 2015)
Author: Kay Bratt
Expat credentials: Bratt lived in China for almost five years, where she “fell in love enough with the people to want to write about them forever.” She has since repatriated to the hills of North Carolina. (She is also the author of a memoir, Silent Tears: A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage. )
Synopsis: A story that depicts the coming-of-age of a sheltered son from an intellectual family in Shanghai, during a tumultuous period of Chinese history: the Cultural Revolution.
How we heard about: Kindle promotion.


Olivia&Sophia_cover_400xOlivia & Sophia (Monsoon Books, October 2015)
Author: Rosie Milne
Expat credentials: A native Brit, Milne has lived all over Asia; she currently lives in Singapore, where she runs the Asian Books Blog.
Synopsis: A fictional account of the lives of the first and second wives of the founder of the British trading post of Singapore, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. Set in London, Java, Sumatra and Singapore, against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars—the story takes the form of two fictionalized diaries, one by each of Raffles’s wives: Olivia Devinish and Sophia Hull. Milne “takes us away from the cold, damp confines of Georgian London to the muggy, hostile tropics and to the titillations and tribulations of a life far away from home.”
How we heard about: When Rosie Milne was “wonderlanded” on our site, we published a couple of excerpts from the book.


NowhereChild_coverNowhere Child (Black Dot Publishing, October 2015)
Author: Rachel Abbott
Expat credentials: Abbott fled from the corporate life to Italy, which gave her the opportunity to start writing psychological thrillers. Her first one was a break-out hit on Kindle, and she hasn’t looked back. Currently, Abbott divides her time between Italy (where she lives in an apartment in an old fort, which overlooks the sea) and Alderney, in the Channel Islands (just off the coast of France). But although the expat life gave her a new career as a writer, Abbott sets her books mostly in her native Manchester.
Synopsis: A stand-alone novella featuring the same characters as Abbott’s Stranger Child. Eight months ago Tasha Joseph ran away, and her stepmother, Emma, has been searching for her ever since—as are the police, since Tasha could be a vital witness in a criminal trial.
How we heard about: Lorraine Mace interviewed Abbott for her Location, Locution column in December.


TheHundredYearFlood_cover_400xThe Hundred-Year Flood (Little A, September 2015)
Author: Matthew Salesses
Expat credentials: Salesses was adopted from Korea at the age of two and often writes about race and adoption. This is his first full-length novel.
Synopsis: The mythical and magical story of a 22-year-old Korean-American’s escape to Prague in the wake of his uncle’s suicide and the aftermath of 9/11. He tries to convince himself that living in a new place will mean a new identity and a chance to shed the parallels between himself and his adopted father.
How we heard about: Social media


TheDressmaker_cover_400xThe Dressmaker (Penguin Books, August 2015*)
Author: Rosalie Ham
Expat credentials: Born and raised in Jerilderie, Australia, Ham now lives in Melbourne. Like most Australians, she has had a period of traveling and living overseas.
Synopsis: A darkly satirical tale of love, revenge, and 1950s fashion. After twenty years spent mastering the art of dressmaking at couture houses in Paris, Tilly Dunnage returns to the small Australian town she was banished from as a child. She plans only to check on her ailing mother and leave. But Tilly decides to stay, and though she is still an outcast, her exquisite dresses prove irresistible to the prim women of Dungatar. Note: The book is soon to be a film starring Kate Winslet and Liam Hemsworth.
How we heard about: A book review in the New York Times
*Originally published in 2000, this is the film adaptation of the book.


CirclingtheSun_cover_400xCircling the Sun (Ballantine Books, July 2015)
Author: Paula McLain
Expat credentials: None! Her breakout novel, The Paris Wife, was about an expat: Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, whose passionate marriage ended as her husband shot into literary stardom. This time her focus is the Happy Valley set, a decadent community of Europeans in 1920s colonial Kenya. As she told NPR in a recent interview:

You know, I wrote most of The Paris Wife in a coffee shop in Cleveland. I don’t have to tell you that a Starbucks in Cleveland is about as far away from a Parisian cafe as you can possibly get. And I also wrote about Kenya, the wild African frontier, from my home in Cleveland without having ever gone there. You can’t really visit colonial Kenya, can you? You can’t really visit Paris in 1922, except in your imagination.

Synopsis: Based on the real-life story of the fearless and captivating Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator who became caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa.
How we heard about: A New York Times review by the expat writer Alexandra Fuller.


TheAmbassadorsWife_cover_400xThe Ambassador’s Wife (Doubleday, July 2015)
Author: Jennifer Steil
Expat credentials: A Boston-born former journalist, Steil is married to a Brit who once served as ambassador to Yemen, where a suicide bomber attacked him. She is also the author of The Woman Who Fell from the Sky, a memoir about her experiences running a newspaper in Yemen. She lives in Bolivia, where her husband is the European Union ambassador.
Synopsis: A harrowing account of the kidnapping of an American woman in the Middle East and the heartbreaking choices she and her husband, the British ambassador to an Arab country, must make in the hope of being reunited.
How we heard about: Shortlisted in the New York Times Book Review as a “marriage plots” novel.


TheStarSideofBurnHill_cover_400xThe Star Side of Bird Hill (Penguin Press, June 2015)
Author: Naomi Jackson
Expat credentials: A Third Culture Kid, Jackson was born and raised in Brooklyn by West Indian parents. After attending the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she traveled to South Africa on a Fulbright scholarship and earned an MA in creative writing from the University of Cape Town.
Synopsis: The story of two sisters, ages ten and sixteen, who are suddenly sent from Brooklyn to Bird Hill in Barbados after their mother can no longer care for them. The young Phaedra and her older sister, Dionne, live for the summer of 1989 with their grandmother Hyacinth, a midwife and practitioner of the local spiritual practice of obeah.
How we heard about: Shortlisted in the New York Times Book Review as a “coming of age” novel.


TheWolfBorder_cover_400xThe Wolf Border (Harper, June 2015)
Author: Sarah Hall
Expat credentials: Born in northwest England, Hall lived in Wales while attending Aberystwyth. She went on to study in Scotland (St. Andrews) for an MA, where she met and married an American law student. Though the marriage was short-lived, its legacy was substantial: a move to the US proved the catalyst she needed to embark on novel writing. The pair was based in the small town of Lexington, Virginia, after her husband was awarded a scholarship to a nearby law school. At that time, Hall visited the Idaho reservation that appears in this book. She currently lives in Norwich, UK.
Synopsis: About a controversial scheme to reintroduce the Grey Wolf to the English countryside, which brings zoologist Rachel Caine, who has lived a solitary existence in a remote section of Idaho, far away from her estranged family in England, back to the peat and wet light of the Lake District. The novel explores the fundamental nature of wilderness and wildness—as well as the frontier of the human spirit.
How we heard about: A book review in the New York Times


IntheCountry_cover_400xIn the Country: Stories (Knopf, June 2016)
Author: Mia Alvar
Expat credentials: Born in the Philippines, Alvar was raised in Bahrain and the United States. She now lives in New York City. This is her first book.
Synopsis: A collection of nine short stories about Filipinos living overseas. Alvar has imagined the lives of exiles, emigrants, and wanderers who uprooted their families from the Philippines to begin new lives in the Middle East, the United States, and elsewhere—and, sometimes, turned back again.
How we heard about: A book review in the New York Times


TheDiversClothesLieEmpty_cover_400xThe Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty (Ecco, June 2015)
Author: Vendela Vida
Expat credentials: Born and raised in San Francisco, Vida is the daughter of two immigrant parents: a Swedish mother and a Hungarian father. She has become known for producing “travel trauma” narratives, exploring the lives of competent women who feel disintegrating marriages for distant lands (i.e., the Philippines, Finland and Turkey). Her latest novel, considered to be her “finest work” to date, was inspired by a trip she took to Morocco where her bag was stolen.
Synopsis: A literary thriller that probes the malleability of identity, told with lush detail and a sense of humor. Robbed of her money and passport in Casablanca, Morocco, an American woman feels free to be anyone she chooses.
How we heard about: A book review in the New York Times.


ChinaRichGirlfriend_cover_400xChina Rich Girlfriend (Doubleday, June 2015)
Author: Kevin Kwan
Expat credentials: Born and raised in Singapore, Kwan has lived in Manhattan for the past two decades. He says he still craves “craves pineapple tarts and a decent plate of Hokkien mee.“
Synopsis: Follows the story of the culture-shocked Rachel Chu as she searches for her mysterious birth father in Shanghai in hopes he’ll walk her down the isle at her upcoming wedding. The book is a sequel to Kwan’s 2013 bestseller, Crazy Rich Asians, picking up a few years after those events. Both books take place in the world of Hong Kong and Singapore’s super-super elite.
How we heard about: A book review in the New York Times


TheRocks_cover_400xThe Rocks (Riverhead Books, May 2015)
Author: Peter Nichols
Expat credentials: Nichols grew up partially on Mallorca (while attending boarding school in England), where he got to know other Northern Europeans. He has worked in advertising and as a screenwriter, and a shepherd in Wales. He divides his time between Europe and the United States. In 1997 he produced a riveting memoir, Sea Change, telling of the time when he set off alone across the Atlantic in his beloved 27-foot wooden engineless sailboat, Toad, which he and his (now ex-) wife had lived on for six years, fixing it up, making it into their home, sharing adventures on it.
Synopsis: A tragic double romance, told in reverse, primarily set in a seaside resort in Mallorca and its enduring expat community.
How we heard about: From a book review in the New York Times.


coming-home_cover_400xComing Home (Mira, April 2015)
Author: Annabel Kantaria
Expat credentials: A Telegraph Expat blogger who has been featured on the Displaced Nation, Kantaria has lived in Dubai with her family for several years.
Synopsis: The story of a woman living in Dubai because she wants to flee the pain of her brother’s death but then heads for home upon receiving word of her father’s sudden death. Kantaria says that writing the book helped her “explore that push and pull and sense of displacement you feel when you have a foot in two countries.”
How we heard about: A Telegraph Expat post on expat-themed summer reads, by Rosie Milne


APlaceCalledWinter_cover_400xA Place Called Winter (Grand Central Publishing, March 2015)
Author: Patrick Gale
Expat credentials: Born in the Isle of Wight, Gale was an expat of sorts when his family moved to London. During his misspent youth, he lived at one point in a crumbling French chateau. He now lives on a farm near Land’s End.
Synopsis: The story of a privileged Edwardian man who has a homosexual affair and, for fear of arrest, is forced to abandon his wife and child: he signs up for emigration to the Canadian prairies. He reaches a world as far away as possible from the golden suburbs of turn-of-the-century England. The story is loosely based on a real-life family mystery of Gale’s gentleman great-grandfather. The plot in a nutshell: “To find yourself, you must sometimes lose everything.”
How we heard about: Gale was a featured author at the Port Eliot Festival, which takes place yearly on an ancient estate in Saint Germans, Cornwall, UK.


TheArtofUnpackingYourLife_cover_400xThe Art of Unpacking Your Life (Bloomsbury Reader, March 2015)
Author: Shireen Jilla
Expat credentials: A journalist-turned-novelist who now lives in London, Jilla has been an expat in Paris, Rome, and New York. The Displaced Nation did a feature on her first novel, Exiled, about a British expat wife in New York.
Synopsis: The story of a group of university friends who set out on the holiday of a lifetime, a safari in the Kalahari, only to find they don’t have much in common any more.
How we heard about: Social media and then Beth Green interviewed her.


TheTehranText_cover_400xThe Tehran Text – The Tana Standish Spy Series #2 (Crooked Cat Publishing, February 2015)
Author: Nik Morton
Expat credentials: Morton spent 23 years in the Royal Navy, during which he had the chance to visit (among others) Rawalpindi, the Khyber Pass, Sri Lanka, Tokyo, Zululand, Mombasa, Bahrain, Tangier, Turkey, Norway, Finland, South Georgia and the Falklands. He has also traveled widely in his private life. He and his wife are now retired in Alicante, Spain.
Synposis: Second of Morton’s Cold War thrillers featuring psychic spy Tana Standish (first was The Prague Papers). Iran is in ferment and the British Intelligence Service wants Tana Standish’s assessment. It appears that CIA agents are painting too rosy a picture, perhaps because they’re colluding with the state torturers…
How we heard about: Lorraine Mace interviewed Morton for her Location, Locution column last July.


Outline_cover_400xOutline (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, January 2015)
Author: Rachel Cusk
Expat credentials: Born in Canada, Cusk spent much of her childhood in Los Angeles. She moved to the UK in 1974 and is a graduate of Oxford University. She now lives in London.
Synopsis: About a divorced writer who lives in London with her two youngish children, covering the several days she spends in Athens, where she has gone to teach a writing class. She ends up spending time with a much older Greek bachelor she met on the plane.
How we heard about: A book review in the New York Times

* * *

Tell me, what have I missed? I’m sure I’ve missed loads!! Kindly leave your recommendations for novels for, by, and about expats that came out in 2015 in the comments!

ML Awanohara, one of the Displaced Nation’s founders and its current editor, has a section in the weekly Displaced Dispatch where she mentions the latest expat books. Why not subscribe for the new year?

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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Photo credits: All photos via Pixabay or Morguefiles.

CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Newbie expats, to keep waves of culture shock from crashing over you, practice the art of tacking

Culture Shock Toolbox Beth Green

Beth Green at a Buddhist temple in Cebu City in the Philippines, during Chinese New Year (supplied).

Transitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol is back with her latest interview guest.

Ahoy, Displaced Nationers! This month, fellow Displaced Nation columnist Beth Green takes us on a brief tour of her extensive, initially aquatic travels. You know how children test the waters? Well, Beth got to do that quite literally. That’s right, Beth spent her childhood on a sailboat! Doesn’t that sound mouth-watering? Though I must admit that with my predisposition for motion sickness I’d probably spend most of the time with my head over the railing.

Anyhoo, Beth now lives on land—in Prague, the Czech Republic—where she works as a freelance writer and English-language coach. She is also a member of the Sisters in Crime mystery writers’ association. Upon discovering she is a traveler, bookworm and lover of spookiness, I knew I had to interview Beth for this column! And luckily for us, she kindly agreed to share her culture shock stories.

Join us as we talk about opening a conversation with an apology, cringing at our own meltdowns, sending stuff back in restaurants (or not!), and working weekends to make up for weekday public holidays (say what?!). You never know, you may pick up a few items for your culture shock toolbox!

* * *

Hi, Beth. Welcome to my column! As a TCK and an ATCK, you’ve led a peripatetic life. Tell us a little about where you’ve lived…

I’ve never lived anywhere for very long! As a kid, I traveled with my parents on a sailboat. We were in the Caribbean for seven years and the South Pacific for two, with stops along the coastal United States in between. I went to high school in Alaska and to university in the continental USA, but my junior year of university I went to Spain on exchange for a year. That experience inspired me to move to Europe when I graduated and work for a bit. I lived in the Czech Republic for three years, where I met my now-husband (who’s Australian…of course!). Then, we moved to China together to teach English. We were there for four-and-a-half years all together—but with a break in the middle when we did a long backpacking tour of Southeast Asia and India that included living on an island in Thailand for five months. After touching down briefly in the Philippines and Thailand again, we’ve been back in the Czech Republic for the past two years.

In the course of these many transitions, have you ever ended up with your foot in your mouth?

Oh, sure! The first time I moved to the Czech Republic I quickly realized I needed to start every conversation in Czech with an apology. That way I could make up for the inevitable times when I forgot to whom I should give kisses on the cheek rather than shake hands, or failed to greet everyone properly (as is customary in many more situations in Central Europe than in other cultures—you say “hello” and “goodbye” even to strangers in elevators). China as well was a tricky place to stay on the right side of etiquette. Speaking of which, I can recall an embarrassing meltdown I had once in China after being served a mango-papaya smoothie (what I had actually ordered, I realized later) rather than a melon smoothie like I thought I was getting. I lost all kinds of “face” that day.

Art of European Cheek Kissing

Photo credit: Women kissing at bus stop in Paris, France, by Steven Depolo via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

How should you have handled that situation? What if any tools have you developed to adapt to this kind of scenario?

What I should have done—and what I learned to do later when I inevitably ordered the wrong thing due to either fanciful names on the menu or my ham-tongued attempts to speak and understand Mandarin—was just to give my smoothie to someone else and order another one. In certain cultures, you just can’t send stuff back in a restaurant! In other words, I had to get better at tacking: that’s when you zigzag back and forth with your sailboat instead of sailing right into the wind. I had to reminding myself constantly that expect the unexpected and not to make too many waves. Like the time in China when I was told that we would all work on Saturday to make up for a public holiday on Monday. What? That’s considered normal? Well, this will be a fun story later! And, I’d better make a note to check my next contract veeerrry thoroughly!

Smoothie debacle collage

Photo credits: (Top) Charm- and confidence-boosting smoothie, Ghangzhou, China, by Cory Doctorow via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Breakfast (Shanghai, China), by Martin Slavin via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); dissatisfied character via Pixabay.

Can you think of a situation you handled with finesse, and why do you think that was?

I feel like my latest move, back to Europe from Asia, went well because I made a decision not to hard on myself when the waters got choppy. I also decided to take measures right away that past experience had taught would help lower my stress; for instance:

  • hiring someone to help with my visa paperwork (instead of doing on my own);
  • asking for help finding an apartment instead of taking the DIY approach;
  • joining a co-working space right off the bat (even before the apartment) so that I had a quiet place to work even when everything else was up in the air; and
  • enrolling in a refresher language course.

Of course, I’m lucky that I had the option to do all of those things—not everyone will when they move cultures.

If you had any advice for someone moving abroad for the first time, what tool would you suggest they develop first and why?

This advice is easy to give and hard to follow: develop patience and also trust in yourself: you will make progress eventually. Patience for yourself for not “catching on” quickly to situations (I find that culture shock seems to lower your IQ a bit at first!), patience for local people who might not understand your expectations (even though they’re crystal clear to you), patience for the culture shock itself. If we go back to our sailing metaphor: By tacking, you move into the wind gradually. But the zigzagging doesn’t necessarily slow you down. You can learn to tack efficiently—that’s what I tried to do when seeking help for some of the more stressful challenges of settling back into life in Prague. Use your first few months wisely, and eventually your culture shock will go away! Tacking is the Blu-Tack of the culture shock toolkit.

Tacking is the Blu-Tack

Photo credits: Tacking upwind, by Tom Purves via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Old blu-tack packaging, by Clive Darra via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Thank you so much, Beth, for sharing your experience with us! Like you said, if you develop the sailor’s tacking skill, soon it’ll all be water under the bridge. Plus, as you also pointed out, you’ll have great travel yarns to share! In the end, it’s the situations that are most difficult to navigate that make for the best lessons, right?! That’s what I love about culture shock: the lessons we learn and the way our horizons shift as a result.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Beth’s advice? If you like what she has to say, I recommend you visit her Booklust, Wanderlust book review column here on the Displaced Nation, as well as her personal site. And as those who frequent her column know, she’s a social media nut: find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Well, hopefully this has you “fixed” until next month.

Until then. Prost! Santé!

H.E. Rybol is a TCK and the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and Culture Shock Toolbox. She loves animals, piano, yoga and being outdoors. You can find her on Twitter, Linkedin and Goodreads. She recently launched a new Web site and is now working on her second book.  

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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LOCATION, LOCUTION: Nik Morton draws from his nomadic expat life to author genre fiction

Location Locution
Columnist Lorraine Mace, aka Frances di Plino, is back with her very first interview guest, the extraordinary Nik Morton. (Nik, thank you for giving the Displaced Nation a shout-out in one of your recent posts!)

Hello, readers. This month we have the delight of discovering how Nik Morton, a British-born resident of Spain who is also a prolific author, handles location, locution.

Although Nik has fifty years of writing experience, having sold hundreds of articles and more than a hundred short stories, he came late to being a published author. His first novel, a western, came out in 2007. This year he will publish his twenty-second book—Catacomb, the second in his Avenging Cat crime series. (The first was Catalyst and the third will be Cataclysm. All are named for the series’ protagonist, the Avenging Catherine Vibrissae.)

In addition to this contemporary crime series, which he publishes with Crooked Cat (there’s that feline theme again!), Nik has written:

  • westerns (Black Horse series, under the pseudonym Ross Morton, published by Robert Hale)
  • fantasy (co-written with Gordon Faulkner under the pseudonym Morton Faulkner, published by Knox Robinson)
  • Cold War thrillers (the Tana Standish series, which Crooked Cat will reissue).

Nik has run writing workshops and chaired writers’ circles, and has been a magazine editor, a publisher’s editor, and even an illustrator. His writing guide, Write a Western in 30 Days: With Plenty of Bullet-Points!, is said to be useful for all genre writers, not only writers of westerns.

Spain, where he currently lives, was the inspiration for the stories collected in Spanish Eye.

Spain is one of several inspiration sources for the well-travelled writer Nik Morton.

Nik was displaced, incidentally, long before he and his wife retired to Alicante. He spent 23 years in the Royal Navy, during which he had the chance to visit many exotic places—among them Rawalpindi, the Khyber Pass, Sri Lanka, Tokyo, Zululand, Mombasa, Bahrain, Tangier, Turkey, Norway, Finland, South Georgia and the Falklands. He has also travelled widely in his private life, giving him a wealth of places to draw on in his works in addition to his current home of Spain.

* * *

Which comes first, story or location?

This is a tough question, and the answer is ‘it depends’. For my seven western novels, the character and the story came first; the location for each required research for the period and the State, usually Dakota Territory.

Yet location definitely comes first for my Cold War thrillers featuring psychic spy Tana Standish: The Prague Papers, The Tehran Text and the third, a work in progress, The Khyber Chronicle. Each adventure in the series is based around actual historic events, so the location is crucial.

I’ve always hankered after writing about exotic places, and as you mentioned in your introduction, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel widely, both privately and with the Royal Navy. My wife and I lived for 20 months in Malta and out of that location emerged a cross-genre novel, a modern-day vampire romantic thriller, now out of print.

We’ve visited Tenerife on five separate occasions and from that evolved my romantic thriller, Blood of the Dragon Trees.

Having lived in Spain for over 11 years, I’ve absorbed quite a bit about the politics and crime situation here and have had 22 short stories published set in Spain, collected in Spanish Eye—exploring the human condition as seen through the eyes of Leon Cazador, half-English, half-Spanish private eye, written ‘in his own words’.

For my latest crime series about ‘the avenging cat’, Catherine Vibrissae, the story definitely came first: but the exotic locations were a close second—Barcelona (Catalyst), Morocco (Catacomb) and Shanghai (Cataclysm).

What’s your technique for evoking the atmosphere of a place?

Place is important in almost every scene; I want the reader to see the characters in the scene, so the place needs to be described in relation to them. Character point of view can provide an emotional appreciation of the scene too. The rugged, inhospitable High Atlas of Morocco, for example, can be strengthened by the character experiencing the intense heat and the almost preternatural silence of the place.

Technique: be there, in the scene. Of course you can’t overburden the story with too much description, but the weather, the flora and maybe even fauna, the landscape as character, all have their input at various times. If I can’t visualise the scene through my characters’ eyes, then there’s little chance that the reader will. I may not always succeed, but that’s what I strive towards—using all of the character’s senses.

Which particular features create a sense of location? Landscape, culture, food?

All of the above, depending on the dramatic content of the scene. People have to eat to live, so it’s natural that my characters eat from time to time. I don’t want to labour the point for the reader, but if I simply wrote ‘Corbin ate a meal at the hotel and then went out,’ then we’re in the realms of ‘tell’ not ‘show’; which has its place from time to time, but perhaps mentioning some particular food can make it more ‘real’ and show more of the character, such as:

Stomach full with Chili de Sangre Anaranjada, Corbin read the local newspaper in the hotel lounge, allowing the beef and pork to digest. He had complimented the chef, a Swede by the moniker of Iwan Morelius. Apparently, Morelius had been on the staff of Baron Ernst Mattais Peter von Vegesack, who had been given leave to fight for the Union. While the baron returned to Sweden after the war, Morelius stayed and Mr Canaan, the hotel manager, was vociferously proud of his culinary acquisition.

—From The $300 Man, by Ross Morton (p. 84)

Culture is definitely relevant if the story takes place abroad—whether that’s Prague or Shanghai. And we’ve already touched upon landscape, which can become a character that tests individuals to the limit.

Can you give a brief example of your work which illustrates place?

This cafe in Tenerife will soon be populated by characters from Nik Morton's imagination. Photo credit: Tenerife, Canary Islands, by Carrie Finley-Bajak[https://www.flickr.com/photos/cruisebuzz/8158748971] via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

This cafe in Tenerife will soon be populated by characters from Nik Morton’s imagination. Photo credit: Tenerife, Canary Islands, by Carrie Finley-Bajak via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

In Blood of the Dragon Trees, Laura has come to Tenerife to teach a couple of Spanish children. I wanted to create an ambiance while moving her through the story. She is waiting for Andrew Kirby, a mystery man who attracts her:

Clutching her Corte Inglés shopping bag, Laura arrived at the square about fifteen minutes early and, as usual, the adjoining roads were jammed with delivery trucks and a variety of taxis: Mercedes, Toyota, Seat, Peugeot. She was lucky and grabbed a café’s outdoor table with two vacant chairs. She sat and politely fended off the attentive waiter, explaining in Spanish that she would order when her friend joined her. Friend?

In the meantime, she waited, idly studying the antics of the men at the taxi rank in front of a series of phone booths. One of them was pushing his car along the rank, rather than switch on the engine, as the row moved forward. The taxis sported a colorful and distinctive coat of arms.

Sitting on the corner of the street was a blind man selling lottery tickets. She doubted if that would be possible in any town or city in England; the poor man would be mugged in seconds.
Most of the people at the other tables appeared to be businessmen and women, though there were some exceptions. An overdressed elderly woman sat with her Pekinese dog on her lap, feeding it biscuits while sipping her Tío Pepe. At the table next to her, a large bull of a man was glancing through the newspaper, El Día; he possessed a Neanderthal jaw and crewcut dark brown hair. For a second she thought she’d seen him before, but shook off the idea. Andrew Kirby was making her unreasonably suspicious!

—from Blood of the Dragon Trees, by Nik Morton (p. 116)

So, besides the observation of little details going on around her—and the suspenseful hint for the reader that we’ve seen the man with the Neanderthal jaw before—there’s the compelling influence that Andrew is exerting on her.

How well do you need to know the place before using it as a setting?

Ideally, travel to the place. But even then additional back-up research is necessary. Of course you can’t hope to travel to every exotic place you write about. I’ve been to many of the places in my novels and short stories, but not all—and I must then concentrate on research.

Sadly, non-fiction reference books can quickly become out-of-date—bus colours might change, customs may once have been quaint only to be replaced by adopted globalised traits. (Yes, it has happened to me!)

Any piece of fiction set in the past requires research; yes, you can travel the battlefields, visit the ancient cities; but you can’t experience that time, only imagine it.

Official map of the territory of Dakota[https://www.flickr.com/photos/normanbleventhalmapcenter/14009763855/], by http://maps.bpl.org via Flickr (CC BY 2.0) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/]

Some places can’t be visited, only researched. Official map of the territory of Dakota, by http://maps.bpl.org via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Fiction requires a writer to be bold, to do research and then re-imagine the place, with its sights, smells and sounds. The bottom line is, it’s fiction, which means an approximation of the real world. If a critic blithely dismisses writers who make a few errors in their research because they haven’t travelled there, then that critic is misguided.

Which writers do you admire for the way they use location?

Some books could be set anywhere; location is not significant to the story. Others, the location is vital to the story. The old practitioners Desmond Bagley, Hammond Innes, Nevil Shute, and Alistair Maclean described the location their main characters found themselves in, and you believed every word. Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe novels thrust you into a period and a place that seems real while you’re reading. Donna Leon’s Italy is real.

A few of the writers Nik Morton admires for their depiction of place in their novels.

A few of the novelists Nik Morton admires for their skill with depicting location.

Thanks so much, Nik!

* * *

Readers, any questions for my first guest? Please leave them in the comments below.

And if you’d like to discover more about Nik, why not pay a visit to his author site; his blog, called Writealot (no exaggeration in his case); and the archives of Auguries, a science fiction, fantasy and horror magazine Nik edited from 1983 to 1994. You can also follow Nik on twitter at @nik_morton.

Until next month!

Lorraine Mace writes for children with the Vlad the Inhaler books. As Frances di Plino, she writes crime in the D.I. Paolo Storey series. She is a columnist for both of the UK’s top writing magazines, has founded international writing competitions and runs a writing critique service, mentoring authors on three continents.

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Photo credits (top of page): The World Book (1920), by Eric Fischer via Flickr; “Writing? Yeah.” by Caleb Roenigk via Flickr (both CC BY 2.0).

Soccer players for sure, but shouldn’t Germany also be loaning us words? With cherries! say British expat comedy writing duo (huh?)

Denglish 3 Collage

Adam Fletcher (bald) and Paul Hawkins at a book fair, in a screenshot from their Denglish video; Paul atop his Batman car in Prague. All photos supplied by Paul Hawkins.

Like other U.S.-based World Cup fans, I’ve been thinking a lot about Germany lately. The nation certainly has been generous in loaning the U.S. national team all kinds of soccer coaching and playing talent. Coach Jürgen Klinsmann is a German soccer legend, and five players on the U.S. squad spent most of their lives in Germany, including one of the team’s star players, Jermaine Jones (his father, an African American U.S. army soldier, met his German mother while stationed in West Germany; they later divorced).

But is it possible Germany should be offering us even more, as in new words and language possibilities? The answer to this question will require the help of today’s guest, Paul Hawkins, a young British expat in Berlin. With his writing partner and fellow British expat, Adam Fletcher, Paul recently produced Denglish for Better Knowers, an illustrated book of German words and sayings that, in the view of this comedy duo, ought to be imported into the English language.

(German, really? Doesn’t it have lots of rules and too much grammar??)

AND WE ARE GIVING AWAY A SIGNED (PAPERBACK) COPY! Just leave a comical comment on this post, to be eligible.

Paul and Adam may be expats but they are tapping into the long and great British tradition of finding comedy in the quirkiness of everyday life, something I came to value during my expat years in the UK (and still miss). What’s unusual about this pair, however, is that they aren’t afraid to dig for material in a country that has long been reviled by the English (see my recent post on the World Cup). It helps, no doubt, that they’re Millennials. But has their creativity also been sparked by the sheer act of being displaced, of having to navigate another cultural and linguistic tradition? Let’s hear what Paul has to say.

* * *

HowtobeGerman_cover_ds

The book was published in German and English, each language beginning at either side of the book, by C H Beck.

Hi, Paul, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. Before you and Adam came out with Denglish for Better Knowers, Adam produced an earlier work, How to Be German in 50 Easy Steps. What exactly was the impetus for this series?
Well, How to be German was sort of this big, happy accident of Adam’s, where he poked and prodded the various eccentricities of his long-suffering German girlfriend, Annett, and then extrapolated his findings to about 80 million people. But to be fair, he’d also lived in Berlin for seven or so years, during which time he’d had lots of humorous experiences with the curious creatures known as Germans. In fact, the book grew out of an article of the same name Adam wrote, full of his observations about what makes Germans German, from their love for sparkling apple juice to collecting insurance contracts and tilting their windows. His post struck a massive nerve and went viral. Adam describes the book as a “love letter to the German people,” who had somehow adopted him for having such profound insights into their national character. Thanks to him, they were no longer being portrayed as eating sausages, drinking beer, and wearing leather shorts…

Is your German not the yellow from the egg?

And Denglish?
Denglisch for Better Knowers is a follow-up of sorts, a kind of “love letter to the German language,” where we get to celebrate and poke fun at Deutsch (even as we struggle to learn it!), in hopefully a way that only dumb aliens to the language could. Oh, and although I’d assisted Adam with the first book, this time around he roped me into being a co-author. I don’t remember why, but I think it might because I have hair.

And the pair of you also run an online business of sorts, called The Hipstery. In fact, that’s how I first discovered you. How does your entrepreneurial venture fit in with the book writing projects?
Adam and I are creative, but we don’t have very long attention spans.The Hipstery has proved the perfect way to exploit these independently useless character traits. It’s a kind of long-running shambles of a gift business. In fact, it’s been a few different things at a few different times, depending mostly on mismanaged excitement, deluded whims, and confused expectations—perhaps the least impressive of which was an actual shop in Berlin, which, by the end of its short, lazy lifespan was only open for about two hours a week, on a Thursday afternoon, sometimes, maybe. We would get excited, make a little product (a poster, a T-shirt, a game, for example) and quickly release it, after which we got bored and moved on to the next thing.

denglishforbetterknowers_cover_ds

Published in German and English, each language beginning at either side of the book, by Ullstein Verlag.

And at some point the “next thing” became Denglisch for Better Knowers?
In fact, the book began its life as a nice design on a poster, and then one day we saw a lot more humorous potential in the concept.

Let’s talk about Denglisch the word. What does it mean exactly?
Denglisch refers to the increasing amount of English words sneaking into the German language, in place of working, pre-existing German alternatives. It gets used a lot in the German media and tends to consist of ‘”cool”, buzzy, international, marketing-type words such as upgedated, downgeloadet, outgesourcet… Well, our idea was that German has so many great and often humorously unique words that English doesn’t, it should lend us some words, too. In the book, we make a case for our favorite “German” ways to enrich the English language.

With the German language is very good cherry eating

I visited the picture gallery of ten colorful German expressions, watched the promotional video, and even took the Denglish Quiz (got 70%) on the book site. Of all the German words and expressions that appear in your work, which are your top three faves and why?
I guess my three personal favorites would be:
1) Ear worm (Ohrwurm)—describes the phenomenon of getting a song stuck in your head. It’s such a simple, perfect word, it’s amazing English has nothing like it.
2) Hand shoes (Handschuhe)—German for gloves. It’s so lovely. I know this flies in the face of everything I just said about German words that English doesn’t have, but I don’t care. I want it!
3) Is it art, or can I chuck it? (Ist das Kunst, oder kann das weg?)—a wonderful idiom and great example of German humor. I don’t think it needs explaining. It just needs using. It becomes especially useful whenever the British artist Tracey Emin is selling something…

Hmmm… Were there any German words or expressions that didn’t make the book, as the concepts they express are too foreign to be used in English?
There’s quite a lot which didn’t make the book, but I have the time-bothered memory of a deranged old lunatic, so I can’t think of that many examples now. Oh, there was that expression Himmel, Arsch und Zwirn!, which we didn’t include for some reason. It translates literally as “Sky, Arse, and Thread!” and serves as an exclamation of annoyance, like shouting “Damn!” or “Blast!” or “Bollocks!” (if you’re English). It’s pure nonsense (or “nonsense, with sauce,” as you’d say in German), and I guess that’s why we couldn’t include it. You can’t fight fire with fire, and you can’t write nonsense with nonsense, because galactic haircut trouser squabbling. Indeed.

OooKay! Probably I need to read the book to interpret that last statement. I’m curious, how did you and Adam meet, and was it “collaboration” at first sight?
Despite us both being English and both living in Berlin, in fact we first met in the Czech Republic. Basically, I flew out to Prague on a whim in 2012 because friends of mine were driving a convertible painted like Superman there as part of a car rally, after which they planned to dump it. I told them to give it to me. I didn’t have any plans or ideas what to do with the car… all I knew was that if you can get a Superman convertible for free in Prague, you’d be an damned fool/respectable citizen not to do so. Not long after my arrival in the Czech Republic capital, I posted a message on CouchSurfing…something like, “Hello, I’m an idiot who came to Prague, and I don’t know any one, and I’m bored, and do you want to meet for a coffee or a beer?” Well, Adam, who was also in Prague with a friend, replied to my message, and we met up. We soon got talking about what we did: writing, well, actually comedy writing…actually, fairly absurd comedy writing. And upon realizing we were pretty much writing the same kinds of stuff, in the same kind of style, with the same kind of humor, it wasn’t long before we decided to try something together. Pretty weird, right?

Um, what’s the best and worst part of working as a team?
Writing as a team is mostly very fun. The best part is getting to make and hear jokes all day—as opposed to sitting alone, typing gibberish, and always wondering: “Is this funny…? Maybe it’s funny… I don’t know…” The worst part, however, is when you come up with a hilarious punchline like “Congratulations, Binky!”, only to find Adam wont let you use it for some boring reason like: “It doesn’t make any sense.” Which might be true, of course, but let’s not take Adam’s side here.

Is your English all under the pig?

Which part of the UK do you and Adam come from?
I come from London, or North London, or North of London, or Broxbourne, depending on whether I think you know where it is. Adam is from a different place, most notable for it being totally unmemorable. I guess he’s told me about forty times where he’s from, and the only thing I can tell you about it for sure is it has a dreadful school and might be vaguely near Norwich.

And how did you end up choosing to live in Berlin?
Adam moved to Leipzig for a job around seven years ago and then to Berlin about two years later when he became self-employed. I moved here a year and a half ago, for similar reasons. It’s a great place to live and roam free amongst all the freelancers. We call it the Mecca of Delayed Responsibility.

Do you think you will ever repatriate back to the UK?
I don’t think Adam will repatriate because he was never a big fan of England (small talk, weather, having to think before speaking, etc.) and because he’s increasingly becoming somewhat of a reluctant, and highly unqualified, pundit of German culture—something he’s trying to correct throughout his next book, Make Me German. As for me, I could still imagine living in London, just as soon as I become a mega rich oil-baron oligarch with unlimited Oyster card funding. One key difference between me and Adam is the amount of German we’ve learned. The more time you’ve invested in the language, the less you can bear the thought of wasting it by leaving! He’s a lot more invested than I am…

You said that Adam is working on another book. How about you: any more creative projects in the pipeline?
Yes, Adam is hard at work on his next book, Make Me German, which entails undertaking a series of amusing challenges in pursuit of finally learning enough about Germans and Germany to justify his nonsensical position as a spokesperson for their sense of humor. He was last seen trying to write a Schlager song and Nordic-walking in the most German place of all German places, Majorca. As for me, I’ve just finished a book, which comes out in Germany at the end of August, called How to Operate a Human (Gebrauchsanleitung Mensch, in German!) It’s a fun little book rather like an iPhone manual (except for people), which I won’t be able to read.

What do you mean you won’t be able to read it? How is your German coming along these days?
Mein Deutsch hat sich verbessert, aber ich kann meinen eigenen Unsinn immer noch nicht lesen.

Which leaves me with only one thing left to say: Alles klar!

* * *

So, readers, any COMMENTS or QUESTIONS for Paul? Or do you find yourself nonplussed, without words, for what you’ve just heard? In case his rants have made you curious, be sure to:

YOU CAN ALSO LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW to be eligible to win your own free copy!

Can’t wait to order the book? Paul suggests doing so from the Hipstery site, which offers worldwide shipping.

Finally, should you wish to follow Paul’s brilliant career, he can be found at his author site, Hencewise, on Twitter and on Facebook.

To reiterate, alles klar!

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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The accidental repatriate

Last time Sezin Koehler wrote for us, she was bidding farewell to “strange, Lovecraftian” Prague, where she and her husband had lived for four years. Also in the Czech Republic, Koehler succeeded in producing her first (horror) novel, American Monsters. After a short stint in Germany, the couple is now saying hello to sunny, but bugbear-filled, Florida. Koehler describes the emotional transition.

When I left the US for Europe in 2002 I had no intention of ever again living in America. Violence, backwards politics, a horrible job market, and a provincial outlook on the world made an extreme contrast with my global, Third Culture Kid background. I am half American, half Sri Lankan, and my mother worked for UNICEF, so the family lived all over the world.

Not to mention I was suffering from extreme post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing the murder of a dear friend when the two of us were robbed at gunpoint by a gang banger in Hollywood.

Ten years later and a forced repatriation determined by economics rather than desire, I am at a loss for how much worse off this country is since I left. I know a decade is a long time — but surely not long enough to usher in political rhetoric that would take this nation back to pre-1950s? My mind boggles.

One big dark nation

Gun violence has ever increased — to the point where we find so-called Stand Your Ground laws that allow citizens to kill each other with impunity, under the guise of “I felt threatened” — even when that threat consists merely of a young African-American boy, armed with nothing but iced tea and a bag of Skittles.

I’m back in the world of mad gunmen going on shooting sprees. Sikhs mistaken for Muslims and murdered. Women getting abducted and raped at gunpoint while waiting for a bus — this happened just recently not far from where I live.

Post-9/11 America has seen the sharpest increase in the infringement of civil liberties as matters of homeland security and anti-terrorism. The arrests of journalists covering Occupy Wall Street events brought the US’s rank of journalistic freedom down 27 points, putting the country at 47, just behind Comoros and Romania.

Xenophobia abounds as states pass laws against the teaching of ethnic studies, and even literature written by Native and Mexican Americans, in schools. Such developments are exponentially more ironic when considering that this country’s immigrant history.

The worst (and rudest!) of times

After college it took me almost a year to get a proper job. Upon returning, I’ve had trouble securing even a retail job: all applications are now submitted online and don’t give you an option to upload a cover letter or even your full resume. Not only are American jobs outsourced to China, the application process has been tech-sourced to boot, as machines vet your application — even if you live right down the street from the store to which you’re applying.

I was shocked to find that retail jobs pay exactly what they did a whole ten years ago. Way to move forward, America.

America might have progressed in terms of technology; I see a smart phone in every hand. However, common courtesy has gone out the window as people text, Facebook, Tweet, right in the middle of an actual face-to-face interaction, without even a twinge of remorse.

Call me old fashioned, or a kindred spirit to Hannibal Lecter, in believing it’s the epitome of rude to fiddle with one’s phone (or any other such object of distraction) whilst another human being is talking to you.

The wheels on the bus go back-backwards.

Monsters are the best friends I ever had

To add insult to injury, I find myself in a particularly devoid area of Florida, easily one of the most vapid places on the planet. Plastic people who can spend an hour telling you about their lunch salad are the antithesis of the cultured individuals with whom I spent my time while living elsewhere.

Who would have thought the rabbit hole I fell down when I left Prague would lead to a place scarily resembling Hell, with its torturous circles and its staggering temperatures?

Each day I force myself to review the positives:

It seems incredible that the America I left ten years ago — the one that traumatized me so badly — is actually a better version than the one in which I live now.

So frustrated have I been by absurd American conservatism and the zombie hordes of consumerism around me, I’ve resorted to a new persona: Zuzu Grimm, a creature who writes wicked dystopic visions of where this country is headed if it continues down this current path of willful ignorance and fear mongering.

Bored now

But that’s not been the only struggle: For years I defined myself as an expat. My blog was filled with anthropological tales of living in Switzerland, France, Spain, Turkey, the Czech Republic and Germany. More than that: stories of growing up in Sri Lanka, Zambia, Thailand, Pakistan, India.

While I’m still a Third Culture Kid — never really at home anywhere — my expat identity became a cornerstone of who I was. It worked, and was so much less confusing to explain. The expat label made me feel ultimately more interesting. Writing a novel in Prague sounds infinitely more exotic than writing from an essentially retiree community of ten thousand.

Oy vey.

Accepting that this is who I am now, and this is where I am, has been even harder than the absolute culture shock upon repatriation.

Being an expat gives a person a sense of uniqueness that may or may not be deserved. Yes, you’re a foreigner who must negotiate language/cultural/social barriers. But it’s also your choice. And for many people economics determines whether you can or can’t participate.

Kind of like having kids. You can complain all you want about how hard it is, but it’s something you elected to do, not something that was forced upon you.

(Well…unless Republicans head up the White house; with their insane ideas on abortion there’ll be thousands more women forced to carry rapists’ babies to term. Disgusting. Terrifying. Yet another grotesque example of the New America I find on return.)

I’m nobody, who are you?

My former life as an expat has taken on so many more shades of meaning as I consider how it must have seemed to those in my position right now: How glamorous. How decadent. How lucky. How dare they criticize my government when they’ve jumped ship. I have to live here. I’m thousands of dollars in debt. I don’t have the luxury of leaving.

Maybe one day when my husband wins the lottery, that’s just what we’ll do. Leave. Maybe for Buenos Aires, or Addis Ababa. Maybe in the meantime we’ll find a better city in the US, one that offers more by way of creativity, culture, and history — the things I miss most about life in Europe.

Until then, I have to make peace with being plain old Sezin Koehler who lives in and writes from Florida. Hopefully some time soon I’ll be okay with that. Any minute now. It’s going to happen.

That’s fine. I’ll wait.

And pray I don’t get sick in the meantime, because even with Obamacare, I still can’t afford health insurance.

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, another displaced Q from anti-foodie Tony James Slater.

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img: Sezin Koehler in St. Petersburg, Florida, by Steven Koehler (2012).

In honor of Obscura Day, a tribute to 5 obscure treasures near places I’ve called home

It’s been a month of celebration for The Displaced Nation, beginning with the announcement of our very first birthday on April 1 (no fooling!).

We may be nearing the end of the month, but the festive spirit continues unabated. In fact, in today’s post I’m hosting my own little celebration of Obscura Day, which takes place tomorrow, April 28.

As you may know — or maybe not, since by definition, it’s a little obscure! — Obscura Day is where people all over the world get to show off the unusual and little-known places of interest near wherever they call home. Locals volunteer to give guided tours of such spots — and it’s all organized by the folks who’ve set up Atlas Obscura, a user-generated and editor-curated compendium of the world’s wonders, curiosities and esoterica.

To do my part in enhancing the Obscura Day cause, I’ve rounded up the 5 most interesting and unusual places near the various towns and cities I’ve called home in the past five years.

1. Sail Rock (Hin Bai), off Koh Phangan, Thailand

I happened upon this rock, which for me is one of the foremost world treasures, when living in Thailand in 2007. I was staying in Thong Sala, on the island of Koh Phangan, to train as a professional diver.

This small rock protruding from the Gulf of Thailand doesn’t look like much from the surface, but it’s a world-class diving site — and a comparatively undiscovered one, as it lies off a tiny island famed more for its party scene than its underwater exploration.

There is a vertical tunnel through part of the rock which is absolutely teeming with aquatic life.

I had to earn my way in there by learning enough control over my diving gear and techniques to keep the descent smooth and calm. My boss was very concerned that this place would be preserved for future generations of divers, and he knew how clumsy I was out of the water!

But at long last the day came when I was allowed to enter. I drifted gently downwards, spinning slowly in place to take it all in. I was in a tube filled with corals and sponges, surrounded by weird and colorful creatures like nothing on land. Tendrils waved, lethal looking spikes and spines protruded, fur-like coverings rippled. All in brilliant shades of blue, green, yellow…it was the closest I can imagine to being on some alien planet in a galaxy far, far away!

And yet this amazing world had been right underneath my boat the whole time!

2. Lookout Trees near Pemberton, in the South West region of Western Australia

It was not long after I started living in Perth (where I still am!) that I discovered the Lookout Trees near Pemberton — unimaginably tall trees that had been used as look-out posts for vigilant fire-spotters for almost fifty years. Now they can be climbed, just for the hell of it, by anyone who is a) curious, and b) has the balls of a concrete elephant!

It’s a long — LONG — way to climb on steel rungs driven into the side of the trees, 58 meters (or 190 feet!) to the viewing platform, perched rather precariously above the forest canopy. You can see for hundreds of miles from this towering vantage point, which is all the well; you certainly need something to take your mind off the twin thoughts that a) you’re ridiculously exposed, insanely high and supported only by a single tree, and b) you’re going to have to climb back down…

If you do make it up, you’ll be amazed. At your own bravery as much as the view. If you don’t…well, you’re not alone. More than three quarters of the people who try it never make the top.

3. Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England

My list wouldn’t be complete without an obscure-ish (nothing is truly obscure any more on the overdeveloped British Isles) sight that’s near my original hometown of Highbridge, in Somerset. I speak of the Cheddar Gorge, a 137m-deep split in the Earth’s crust revealing a fantastic labyrinth of caves extending nearly half a kilometre under the ground.

It wasn’t until I was visiting last year that I made the effort to tour the gorge. There’s a company that runs a caving experience for any level of tourist — so I took my Mum! Bless her, she did have fun slithering across ledges, abseiling down underground cliff faces, and best of all — squeezing through tight tunnels carved by water flowing through the caves.

My favorite part was making her laugh by describing the look of just one end of her protruding from the tunnel. She found it so funny that she couldn’t stop laughing to pull herself any further, and was stuck half-in, half-out for quite some time!

Thankfully, there were experienced guides helping us along and tough overalls and wellies — every part of us was encrusted with mud by the time we saw the sun again.

It was quite a relief to emerge from the darkness, especially after the ritual of turning off our helmet lights in the deepest recess of the cave — experiencing an absence of light so profound I could touch my own eyeball without seeing my finger. Spooky…and awesome!

4. Knife-making in Barrytown, New Zealand

An unassuming little bay on the rugged northwestern coast of New Zealand’s South Island, you could be forgiven for thinking there is nothing in Barrytown at all. You’d mostly be right — I passed through there on a road trip in 2010, trying to get a better sense of the island I was living on (yes, I was living in Christchurch at the time).

I checked into a completely empty backpackers hostel (a novelty itself in tourist-mad New Zealand) and noticed a lone advertising flyer on the wall…which is how I came to meet Robyn and Steve, a couple of modern-day artisans, in their home-based knife-making workshop.

Steve is a self-taught blacksmith. Under his tutelage, I heated and hammered metal, ground and sharpened a blade, carved and polished a handle… and within the day I had created a perfect steel knife like something right out of Lord of the Rings!

It was a fantastic feeling to know I’d hand-crafted something so beautiful and unique — well, okay, I had a bit of help from the expert! As a skill, it was highly addictive.

I quizzed him late into the night about just how difficult it would be to make a sword the same way — and got the feeling I wasn’t the first person to ask him that!

If you ever get chance, do this. Obscure? Check! And absolutely fascinating.

5. Sedlec Ossuary, near Prague, Czech Republic

Okay, I wasn’t really living in Prague — I was just passing through in 2006 — but for obscure treasures, this one takes the biscuit!

Not too far from the city — in a suburban part of Southern Bohemia — lies a small Roman Catholic chapel beneath a small cemetery, known as the Sedlec Ossuary or Bone Chapel, as it’s decorated entirely in human bones. There are bones everywhere one looks, from streamers and chandeliers made from complete skeletons, artfully rearranged, to giant pyramids of skulls on display in the four corners. Altar statues and wall decorations are also fashioned completely from bones — it’s estimated that over 40,000 bodies have contributed to the décor!

Perhaps more macabre is that this isn’t some ancient monument to the grotesque, a product of some long-forgotten civilization like the Mayans; no, this is modern work. Although many of the remains date back to the Black Death in the 14th century, the artful sculpting and artistic arrangement of the bones happened just over a century ago!

It really has to be seen to be believed. Especially as photos aren’t allowed — unless you’re very persuasive, and happen to be in there on your own (which is exceedingly creepy)…and happen to have 100 Czech koruna ($4) to bribe the curator!

***

So. What’s unusual about where you live? Are there any undiscovered gems nearby — cool places, crazy things to do, strange legends? Tell, tell! We want to know! Let us know all about them in the comments. Cheers to obscurity!

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

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Images: Tony Slater’s own photos

I’ll (not) be home for Christmas: A holiday travel yarn

Today we welcome Kat Selvocki to The Displaced Nation as a guest blogger. A retired roller derby skater and yogini who has lived in New York City for the past six years, Selvocki is en route to Sydney, Australia, to start a new chapter in her life as a yoga teacher. In this travel yarn, she contemplates being in Europe for the holidays, without any family.

When I left Brooklyn on September 27, I had every intention of arriving in Australia by December 23. That way, even though I was away from my parents and brother for the first time ever on Christmas, I would at least be able to spend the holiday with my cousins on the other side of the globe.

One of the first rules of travel is that things never go exactly as planned. It’s no surprise, then, that I’ve been in Europe for two months with no sign of purchasing a plane ticket to Australia.

By the time I finished the first leg of my travels — two weeks in Iceland volunteering on farms — I had a feeling I’d be in Europe longer than initially expected. My one hesitation was that, after spending thirty some years celebrating Christmas with my family, the idea of spending it alone scared the hell out of me.

I spent a solo New Year’s Eve in my Queens apartment in 2007; I’d decided I didn’t feel like venturing out and about into the craziness of New York that night. Though I don’t especially enjoy that particular holiday, there was something upsetting about wishing myself a happy new year. I didn’t want to repeat that mistake.

Central Europe works its charm

I arrived in Prague the day before Thanksgiving and was greeted by friends who immediately invited me to spend Christmas with them in Austria.

Prague is one of my favorite cities in the world, and the holiday season is one of the best times to be there, its Christkindlmarkts being among the best in Europe. Mugs of glühwein (mulled wine), tubes of bread coated with cinnamon, palačinky (Czech crêpes) dripping with lemon and sugar, the glimmer of fairy lights, handicrafts for sale, Christmas trees, live concerts — what’s not to like?

Though I didn’t have the space in my bags this time around to purchase any gifts at the markets, I was happy to return for some of my favorite Czech treats. As I perused the stands one chilly Saturday, I happily munched on lázeňské oplatky, large round spa wafers served with chocolate filling sandwiched in between.

The flavor brought back memories of Christmas Eve dinners of my youth, spent with my paternal grandparents. Though my grandmother and grandfather were both born in the United States, they continued some traditions passed down from their Polish parents. On December 24, my grandmother would serve a meatless meal at their house: fish that my grandfather had caught that fall, homemade pierogi (the Polish equivalent of ravioli, stuffed with potato and cheese), and vegetables from their friend’s farm.

We began the meal with those wafers, breaking pieces from each other’s opłatek as a symbol of forgiveness and the spirit of Christmas, as well as a reminder of the importance of family.

The ghost of holidays past

Prague was also where I spent my first Thanksgiving away from home, in 2002. I was on a study abroad program with American University, and all of us had gathered to celebrate at one of our favorite pubs, where our program director had reserved several long tables for us, piled with food — mostly Czech versions of traditional Thanksgiving dishes like stuffing, mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole. The American ideas were there, but the execution and seasonings were distinctly Czech.

(At least this was an improvement over a Thanksgiving dinner that a friend of mine had during her Parisian semester abroad, where bowls of peanut butter were served alongside the turkey and roasted vegetables.)

At my table, my tall anarchist friend with a mohawk carved the turkey. After we’d feasted, several classmates took over the restaurant’s upright bass and piano as the rest of us cheered and clapped.

Most of us had met only three months earlier, but there was a tight bond between us that day.

I called home later in the evening. My cousin’s husband answered the phone, and at first he couldn’t believe it was me, all the way from Europe. He yelled to the rest of my family to get on the phone. Though I probably used up my phone card, it was worth it.

My mother came to visit me in Prague not long afterwards. She, too, couldn’t resist the siren song of all the beautiful handmade items at the holiday markets. She settled on a blown glass ornament covered with simple stars made out of straw. It still hangs on my parents’ tree today, an annual reminder of when she and I traveled together.

Holidays are all about the 3 Fs: Family, Friends & (especially!) Food

My family and I have always enjoyed the culinary traditions associated with each of the holidays, be it Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter. While Christmas was always tops for me as a kid, over the years my allegiance has shifted, and I now look forward the most to sharing the Thanksgiving meal with my nearest and dearest. (This may have been triggered by extended Christmas vacations in college, which so often seemed to end in ridiculous battles with my parents.)

Last month, I was lucky enough to celebrate Thanksgiving twice — each time with a mix of American travelers/expats and international friends.

At the first of these dinners, which took place in Prague, my Belgian friend asked the Americans in the room about the significance of Thanksgiving. While I think he might have meant historically, I replied with the answer that is truest to me: Thanksgiving is about eating lots of food and spending time with people you love.

On that occasion, friends new and old shared their talents in the kitchen. One friend made a traditional Austrian stuffing, while another roasted three Cornish hens and taught us how to make mulled wine. We mashed potatoes together — both white spuds and sweet — and roasted a colorful array of vegetables. I offered my baking talents with a pear-plum pie, inspired by a drink I’d had the night before.

The small kitchen of our rented apartment quickly filled with the mingling scents of cinnamon and cloves, parsley and chives.

I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

The lingering fairy tale of New York

Some of my holiday nostalgia also relates to my recent past — to the six years I’ve just spent living and working as a volunteer manager in New York City. There may be no place more magical than Central Europe, but there’s also something I’ll always miss about being in Manhattan during the holidays.

During each of the six years that I lived in New York, I would have periods of doubt over whether I wanted to stay. But then December would come along and I’d fall in love with the city all over again.

Some of my fondest memories are of walking around late at night gazing at the major Christmas displays in the shop windows. I preferred viewing the windows at that time, with fewer tourists around and the street lamps casting an atmospheric glow.

My favorites were always Bergdorf Goodman’s windows; I could stand and stare at those for hours and never quite take in all of the perfectly arranged details.

And, while my friends are currently lamenting the unseasonably warm weather in New York, I’m cherishing the memories of December nights when I would get off the subway in Brooklyn or Queens and walk home through a fresh layer of snow, surrounded by silent streets.

Volunteerism, burning bright

Still, the náměstís of Prague and plätze of Graz have proved to be a pretty good distraction, as has the volunteer work that I did in Iceland, when I first arrived in Europe.

After visiting Iceland in November of last year, I wanted to go back again and, after a bit of research, learned that there were a few Icelandic farms looking for volunteer labor.

Assisting with the end-of-season harvest — a time of year when farms need all the hands they can get: it seemed like the perfect way to experience one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever seen, along with learning new skills.

At the organic farm I went to near Egilsstaðir in northeastern Iceland, called Vallanes, there were 11 of us volunteering (4 Americans, 3 Germans, 1 Italian, 1 Tasmanian, 1 Singaporean, and 1 Belgian), plus two paid workers (1 German and 1 Icelander, in case you’re curious).

The friendships we all formed in the turnip fields and the kitchen were an unexpected bonus.

Though it was sad to leave when the season ended, the spirit of Vallanes remains with me as I contemplate the next chapter of my life, the adventure of setting up as a yoga instructor in Sydney.

The saying that your friends are the family you choose becomes more true for me every year. This year, the holidays might not be the same as they were when I was young, and while I miss my family and it’s hard to be away, I’m enjoying the opportunity to soak up — and create — new traditions of my own while sharing the ones with which I was raised. Traveling alone has opened my heart to a variety of new people and experiences.

All of it feels right somehow, at this current crossroads — which led me to leave the familiarity of my old job, New York, and the United States to pursue a new career halfway around the world.

This New Year’s Eve will see me in Vienna. I will not be alone but with a mix of expats and native Austrians, drinking red wine and watching fireworks — concluding a year of transitions and ringing in what I hope will be an exciting new life overseas in 2012.

NOTE: You can read more about Kat Selvocki’s travel adventures on her blog, Pierced Hearts and True Love, and sample some of her gluten-free baking recipes at Kat of All Trades. You can also hire her to give you personalized yoga lessons over Skype; details on KatSelvocki.com

STAY TUNED for Monday’s post, a list of 2011 books for, by, and about expats.

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Images (top to bottom): Staromestske namesti (Old Town Square in Prague) decked out for the holidays; waffle stall at the Christkindlmarkt in Graz; Bergdorf Goodman’s window, 2010; mulled wine in preparation for an Austrian Thanksgiving dinner. All photos by the multi-talented (yes, she does photography, too!) Kat Selvocki.

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