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TCK TALENT: In response to “Where are you from?” a few more TCKs wax poetic

Columnist Dounia Bertuccelli is back with a second round of poems composed by Third Culture Kids in answer to that vexed “where are you from?” question.

Hello Displaced Nationers, global nomads, expats, Third Culture Kids and other curious travelers! Since the last time my column appeared, I trust you have moved on from an enjoyable summer (or winter, for our friends in the Southern Hemisphere) to a splendid fall (or spring).

In celebration of the change in seasons, I’d like to present the second post in my series of TCK poetry here at the TCK Talent column. If you missed the first, be sure to check it out here. As I explained then, the poems are the work of a group of 11th and 12th graders at an international school in Malta. Their teacher wanted them to think more deeply about what “home” means for them, given that they are all growing up in more than one country.

Perhaps because I never even lived in the country of my ancestry (Lebanon), I find it endlessly fascinating to read what these young people had to say in response to the fundamental TCK question: where are you from? The older I get, the more I realize that, although there are places I feel more connected to and that hold a big piece of my heart, I’m definitely not “from” any of these places. I don’t belong entirely to any of them.

And by now I’ve also grown used to the bittersweet flavor of living in-between. At the same time, I feel confident that, given the choice, I would do it all over again—because the sweet far outweighs the bitter.

See what you think of the poems below, readers. Are the young writers on the road to the place where I am now: can they taste more sweet than bitter?

* * *

Where I’m From
By Arabella Ovesen

I am from the tall coconut tree
towering over a blue sea
where the Rhum Runner runs
under the midnight sun.
I’m from the yellow, luxurious castle
Azzurra where father taught me to dazzle.

But one day we went up north,
back to the Vikings’ home
where they work back and forth
in a frozen zone.
And that day, I lost my
Spice Ilse throne.

I’m from the pure white snow
of the Northern Pole.
From being surprised;  
At the age of fourteen,
they didn’t want to survive.
I’m from time being slow, dark.
A place where Caribbean purity
lost its innocence,
and left a burnt mark.


Arabella is from Grenada; she has also lived in Malta and Sweden.

Where I’m From
By Clarissa Meyringer

I am from trams
From steel and cement
I am from cold, glistening snow,
It feels like whipped cream.
I am from the towering pines,
giants whose evergreen leaves
were sharp like knives.

I’m from horses of stone
From Fabio and Ben
I’m from the jokers
And the loners
From turning and turmoil
I’m from shadows,
Seen, never heard or spoken of.

I’m from the shallow sea, crystalline.
From the late night snacks
of my grandmother,
The dangerous soccer fan tales of my uncle
I’m from lore and religion, Supernatural;
A friendship with Luci, Castiel and an alliance with Crowley.

On a wall in my room is a drawing
Colors bright
A breathtaking sight
A crayon mess
I am from that place—
Chaotic and free—
Everchanging.

Clarissa is Austrian-Italian; she was living in Malta at the time of writing.

Where I’m From
By Gianluca Chincoli

I’m from the mixed sounds of farm animals
The mud, those painful marble stairs, and a giant old farmhouse.
I am from fresh air and immense woods
Extending in all directions like a green ocean.

I’m from those two spiteful creatures
That made my life a horror and a fight since the beginning.
I am from big toothless smiles to every stranger
And all those cheeky jokes we crew of three planned every day.

I’m from the wind of the night and the day,
Warm and cold, strong and weak like a zephyr.
On those plastic crafts with sails it was always a tough adventure
But the prizes were always priceless.

I’m from the screamings of my father
New experiences, like no one else in the world.
I am from the orange porch of golden sunsets,
Where the wolf was acting drama in front of the innocent children.

From Italy, Gianluca has been living in Malta.

* * *

We love to hear from our readers, so please leave any thoughts, questions, suggestions, and yes, poetry in the comments!

Born in Nicosia, Cyprus, to Lebanese parents, Dounia Bertuccelli has lived in France, UK, Australia, Philippines, Mexico, and the USA—but never in Lebanon. She writes about her experiences growing up as a TCK and adjusting as an adult TCK on her blog Next Stop, which is a collection of prose, poetry and photography. She also serves as the managing editor of The Black Expat; Expat Resource Manager for Global Living Magazine; and is a freelance writer and editor. Currently based on the East Coast of the United States, she is happily married to a fellow TCK who shares her love for travel, music and good food. To learn more about Dounia, please read her interview with former TCK Talent columnist Lisa Liang. You can also follow her on Twitter.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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Photo credits:
All photos from Pixabay except:
– Photo of Rum Runner boat in Grenada: 1252 Rhum Runner II in Grenada (19), by Mark Morgan via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
– Photo of Italian football fans: AC Mailand – VfL Wolfsburg (2:2), by funky1opti via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
– NOTE: The final photo (from Pixabay) is of a hiking path in the Garda Mountains, in northern Italy.

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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!

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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.

TCK TALENT: Amy Clare Tasker finds a home, and a place to explore concepts of home, in the theater/re

tck-talent-amy-c-tasker
New TCK columnist Dounia Bertuccelli is here with her first guest, another Adult Third Culture Kid who, like Dounia’s predecessor, Lisa Liang, has a passion for theater.

Hello readers! I’m thrilled to be contributing the TCK Talent column and thought it fitting that my first interviewee, Amy Clare Tasker, works in the performing arts—like my predecessor, Lisa Liang. I had the pleasure of meeting Amy at this year’s 2016 Families in Global Transition Conference, where she was one of the 2016 Pollock Scholars.

Amy is a theater director, writer, producer and performer. Born in Britain, Amy moved to California (the Bay Area) with her family at a young age, where they settled and eventually became US citizens, leading her to initially “identify more as an immigrant than as a TCK.” She pursued a drama degree at the University of California, Irvine, with a year abroad at the University of Manchester, her father’s alma mater and about 20 minutes from where she was born.

In 2013, Amy moved to London, “repatriating” after many years “abroad”. She is now exploring TCK/CCK identity through theater.

* * *

Did growing up as a TCK influence your decision to go into theater, and how has it helped you process your TCK upbringing?
For my thesis project at UC Irvine, I wrote a play called Hyphenated. It was the first time I used theater to explore my British-Americanness—it’s a collection of autobiographical vignettes about my family, strung together with narration from an “Amy” character. I had the idea I could go back to where I was born and find the piece of myself that was missing—and finish my degree while I was at it.

How long ago was that?
This was nearly a decade ago, when I was just beginning to process my dual identity. I hadn’t yet embraced the concept of the Third Culture Kid, or TCK, as I wasn’t able to identify any real-life TCKs beyond myself and my sisters—and we’re not a perfect fit for the academic definition. I was still looking for the right word for who I was, when my confusion finally led me to the community of TCKs and CCKs (Cross-Cultural Kids). I’ve found a remarkable sense of kinship with people who have lived in those same liminal spaces. We recognize that shared emotional geography, even if we’ve never set foot on the same patches of earth. Since moving to London I’ve really embraced being part of the TCK/CCK community—and theater has been a big part of that, with the development of my own performance lab and a new piece, Home Is Where.

“You know where a lot of my family lives? England!”

I understand you’ve been in London for just over three years. What led to your decision to move eight time zones away from where your immediate family lives?
The decision to move came like a bolt of lightning at the end of Directors Lab West—a one-week intensive workshop I attended in 2012. The experience inspired and challenged me and got me thinking about my career. I have a habit of making major decisions through powerful gut instinct (and then rationalizing them at length afterwards, as I did in this blog post). Besides, I have grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in this part of the world.

Since making the move, have you ever gotten “itchy feet”?
I don’t think I get “itchy feet”. Unlike many of my fellow TCKs, I didn’t grow up with high mobility. I never developed that internal clock telling me it’s time to move on again. But still, I often wonder what my life would be like somewhere else in the world, what friends I haven’t met because I’m still here, what opportunities I’m missing out on, what other languages I might know if I hadn’t settled in English-speaking places all my life… But I also want roots.

Is London “home”?
London could be home. I accept I will never be as English as a person who grew up in England, but at least my accent doesn’t stick out here because everyone sounds different. It’s a great base for visiting and working in other European cities… I can see myself staying.

“Directing collaboratively is ‘upholding something with an open hand.’”

Tell me about Home Is Where. What led you to create this particular theater piece?
Whereas Hyphenated was motivated by finding my personal sense of self and cultural identity, Home Is Where is about trying to find a sense of belonging in the context of a global community. It’s also about reaching out to non-TCKs who are curious about these people who move around and get their cultures all mixed up.

I understand the creative process for Home Is Where has involved extensive collaboration?
The process started with identifying fellow TCK and CCK collaborators, and interviewing dozens of people about their cross-cultural experiences. Both the cast and the creative team have contributed ideas for the story, characters, and performance style. Collaboration on this scale is a challenging way to work—but it’s also exhilarating, and creates something unique to this group of people. All twelve of us bring our own cultural identities and diverse artistic backgrounds to the performance, be it music, movement, multimedia, or other styles of theater. The actors weave together their own international experiences with verbatim interviews from fellow cultural hybrids.

It sounds exciting but also a little daunting.
It’s the largest team I’ve ever led, and also the most technically ambitious project I’ve ever attempted. We’re using a technique called headphone verbatim: the actors are listening to the audio recordings of the interviews on stage, and repeating exactly what they hear. That way, the audience can hear exactly what TCKs told us in their interviews. We’re also extending our storytelling outside of the theater. Clips from all our interviews are available on our Online Oral History Library.

What are your hopes and plans for Home Is Where?
We’re still developing the play, finding the best structure to showcase the TCK stories we’ve gathered. At the start of last month we presented a work-in-progress performance in a space in London’s East End; it was set in a futuristic anti-immigration dystopia, inspired by the Brexit vote here in the UK. In an earlier version, we set the interviews in a fictional TCK Embassy—riffing off the idea of the Global Citizen. Right now, we’re in a new script development phase. Hopefully early next year we’ll be back in rehearsal to create the next version of the piece. Ultimately, we’re aiming for a full production in London and then touring around the UK (and maybe even further afield—stay tuned!).

scenes-from-home-is-where

“Five Helens look into a mirror, asking: ‘Is this the face that launched a thousand ships?’”

Are you working on anything else?
I’ve been working on a project about Helen of Troy since 2010, when I started writing with my friend Megan Cohen, a brilliant playwright based in San Francisco. The Helen Project consists of fragments of monologue exploring the myth, icon, and real life of Helen of Troy. We’ve produced a few different “editions” with five actors in both San Francisco and London. I’m currently reshaping it into a solo show, with the idea of directing an immersive performance installation version at some point…

The story of Helen of Troy sounds a far cry removed from the TCK scene.
You know, about two years after we started writing it, I realized it’s also a TCK story. At the end of the Trojan War, our Helen says:

I came home to Sparta. Sparta, where you call me Helen of Troy. In Troy, they called me Helen of Sparta. Or just “the Greek woman”. No one will own me. I don’t belong anywhere.

the-helen-project-2

* * *

Thank you so much, Amy!

Readers, please leave questions or comments for Amy below. You can follow her progress on her Performance Lab site, Facebook and Twitter, where she uses two handles: @AmyClareTasker and @wearehyphenated. Interested in Home Is Where? Read more about it here, and don’t forget you can listen to the TCK interviews at the Online Oral History Library.

Editor’s note: The subheds were taken from Amy Clare Tasker’s blog posts. 

Born in Nicosia, Cyprus, to Lebanese parents, Dounia Bertuccelli has lived in France, UK, Australia, Philippines, Mexico, and the USA—but never in Lebanon. She writes about her experiences growing up as a TCK and adjusting as an adult TCK on her blog Next Stop, which is a collection of prose, poetry and photography. She also serves as the managing editor of The Black Expat; Expat Resource Manager for Global Living Magazine; co-host of the monthly twitter chat #TCKchat; and TCKchat columnist for Among Worlds magazine. Currently based on the East Coast of the United States, she is happily married to a fellow TCK who shares her love for travel, music and good food. To learn more about Dounia, please read her interview with former TCK Talent columnist Lisa Liang. You can also follow her on Twitter.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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Photo credits: Top visual: (top row) London Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge and tragedy/comedy photos are from Pixabay; and photo of Amy Clare Tasker (supplied). Middle visual: Scenes from Home Is Where and flyer for September performance (supplied). Bottom visual: Bust of Helen of Troy by Antonio Canova at Victoria and Albert Museum, uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Yair Haklai (CC BY-SA 3.0); and scene from The Helen Project (supplied).

TCK TALENT: Dounia Bertuccelli, writer, editor, mentor and #TCKchat co-host

Dounia Bertuccelli TCK Talent

Columnist Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang‘s guest this month is a TCK of Lebanese origin, who has lived almost everywhere apart from Lebanon!

Greetings, readers. Today’s interviewee is Dounia Bertuccelli, writer, editor, mentor, and one of the moderators of #TCKchat, a Twitter chat for TCK kids around the globe. I first met Dounia at the Families in Global Transition 2014 conference, where she was a Parfitt Pascoe Writing Residency scholar and I was performing Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey as the final keynote. Since then, Dounia’s writing and my show have had positive trajectories, so I feel like our paths are parallel.

Dounia was born in Nicosia, Cyprus, to Lebanese parents—but has never lived in Lebanon. Her father worked for a US-based company with branches around the world, and Dounia spent her childhood and pre-teen years in the USA (Wisconsin), Mexico, and the Philippines, and her teens in Australia and France.

As an adult, Dounia has studied/lived in the U.K., France and the United States. She earned her undergraduate degree in History/Geography at Institut Catholique de Paris (actually not a religious institute) and her BA in History at the Sorbonne. After taking a year to work, she enrolled in the University of Surrey in the UK to pursue an MA in European Politics, Business and Law. She worked in France again for a while. Her latest move was to Connecticut six years ago with her husband, who also grew up as a TCK, for his job.

It’s a pleasure to interview Dounia for The Displaced Nation.

* * *

Welcome, Dounia. Your peripatetic, multilingual childhood must have included so many adventures and challenges. Were you happiest in a certain place at a certain time, and if so, why? 
That’s a really great and interesting question! It’s also a tough one but here goes… As a teenager, I found the two years I lived in Australia to be the happiest and most carefree. We moved there from the Philippines (where safety was an issue, especially for foreigners), and our newfound freedom was exhilarating. As a teenager, it was the ideal place: it was safe, and we had sunshine, beach and friends. Initially it was a very difficult transition, but once I settled in, I loved it—and it remains a very positive memory. As an adult, I have been happiest living in Paris. It’s where I’ve felt the most sense of belonging. I still don’t feel 100% like I belong there and I can still feel like an outsider—but less so than everywhere else. Paris is beautiful, vibrant and truly taught me independence. I also met the love of my life there, and it is where my family has settled down, so it will always hold a special place in my heart.

Do you identify most with a particular culture or cultures or with people who have similar interests and perhaps similar cross-cultural backgrounds?  
There is no black-and-white answer here. A lot of it comes down to the individual and their family background. I definitely identify with people who have similar cross-cultural/global-living backgrounds because there is an unspoken understanding and connection. But I also identify with those who come from a similar heritage and familial background. Not necessarily the same origin, but who were brought up with similar values and family ties.

“I long for somewhere,/ without knowing where.”

How do you like living in Connecticut?
It’s been a mixed experience. People have been nice and we live in a cute small town…but there is very little diversity and, although we may look and sound like everyone else, we are very different. That has made it difficult to meet people we connect with and to feel as though we belong. It’s also tough to live in a small American town after living in Paris for 10 years and having access to other European cities. And it’s definitely not easy being across the ocean from my parents and siblings.

Did your TCK upbringing inform your choice to become a writer—and has writing helped you to process your TCK upbringing?
I have always written, but I don’t know if that comes from my TCK upbringing or if it’s just my character. I think writing has helped me process my TCK experiences, as it has helped me process most things in my life. I’ve always written to express myself, to put my thoughts and emotions on paper—through journals, prose and poetry. As I was growing up I wrote about everyday life, and also during every move, in airports between homes and everything else in between. I still do that and I think it’s definitely helped me process my experiences as an adult TCK.
Heart vs home

“And yet I long to settle,/ To put down roots.”

As an ATCK, do you now have “itchy feet” or do you prefer to have a home base and only travel for pleasure?
I think it’s a bit of both. I’ve been in the same place for 5.5 years and that’s long. I’m ready for a change and to be somewhere new. But at the same time I’m not sure I want the constant upheaval of frequent moves. I think I would like to settle and have a home base, but only somewhere special to me and where I can also travel easily. Even if I settled down somewhere, I would need to travel frequently to feel the thrill of the unfamiliar, see new places and keep those “itchy feet” content.

Are you working on anything at the moment?
I have my ongoing work as a freelance writer and editor—I am the Expat Resource Manager for Global Living Magazine. In addition, I’m working on a variety of projects: I’m a moderator for #TCKchat (a twitter chat for TCKs around the globe); I write the TCKchat column for Among Worlds; and I work with the Parfitt Pascoe Writing Residency scholars as their mentor and editor (as you mentioned at the outset, it’s a scholarship program for new TCK/expat writers to attend and write about the Families in Global Transition Conference). You can find all my published works on my blog as well as on my LinkedIn page. It’s collection of non-fiction prose, poetry, occasional book reviews and photography.

* * *

Thank you so much, Dounia. Readers, please leave questions or comments for Dounia below. You can also follow her on Twitter, where you’ll be led into the monthly #TCKchats (#TCKchat is held on the 1st Wednesday/Thursday of each month with 2 sessions: 1st session at 15:00 GMT and 2nd session at 3:00 +1 GMT). And be sure to take a look at her creative works on her blog, the aptly named Next Stop.

Editor’s note: The two quotes are from Dounia Bertuccelli’s poem “Longing,” which was first published on her blog in 2014 and also appeared in Among Worlds (December 2015), a magazine for Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs).

Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang is a prime example of what she writes about in this column: an Adult Third Culture Kid working in a creative field. A Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent, she is an actor, writer, and producer who created the solo show Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey, which has been touring internationally. And now she is working on another show, which we hope to hear more about soon! To keep up with Lisa’s progress in between her columns, be sure to visit her blog, Suitcasefactory. You can also follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

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 so much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Photo credits: Top visual: (top row) Eiffel Tower image via Pixabay; Coat of arms of the former university of Paris, France (Sorbonne), by Katepanomegas via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0); Connecticut 1980 camper trailer plate, by Jerry “Woody” via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); and Dounia Bertuccelli (supplied); (bottom row) Lebanon via Pixabay; Selimiye Mosque (originally the Cathedral of Sainte Sophie), in Nicosia, Cyprus, by Chris06 via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0); and The Surrey Scholar in Guildford, by Mike Peel via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0). Middle visual: House and heart images via Pixabay; Avenue des Champs-Élysées photo via Pixabay; Hartford, Connecticut by Doug Kerr via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). Bottom visual: Writing and photography images via Pixabay.

TCK TALENT: Laura Piquado, New York City Actress & One Well-Traveled Kid!

Laura Piquado Collage FINALWelcome to Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang’s monthly column about Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs) who work in creative fields, Lisa herself being a prime example. A Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent, she recently debuted her one-woman show about being a TCK, which I had the pleasure of seeing during its too-short run in New York City in September of last year: stupendous!

—ML Awanohara

Happy new year, readers! Let’s start today’s interview by plunging right in. My guest is Laura Piquado, a professional actress based in New York who grew up in six countries, including Egypt, where we were drama classmates in high school.

* * *

Welcome to The Displaced Nation, Laura. It’s wonderful to reconnect with a Cairo classmate! I know you grew up as the daughter of a pair of teachers who were full of wanderlust. Can you give us a run-down of the countries you lived in as a kid?
My mother always told me that her earliest dream memory was of wanting to move to Africa. And as soon as she graduated from university in Canada, that’s what she did. She met my father in Sierra Leone in the mid 1960s. He was there with the Peace Corps, while she was being sponsored by CUSO (Canadian University Service Overseas)—a Peace Corps-style organization. They left when my mother was six months pregnant with my brother. My mother is tall, almost 5’11”, but at that time weighed only 120 lbs. I think having parasites, or the occasional bout of malaria was commonplace, but the risk to her health became too great.

After my (healthy) brother was born in Washington, DC, my parents decided to go overseas again. The first job my dad got was as an English teacher in a small village in northern Newfoundland, where I was born. Less than a year later, we moved to Beirut, Lebanon. Four years after that, when war broke out, we were evacuated to Shahin-Shahr, Iran, for almost four years. War broke out again, and we were evacuated again. The next stop was São Paulo, Brazil, for two years. My mom and dad hated the city, and we left every other weekend and holiday to get away from it. Consequently, my memories of Brazil are of travel, and of everywhere but São Paulo. After Brazil, we lived for four years in Bontang, Indonesia, which is in the province of East Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. After seventh grade we moved again, to Cairo, Egypt, where I graduated high school. That’s where you and I first met! My parents then moved on to Ecuador and China for 16 more years.

My parents loved being overseas, and at no point did they yearn to “come home.” They wanted their lives to be as teachers in international schools, and for 40 years that’s what they did. They retired a few years ago to a small town in New Hampshire.

A hard landing into adulthood

How did you feel about living in so many places?
I loved it, actually. Adjusting to new environments, new friends, new cultures, languages, was never difficult for me. I don’t know why. Perhaps I just got used to it. But I don’t think you ever get used to leaving friends and people you love—that’s always hard.

As an adult, do you find yourself drawn to other TCKs?
I definitely identify with other TCKS, though it’s not always a given we will hit it off. In fact, I used to be magnetically drawn to anyone who was a visible minority. “You’re from Indonesia?! I used to live in Indonesia!” “Hey, you’re Alexandrian! I lived in Cairo for 5 years!” I was always wanting to make a connection with a world that was no longer mine—and maybe never was mine, if I adhere to the rules of 3rd culture. But just because someone grew up all over the world as I did, or just because they are an actor like me, doesn’t guarantee I’ll be friends with that person—but it’s a starting point. And if a person grew up in different countries, at least their eyes won’t glass over when I answer the question, “Where are you from?”

You now live in New York City. How do you find life in the USA?
I’ve lived in the United States longer than I’ve lived anywhere else. Yet it’s the first place I’ve ever lived that doesn’t feel like home. For the first 20 years of my life I played with my friends, explored the jungle, hiked the Andes, swam in the Red Sea and the East Timor Straights, climbed salt flats, made forts in the desert, went horse-back riding around the Great Pyramids, woke to gibbon songs and the muezzin’s call to prayer. And then I came back here to go to school, get some degrees, get a job, and try to figure things out… I had this exhilarating childhood, and then this less-than-thrilling transition to adulthood.

Does your identity revolve around any one particular culture that you’ve lived in?
I am Dyak and atheist, Muslim, Christian, Bahá’í, Jain, Egyptian, Italian, Canadian—there is nowhere in the world that has ever felt foreign to me. I am all of these things, and none of them. After moving to the United States for the first time for college, being able to be all of them at the same time was what mattered the most. I was striving to understand who I was and what my life had been, and trying to share that with others, even if I couldn’t articulate it to myself. It’s taken a long time, and I suppose I’m still working at it. That said, I love meeting the kind of person who, unlike me, was raised in the same town he or she was born in, and still goes back there for family visits and holidays. I am attracted to the sense of being anchored somewhere, to a particular place. That perceived sense of belonging somewhere: it’s something I just don’t have; I don’t know what it feels like.

From an actor on the global stage, to an actor on a real stage

Tell us what you studied in college and how you made the leap to pursuing an acting career.
I did my master’s degree in Islamic Studies at McGill University in Montreal. I wanted, as an adult, to understand the cultural, political, and social environments in which I grew up. On some level I was looking for a path that would take me overseas again, which I was aching to do. I wanted to work in the development of women’s education in post-conflict societies because it was work that I was passionate about.

Just as I was finishing my degree, and thinking about streamlining into a doctoral program, I went back to Cairo. I hadn’t been back since high school. For a whole month I walked through the streets of my old neighborhood, saw my friends, went to mosques and bazaars and the Red Sea, and smelled and ate and absorbed Egypt again. It was glorious. But something changed in me after that, and made it okay for me to move on.

When I came back to Montreal, I started applying to drama schools. Although I had been involved in theatre since I was a kid, I hadn’t wanted to study it as an undergrad. There were other things in my life that I needed to address before I embarked on that.

But now I was ready for drama school—I enrolled in the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. At LAMDA, I felt like I was flying. I was so happy. To allow myself the ability to change horses mid stream, and for it to feel natural and fluid and right—that was tremendous. I don’t think any of us is just one person, and we aren’t the same person at 15, 25, 35, 55. We have multiple loves and lives and wants, and finding ways to marry them all, if we’re lucky enough to know what they are in the first place, can be overwhelming.

How did your family react to your decision to pursue an acting career?
I’ve only ever had a supportive family. So instead of calling me a flake, or accusing me of lacking any sense of stick-to-itiveness when I told them I wanted to go to drama school, they became, again, my most enthusiastic supporters.

I think our peripatetic childhoods trained us to be actors—to observe, listen, and adjust our behavior to our surroundings. Do you agree?
I do agree, for the most part. But I also think personality has a lot to do with it. Just because you grew up all over the world doesn’t de facto make you a keen observer, or an astute listener, and not all kids who move around a lot are able to adjust to their changing environment. On the other hand, if you have had a peripatetic life, and you also happen to be a good listener, observer, etc., it seems it can only enrich your depths as an actor (and certainly as a human being). For me, adaptability became a defining aspect of my personality.

I think that for us TCKs, the challenge of convincing a casting director that you truly can be this other person is made easier because of all of those things we bring to the table—listening, observing, adjusting, maybe even having lived or known the character’s life. But also for that reason, many of us find it even harder to put up with being typecast.

Which sorts of roles are you attracted to, and do you think your upbringing influenced this?
I’m usually attracted to damaged characters, or quirky ones. And accents are always juicy! I’ve always been a mimic, and am grateful for that gift as it makes it easier to play a variety of roles. Why I’m drawn to quirky characters is less apparent. Does it have something to do with my upbringing? That’s an interesting thought. I’ve never made that correlation, but it makes complete sense.

So which parts have been your faves?
I loved playing Goneril in King Lear with the Texas Shakespeare Festival. I’ve always thought that she’s been inappropriately maligned as a character. Lear is not the easiest father—demanding, impulsive—and to require his daughters to prove, to prove, their undying love for him—for the sole purpose of measuring it against their inheritance—makes him something of a jerk in my book.

Playing the painter in Ionesco‘s The Painting with the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble was pretty great as well. Aside from the play’s absurdism, the part was perverse because of the the vocal and physical qualities we decided on. It’s not often that you get to play grotesque and obsequious, mismanage your voice, throw out your back, and sprain your jaw because the part demands it. Fantastic! 🙂

And a role on the damaged front, I suppose, was Charlotte in Sharr White‘s Sunlight, for its world premiere with the New Jersey Rep. While I’m less attracted to straightforward, modern dramas (though in truth, I love it all), the whole premise for who Charlotte is, for what motivates and oppresses her, is her having been in the Towers on September 11th and losing her child as a result of the trauma. And while that’s not what the play’s about (thank God!), it defines who she is able to become (or not become) in the ensuing decade.

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Wow, that’s an impressive list! Thank you, Laura! I wish you the very best in your career and hope to see you on stage and/or screen soon. Readers, please leave questions or comments for Laura below.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, from our Global Food Gossip!

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2013 Holiday Special: Notable books for, by and about expats

Looking for last-minute gifts—or have your holiday celebrations brought you to the point where you might need an escape for yourself?

In the tradition of looking back at the past year’s highlights, I present, on behalf of the Displaced Nation team, a list of books for, by, and about expats that were featured in some way on this site in 2013.

Click on the category that interests you:

  1. FICTION
  2. MEMOIRS
  3. HANDBOOKS & GUIDEBOOKS
  4. COOKBOOK (singular because we have only one!)
  • Books in each category are arranged from most to least recent.
  • Unless otherwise noted, books are self-published.

Go on, download a few! It’s the time of the year to be generous to one’s fellow human beings. That said, on the Displaced Nation it’s always the season to support the creative output of those who’ve embraced the life of global residency and travel.

* * *

Fiction

Shemlan Ebook_coverShemlan: A Deadly Tragedy (November 2013)
Author: Alexander McNabb
Genre: International thriller
Synopsis: The third in McNabb’s Levant Cycle, Shemlan tells the story of a retired British foreign service officer who, dying from cancer, returns to Beirut in hopes of meeting the Lebanese love of his youth one last time. But then his past catches up with him, threatening to do him in before the disease does—until British spy Gerald Lynch gallops to the rescue…
Expat credentials: Born in London, McNabb has lived in the Middle East for more than a quarter century. He often receives praise for getting the historical and cultural details right in his books.
How we heard about: We encountered McNabb a year ago when we were doing a series of food posts! We love his books and are giving away Shemlan this month, as well as doing an offer for Displaced Dispatch subscribers on all three books in the cycle. Check it out!

ImperfectPairings_cover_pmImperfect Pairings (May 2013)
Author: Jackie Townsend
Genre: Women’s fiction
Synopsis: American career woman Jamie had not intended to fall in love—and to a foreigner no less, a man who tells her his name is Jack, short for John, but it’s really short for Giovanni. Insanely handsome and intense but unreadable, Giovanni has left a complicated family life back home in Italy. Is this more than Jamie signed up for?
Displaced credentials: In real life, Townsend is married to an Italian and has spent 16 years backing and forthing to her husband’s family in Italy.
How we heard about: ML Awanohara, who rightly or wrongly considers herself something of an expert on cross-cultural marriage, read the book on her Kindle and was so impressed with its depiction of cross-cultural relationship woes that she asked Townsend to be our featured author of November. Read the interview.

SuiteDubai-cover_dropshadowSuite Dubai (April 2013)
Author: Callista Fox
Genre: “New adult” lit
Synopsis: As Callista tells it, the book grew out of a story that entered her head that wouldn’t go away: “There was this girl, young, vulnerable, naive, walking along a concourse in an airport, among men in white robes and checkered scarves and woman in black gauzy material. Where was she going? What would happen to her there?”
Expat credentials: Fox moved to Saudi Arabia when she was eight and lived there off and on until turning 19. She went to boarding schools in Cyprus and Austria. Now back in the United States, she thinks of herself as an adult Third Culture Kid, or TCK.
How we heard about: Noticing our fondness for serial fiction (see Kate Allison’s book below), Fox sent us a note saying she’d written a serial novel reflecting her experience of growing up in the Middle East. We responded by asking if we could publish her series in even smaller parts. Part 1 and Part 2 have already gone up, and there are six more parts to come in 2014. Warning: Highly addictive!

Libby'sLifeTakingFlight_coverLibby’s Life: Taking Flight (April 2013)
Author: Kate Allison
Genre: Women’s fiction
Synopsis: 30-something Libby Patrick is just regaining some post-baby control over her life when a change in husband’s job means they must move from their English home to Woodhaven, a town in rural Massachusetts. The book is Libby’s journal covering the first year of her life as trailing spouse.
Expat credentials: Born and raised in Britain, Kate has lived in the United States with her family for almost two decades.
How we heard about: We were the first to know! Kate is a founding member of the Displaced Nation and has been publishing regular episodes of Libby’s Life (on which the book is based) since the blog began. She has accrued countless fans, the most faithful of whom is Janice. (Libby to Janice: xoxo for your support in 2013!)

APlaceintheWorld_coverA Place in the World (March 2013)
Author: Cinda Crabbe MacKinnon
Genre: Romance
Synopsis: Third Culture Kid Alicia meets a young Colombian man at college in the United States. She follows him to Bogotá and the pair end up marrying and settling on his family’s remote coffee finca (farm) in the Andes. Educated as a biologist, Alicia revels in the surrounding cloud-forest. But then her idyllic life starts to unravel…
Expat credentials: Crabbe MacKinnon grew up in several countries as a military brat and diplomatic kid and, though she has since repatriated to the United States, still thinks of Latin America as home.
How we heard about: Crabbe MacKinnon commented on one of Elizabeth Liang’s “TCK Talent” posts and ended up becoming October’s featured author. Read the interview. We love her and her work, and are sure you will, too!

CoffeeandVodka_coverCoffee and Vodka (March 2013)
Author: Helena Halme
Genre: Women’s fiction
Synopsis: A Finnish family emigrate to Sweden in the 1970s and find themselves in turmoil, caused partly by the displacement, but also by the cracks in family dynamics. At its heart, the book reveals what it is like for a young girl to be uprooted and transplanted to a country where she doesn’t speak the language and is despised for her nationality.
Expat credentials: Halme grew up in Tampere, central Finland, and moved to Britain at the age of 22 via Stockholm and Helsinki, after marrying “The Englishman” (how she always refers to him on her blog, Helena’s London Life). She spent her first ten years in Britain working as journalist and translator for the BBC. She and The Englishman now live in North London.
How we heard about: Halme is a big favorite of ours! She was one of our earliest Random Nomads as well as serving as an expat style icon back in the days when we covered fashion. More recently, Kate Allison reviewed Halme’s first book: The Englishman: Can Love Go the Distance?, and we did a giveaway of Coffee and Vodka. And that’s not all: Halme’s latest book, The Red King of Helsinki, received an “Alice” Award in July. (As noted then, the Alices could hardly ignore a book of that title!)

MonkeyLoveAndMurder_dropshadowMonkey Love and Murder (February 2013)
Author: Edith McClinton
Genre: Adventure mystery
Synopsis: A jungle environment in Suriname (spider monkeys and all) is the setting for a closed-door mystery surrounding the death of the renowned director of the International Wildlife Conservation followed by the machete murder of one of the researchers. None of this bodes well for poor Emma Parks, who has joined the research project on a whim. (So much for that budding primatologist career!)
Expat credentials: MacClintock volunteered for the Peace Corps in Suriname for two years, and joined a monkey research project afterwards.
How we heard about: One of our Random Nomads, Patricia Winton, referred us to the now-defunct blog Novel Adventurers, where Edith was one of the writers. We invited her to guest blog for us about the muses behind her monkey mystery.

ArchangelofMercy_dropshadowArchangel of Mercy (Berkley – Penguin Group, December 2012)
Author: Christina Ashcroft
Genre: Paranormal romance
Synopsis: The first storyline in Ashcroft’s new series focusing on a group of angels and archangels and the lives of the people they come in contact with every day.
Expat credentials: Ashcroft is an expat Brit who now lives in Western Australia with her high school sweetheart and their three children.
How we heard about it: We encountered Christina online and asked her to be one of our Random Nomads for a Valentine’s Day special. In that interview, she said she attributes her success as a writer at least in part to her expat status: “I’ve often wondered whether my career would have followed the same route if we’d stayed in the UK. While I’ve always loved writing it wasn’t until we moved to Australia that I decided to to write with the aim of publication.”

SpiritofLostAngels_dropshadowSpirit of Lost Angels (May 2012)
Author: Liza Perrat
Genre: Historical novel
Synopsis: Set against a backdrop of rural France during the French Revolution, the story centers on Victoire Charpentier, a young peasant woman whose mother was executed for witchcraft and who herself suffers abuse at the hands of a nobleman. Can she muster the bravery and skill to join the revolutionary force gripping France, and overthrow the corrupt aristocracy?
Expat credentials: Liza grew up in Wollongong, Australia, where she worked as a general nurse and midwife for fifteen years. When she met her French husband on a Bangkok bus, she moved to France, where she has been living with her husband and three children for twenty years.
How we heard about: The redoubtable JJ Marsh (see below) interviewed Perrat on writing a location to life, for her monthly column, “Location, Locution.”

BehindClosedDoors_dropshadowBehind Closed Doors (June 2012)
Author: JJ Marsh
Genre: Crime mixed with literary fiction
Synopsis: A smart, technologically sophisticated mystery set in Zürich and surrounding countries, featuring a bipolar detective named Beatrice Stubbs, and quite a few surprises… NOTE: JJ Marsh was listed in the Guardian “readers’ recommended self-published authors” this year, for Behind Closed Doors.
Expat credentials: JJ Marsh grew up in Wales, Africa and the Middle East, where her curiosity for culture took root and triggered an urge to write. After living in Hong Kong, Nigeria, Dubai, Portugal and France, she has finally settled in Switzerland.
How we heard about: We owe displaced author Helena Halme (see above) a king’s ransom for telling us about JJ, who since April has been contributing a monthly “Location, Locution” column. Don’t miss her posts under any circumstances! Highly stimulating and cerebral.

snowdrops_dropshadowSnowdrops (Anchor/Random House, February 2011)
Author: AD Miller
Genre: Literary fiction
Synopsis: Lawyer Nick Platt trades his dull British life for pushing paper in Moscow at the turn of the 21st century. He is soon seduced by a culture he fancies himself above. Snowdrops was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2011.
Expat credentials: British born and educated at Cambridge and Princeton, Andrew Miller joined The Economist and was appointed, in 2004, to become their Moscow correspondent. He covered, among other things, the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine.
How we heard about: JJ Marsh interviewed AD this past July about bringing foreign locations to life in fiction.

odessa_brit_cover_smallMoonlight in Odessa (Bloomsbury, August 2010)
Author: Janet Skeslien Charles
Genre: Women’s fiction
Synopsis: With an engineering degree and perfect English, Daria longs for a life beyond Odessa, Ukraine. And then she moonlights for a dating agency that facilitates hasty, long-distance matches between lustful American men and impoverished Ukrainian women. Her big chance?
Expat credentials: Skeslien Charles went to Odessa, Ukraine, as a Soros Fellow, living through blackouts, heatless winters, corruption and so on. She stayed for two years before returning to the U.S. Then she found a job in France and met her husband. She now lives in Paris but leads a multicultural life. As she puts it: “The novel is set in Odessa, Ukraine. My agent is English. My editor’s assistant is Japanese-Danish, my copy editor is from New Zealand. I’m American. The book was written in France and typeset in Scotland. My first fan letter came from a Swede.”
How we heard about: JJ Marsh picked Skeslien Charles’s brain on “location, locution”, in her November column.

Memoirs

AddictedtoLove_cover_dropshadowAddicted to Love (April 2013)
Author: Lana Penrose
Synopsis: Penrose is the kind of Australian who throws herself wholeheartedly into adventure, which is why her years spend living in Europe have merited not one but three memoirs! This one is the third. In the first memoir (published by Penguin/Viking), To Hellas and Back, she marries the love of her life, an Australian Greek, and accompanies him back to Greece, only to find him becoming increasingly Greek and herself increasingly isolated. In the second, Kickstart My Heart, she moves to London, single and desperate to find love again. And in this third memoir, she returns to Greece, where she encounters a seemingly perfect man named Adonis. (Hey, she never gives up!)
Expat credentials: From Sydney originally (she is back there now), Penrose lived in Athens for five years before moving to London.
How we heard about it: We happened across Penrose online and asked her to guest-post for us a year ago on what it was like to spend Christmas in Greece. At that time, we also did a giveaway of her first memoir. We invited her back this past April to write about Addicted to Love.

MagicCarpetSeduction_cover_pmMagic Carpet Seduction: Travel Tales Off the Beaten Path (May 2013)
Author: Lisa Egle
Synopsis: Travel with the author to China, Latin America, Turkey and the Middle East, and watch while she takes risks off the beaten path, and dances with strangers in strange lands…
Expat credentials: Egle characterizes herself as a lover of offbeat travel. She’s been to 36 countries on five continents and has been an expat twice: in Ecuador for a year and half, and in Spain for a year.
How we heard about: We got to know Egle first through her blog, Chicky Bus, and when we heard she’d put out a book, asked her to be one of our featured authors. Read the interview.

Pilgrimage-Cover_pmRunning the Shikoku Pilgrimage: 900 Miles to Enlightenment (Volcano Press, January 2013)
Author: Amy Chavez
Synopsis: After losing her job at a Japanese university, Chavez undertakes a solo journey running Japan’s 900-mile Buddhist pilgrimage, a distance equal to running from San Diego, California to Oregon. A Buddhist priest who is also a friend gives her “cosmic tools” to take with her.
Expat credentials: American expat Amy Chavez has been a columnist for Japan’s oldest English-language newspaper, The Japan Times, since 1997. She lives with her husband and cat on Shiraishi Island in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea.
How we heard about: We interviewed Chavez about her pilgrimage, and what it took to write the book, in April.

Don'tNeedtheWholeDog_dropshadowDon’t Need the Whole Dog! (December 2012)
Author: Tony James Slater
Synopsis: In the summer of 2004, Slater went to Ecuador, thinking that the experience would turn him into a man. He went back to his native England fueled by a burning desire to do something that mattered—and, ideally, to get the heck out of England in the process. He dreamed of going to Thailand and becoming a professional diver. This is the story of what happened next.
Expat credentials: A Brit, Slater now lives in Perth, Australia, with his Australian wife.
How we heard about: Slater made himself known to us for failing to include his first book, The Bear That Ate My Pants: Adventures of a Real Idiot Abroad, about his time volunteering at an animal shelter in Ecuador, in our 2011 holiday round-up. He probably should have left well enough alone, though, as next thing he knew, we had him writing for the Displaced Nation. His post on the world’s best parties remains one of our most popular!

TruckinginEnglish-dropshadowTrucking in English (December 2012)
Author: Carolyn Steele
Synopsis: This is the tale of what happens when a middle-aged mum from England decides to actually drive 18-wheelers across North America instead of just dreaming about it. Nothing goes well, but that’s why there’s a book.
Expat credentials: Born and bred in London, Carolyn and her son are now Canadian citizens and live permanently in Kitchener, Ontario.
How we heard about: One of our featured authors in 2012, Martin Crosbie, sent Steele our way, and Kate Allison reviewed her book in March. Steele later contributed an amusing post to our “New vs Olde World” series, about the difficulties of mastering the Canadian “R”.

Finding-Rome-on-the-Map-of-Love_dropshadowFinding Rome on the Map of Love (September 2012)
Author: Estelle Jobson
Synopsis: When her Italian diplomat boyfriend gets posted to Rome, Jobson throws up her career in publishing in her native South Africa to accompany him. There, she reinvents herself as Signora Stella, a casalinga (housewife). The book captures a year’s worth of quirky observations about life amongst the Italians.
Expat credentials: Originally from South Africa, Jobson now lives in Geneva, where she works as a writer and editor.
How we heard about: Jobson was our featured author in February. Her book and sense of humor are terrific!

Travels with George Book CoverTravels with George: A Memoir Through the Italy of My Childhood (April 2012)
Author: Olga Vannucci
Synopsis: In five separate trips to Italy with her young son, George, in tow, Vannucci strolls and hikes through the landscapes of her Italian childhood. She looks at Italy both as local native and awed visitor.
Expat credentials: Born in Italy, Vannucci lived in Brazil and came to the United States to attend Brown University. She lives in rural New Jersey with her son.
How we heard about: Vannucci was our featured author in September. Read the interview. We loved this quote from her son: “Where are we going? How much longer? I have something in my shoe. I want to go back. Why are we doing this? Do you know where we are? Do you know where we’re going? Mammaaaaaaa!”

AreWeThereYet_cover_dropshadowAre We There Yet? Travels with My Frontline Family (May 2009)
Author: Rosie Whitehouse
Synopsis: A vivid, funny, and very human account of the author’s travels with her family through war-torn Europe.
Expat credentials: Whitehouse spent five years as a housewife in the war-torn Balkans married to a correspondent of The Economist, caring for their growing family.
How we heard about: We happened across Whitehouse’s work online and asked her to be a featured author last summer. Read the interview. She’s absolutely fascinating, as one might expect of the kind of woman who trails her spouse into a war zone.

HoneyfromtheLion_coverHoney from the Lion: An African Journey (Dutton Adult, 1988)
Author: Wendy Laura Belcher
Synopsis: Brought up in Africa, Belcher returned to Ghana in the early 1980s to work with a “national linguistic group” that is spreading literary into rural areas by translating the Bible into native languages. A coming-of-age story that was called “lyrical” by the New York Times when first issued.
Expat credentials: An adult Third Culture Kid, Belcher grew up in East and West Africa, where she became fascinated with the richness of Ghanaian and Ethiopian intellectual traditions. She is now an assistant professor of African literature at Princeton.
How we heard about: Elizabeth Liang interviewed Belcher for her TCK Talent series.

Handbooks & Guidebooks

cathy_feign_coverKeep Your Life, Family and Career Intact While Living Abroad, 3rd Ed. (Stvdio Media, September 2013)
Author: Cathy Tsang-Feign
Synopsis: A survival manual for those who are living abroad, with real-life examples and easy-to-understand explanations about the unique issues faced by expats: from preparing to move, to daily life overseas, to returning home.
Expat credentials: Tsang-Feign is an American psychologist who lives in Hong Kong, specializing in expat psychology and adjustment issues. She has also lived in London.
How we heard about: When Kate Allison learned about the book, she decided it merited one of our “Alice” awards for the understanding displayed of the “through the looking glass” complex.

realitycheck_bookcoverReality Check: Life in Brazil through the eyes of a foreigner (September 2013)
Author: Mark Hillary
Synopsis: Targeted at those who plan on living, working or just visiting Brazil, it covers issues such as the difficulties of finding new friends, using a new language, and finding a job. Also provided is some background on the fast-changing society in Brazil that resulted in extensive street protests during 2013.
Expat credentials: Hillary is a British writer who moved to Brazil in 2010, bought a home, started a company, and has experienced both difficulties and joys.
How we heard about it: Andy Martin, another Brit in Brazil and a writer for the Displaced Nation in 2013, is a friend of Hillary’s and was jealous he’d produced a book that is not only a practical guide but also provides much of the cultural backdrop an international resident needs for a country as complex as Brazil. The next best thing, Martin thought, would be to do an interview with Hillary, which he delivered in two parts. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

TERE_cover_dropshadowThe Emotionally Resilient Expat: Engage, Adapt and Thrive Across Cultures (Summertime, July 2013)
Author: Linda A. Janssen
Synopsis: A guide for those facing the challenge of cross-cultural living, with candid personal stories from experienced expats and cross-culturals, and a wealth of practical tools, techniques and best practices for developing the emotional resilience for ensuring a successful transition.
Expat credentials: Janssen lived for several years in the Netherlands while her husband, an adult TCK, worked in the Hague. She recently repatriated to the United States.
How we heard about: We’ve had many satisfying interactions with Janssen since starting the Displaced Nation and were thrilled to hear about her new book—a natural for one of this year’s “Alice” awards, particularly as Janssen has been running a popular blog called Adventures in Expatland.

AmericanExbratinSaoPaulo_cover_pmAn American Exbrat in São Paulo: Advice, Stories, Tips and Tricks for Surviving South America’s Largest City (May 2013)
Author: Maggie Foxhole (Megan Farrell)
Synopsis: Aimed at those who are moving or traveling to São Paulo, it is designed to be a companion on the journey through the ups and down, ins and outs, and the curious roundabouts of life in that city.
Expat credentials: Megan/Maggie moved to Brazil with her Brazilian husband and their daughter. She keeps a blog: Born Again Brazilian.
How we heard about: Farrell/Foxhole was one of our early Random Nomads. She kept in touch and we were very pleased to learn about her book, which ML Awanohara read and admired for its comprehensiveness. Andy Martin, a Brit who also lives in São Paulo with a Brazilian spouse, reviewed the book for our site this past July.

101reasons_dropshadow101 Reasons to Live Abroad and 100 Reasons Not to (March 2013)
Author: Chris Alden
Synopsis: Targeted at the wannabe expat, the aim is to help you discover if living abroad is right for you. It’s an uplifting guide to the positive sides of life as an expatriate and a reality check about the challenges that relocation brings.
Expat credentials: A professional writer, Alden lived for three years in a beautiful village in the Troodos foothills of Cyprus, which resulted in his first travel guidebook: 250 Things to Do in Cyprus on a Sunny Day.
How we heard about: Alden was the recipient of one our “Alice” awards for this book. We were impressed that he offered a final, 101st reason to live abroad for those of us who, having been offered as many as a hundred reasons both for and against, still find ourselves dithering…

career-break-travelers-handbook_dropshadowThe Career Break Traveler’s Handbook (September 2012)
Author: Jeffrey Jung
Synopsis: Intended to inspire people to go for it and take the break they’ve been seeking from their jobs and go travel, with tips and tricks Jung learned from his own and other career breakers’ experiences.
Expat credentials: Having left the corporate ladder, Jung now lives in Colombia, where he founded his own business to help others do the same: CareerBreakSecrets.com.
How we heard about: Jung was one of our Random Nomads. He let us know about his book, and we reviewed it this past February. Not that he needed our help—it also got a shout-out in Forbes!

finding-your-feet-in-chicago-3D-Book CoverFinding Your Feet in Chicago: The Essential Guide for Expat Families (Summertime Publishing, August 2012)
Author: Véronique Martin-Place
Synopsis: A down-to-earth pocket guide to help expats settle into the USA’s third largest city with their families.
Expat credentials: As the wife of a French diplomat (they have two daughters), Martin-Place is accustomed to moving around the world. Chicago was one of her more enjoyable stops, but she also enjoyed Sri Lanka(!). The family is now in Shanghai.
How we heard about: ML Awanohara had interviewed Martin-Place on her blog, Seeing the Elephant. She had fun interviewing her again, this time about the process of composing a guidebook.

Cookbook

FromtheGlobalScottishKitchen_cover_tdnFrom the Global Scottish Kitchen (Self-published, November 2012)
Author: Sharon Lorimer
Genre: Cooking
Synopsis: Recipes based on Scottish cuisine but influenced by the restaurants and other kinds of cuisines Lorimer has experienced as an expat: e.g., Cock a’ Leekie Udon!
Expat credentials: Born in Scotland, Lorimer now lives in New York City and is married to an Asian American.
How we heard about it: We interviewed Lorimer about her decision to start up Doshebu, a business providing training to company employees being sent abroad on the “art” of being an expat.

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Questions: Have you read any of the above works and if so, what did you think of them? And can you suggest other works to add to the list? My colleagues and I look forward to reading your comments below!

STAY TUNED for some upcoming posts, though we’ll be taking a bit of a break over the holidays!

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Never fear, Santa McNabb is here, with a sack full of Middle Eastern spy thrillers!

Alexander_McNabb_santa

Expat author Alexander McNabb (his own photo)

I’ve always thought of international creative Alexander McNabb as a person who wears many hats, including (but hardly limited to) those of software package salesman, magazine publisher, journalist, radio commentator, literary conference chair, digital communications strategist, and writer of international thrillers. Wait, I almost forgot: talented chef. (In fact, I first discovered him through his now-defunct collective foodie blog, The Fat Expat. Note: The recipes are still available.)

And to this lengthy list I must now add a fur-trimmed Santa hat.* As faithful readers may recall, Alexander visited the Displaced Nation around this time last year, bearing gifts consisting of his first two Middle Eastern spy thrillers: Olives: A Violent Romance and Beirut: An Explosive Thriller.

And here we are again, mid-December, and there he is trudging towards us with a huge sack full of shiny new toys, consisting of the third and final book in what he has branded as his Levant Cycle: Shemlan: A Deadly Tragedy.

What is more, he’ll be GIVING AWAY ONE COPY to the reader who makes the best comment below, as well as DISCOUNTING ALL THREE BOOKS on December 21 and 22 (code available only to Dispatch subscribers).

Readers, I have just finished reading Shemlan, and I can heartily endorse it as a PERFECT READ for the holidays: well written, well paced, and as one of his readers put it in her Amazon review “so very le Carré.” And if you’re a person who loves international travel, you will find yourself learning quite a lot about a part of the world that for many remains a black box.

But enough of the hype. The time has come to welcome the Wise Man and let him do the honors of presenting his latest offerings.

* Alexander, if you don’t like what I’ve done to this photo, I’ll remove the beard, but the hat stays!

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McNabb Giveaway CollageTwo olives, and some extra-dry wit

Hello again, Alexander. First I want to congratulate you on producing three thrillers on the Middle East in relatively rapid succession: Olives, Beirut and now Shemlan. When you first started writing Olives, did you have any idea that two more books would follow?
No idea at all.

Can you remind us of the Olives plot?
Olives centers on a character called Paul Stokes, a young British journalist who travels to Jordan to work on a contract magazine project for the Jordanian Ministry of Natural Resources, which is working on privatizing Jordan’s water network. He falls in love with Aisha, his “minder” from the Ministry. Her brother is bidding against the British for the privatization. Gerald Lynch, a British Secret Intelligence Service officer, turns up and blackmails Paul into spying on Aisha’s family.

As I began to envision a second book, I had in mind a sort of interlinear gloss to Olives, which I was going to call (don’t ask me why!) The Olive Line, showing Lynch’s side of the story. In Olives we always see Lynch through Paul’s very jaded eye (rarely do we like those blackmailing us), while there is a whole other story in there of Lynch negotiating with the Israelis and Jordanian intelligence and figuring out how all three intelligence agencies with vested interests in the water resource issue (the Israeli, British and Jordanians) can work on this together.

But then Beirut happened, almost by accident. All my books have started with dreams, which is sort of cool.

Hmmm… I rather like the idea of The Olive Line.
I’m messing around with a screenplay of Olives, which incorporates some of that material, but it’s on the back burner ‘cos I’ve started writing another book. I can’t stop, it’s like a bad habit.

Somehow that doesn’t surprise me! So tell me: has writing three books based around the Middle East, where you’ve lived for 25 years, helped you to process your own experiences in the region, or is it complete escapism?
I’m sure a lot of my experiences have filtered in there in one way or another, but it’s really about escapism. I’ve stolen people, situations, scenery and feelings of course. It’s true that writing makes thieves of us. But I’ve never been shot at or killed any Albanian hookers, let alone slept with gorgeous madams from Rue Monot [a nightlife street in Beirut]. The world is probably a safer place now I’ve got all that stuff out of my system, but there’s more in there pounding on the gates to get out.

Yes, I can definitely sense that writing has brought out your suppressed desires, especially when it comes to the character of Gerald Lynch, that gritty British spy who appears in all three books and has some definite Bond-like traits. For example, he appears to enjoy women, food and drink, and never meets a firearm he doesn’t excel at using.
Bond? Nah. My British spy in Olives was originally a Terry-Thomas kind of character called Nigel Soames, a sort of gingery spook. He’s got a cameo in Shemlan. This character wasn’t working for me, and I had a business meeting with a big Irish businessman from a rural background in Dubai called Gerald who, during the meeting, uttered the immortal line: “I don’t like being called Gerry. I’ve been twenty years escaping Gerry blablabla” (I can’t tell you his surname). I left the meeting punching the air—Gerald Lynch had just come into being. He’s the anti-Bond. He never uses gadgets, and his idea of sophistication is a servee [shared taxi] and a beer in a shady bar… And he has got SUCH a big authority problem…

401px-James_Nesbitt_July_2008

James Nesbitt. Photo credit: Richard Redshaw, Wikimedia Commons.

You said you’re writing a screenplay for Olives: have you got anyone in mind to play Lynch?
I played a game of “Which film stars would play your protagonists?” with some writer friends a couple of years ago and it was then I realized the only person who could play Lynch would be Irish actor James Nesbitt. Nesbitt is very good at portraying the dark, violent side of characters, and since we played that damn game, he and Lynch have morphed.

Gold, frankincense—and now myrhh

Moving on to Shemlan, which I’ve just finished and very much enjoyed: did you find it any easier to write than the other two books? Did you learn things that you were able to apply?
Oh, yes, you learn. When Olives was published, I was forced to come to the realization that not only was there a third person suddenly involved with my relationship with my books, but that I wasn’t actually welcome in the room anymore!

It’s about you—the reader—and the book, if it works, should never reveal any mark of my passing. It’s like hotel rooms. Every day someone is living in that room, frequently someone new each day—but you never, ever want to see any trace of the others. That hair in the bath, that stain on the sheets. Revolting. Books are the same deal—if you ever catch sight of me, I’ve failed—and you’ve been rudely yanked out of the misty springtime mountainside above Beirut back to wherever you are sitting and wanting not to be…

I’ve been amazed at how much people question books as well—I’d never been conscious of it myself, despite being a lifelong bookworm—but people ask me questions like “Why did Lynch do this?” or “How did Paul do that?” or “Why did you kill so and so?” and you realize they have immersed themselves, invested of themselves, in the world you made up. That’s pretty humbling, to tell the truth.

I’ve also learned loads from my editors. You get to come to terms with your quirks and bad habits and eradicate them. I have a list of lazy words and silly phrases I use too much and I do a search for them and find better ways of putting it.

Let’s talk about Shemlan the place, “a Christian village in a Druze area” as you explain in the book. Can you translate that for the uninitiated?
Shemlan is a village in the Chouf mountains above Beirut. Like many other villages in this area, it is inhabited by Druze families, which is a form of Islam that diverged from the mainstream centuries ago, but also Christian families and perhaps Sunni Muslims. Lebanon is a patchwork of faiths and sectarianism is really part of the national DNA—to the point where even the roles of the national leadership are assigned on sectarian lines.

Why did you name the novel after that place?
Purely because the Middle East Centre for Arab Studies (MECAS) was there—the “British spy school.” It really existed! (I was originally going to call the book “Hartmoor”, but heard of Sarah Ferguson’s plan to release a novel of that name and thought I’d be best getting out of her way.) It’s also the only one of the three novels with decent search engine results built in—I own “Shemlan” on Amazon, for instance, when you search for it. Crespo owns “olives”—I’ll never forgive them for it!

In the latter part of the book, we travel with Lynch to Estonia.
Estonia sort of just happened because of the man Lynch is chasing: Dmitri, a Russian military intelligence operative turned modern-day hood. I made him Estonian, and then I went there on holiday and fell in love, love, love. Tallinn is magnificent, fun, sexy and gloriously historic.

A window on the Middle East

The events you portray in Shemlan are extremely violent. The Middle East is of course known for its violence, and it’s said that all major Western empires have become unraveled there. Why do you think the area brings out the worst in everyone so to speak?
It’s Lebanon’s tragedy to possess remarkable beauty and wealth and constantly squander both. The wealth is agricultural as well as creative and intellectual. I think it’s the washing up of the world’s revealed religions, the clash of interests over resources such as water and, of course, the thorny issue of Israel (and the side effects of America’s involvement in that country and the region as a whole). Add corrupt, lazy governance, some good old-fashioned despotism and a legacy of home-made post-colonial lines slashed on a map and you’ve got yourself a nice potboiler! I’m amazed I seem to be one of very few people setting novels in an area as fascinating, complex and just plain screwed up, to be honest!

Your readers who are based in the Middle East, including some natives, have praised your novels for getting the political details right. Did you do a lot of research?
There’s a lot of research there, but not so much into the politics, which is something that’s just a part of everyday life and conversation in these parts, but certainly into whizzbangs [firearms]. The water crisis that drives Olives is very real, for instance—as are the Oka missile warheads in Beirut—the Soviets actually “lost” 180-odd of the blasted things—and so is MECAS (the “spy school” in Shemlan). You can land a helicopter with no engine, kill someone using champagne and drive a two-tonne truck across the Baltic Sea—all of these are true and the result of quite a bit of research. I do try hard not to let that show too much—I’ve always hated books where the hero hefts his 8.2 calibre Poon and Nargle semi-automatic gas-powered carbine with the double hefted shoulder randomizers—you know, where the research is paraded with a pub bore’s infinite, dreary precision.

Leaving aside the whizzbangs for a moment (I’m way out of my depth), I’d like to move on to the love affair between the British diplomat, Jason Hartmoor, and a Lebanese woman from Shemlan, Mai. When Jason leaves Beirut because of the Civil War, he also leaves Mai, to his everlasting regret. He writes her letters, in which he pours out his heart out, including all his work frustrations. Believable?
There are two romances in the books, that between Paul and Aisha and then that between Jason and Mai. In Jason’s case, it’s as much about frustration with his subsequent marriage to a fellow Brit, Lesley, which is just horrible. And it’s about his yearning, his sense of loss at having left Beirut and being in the situation where he can’t go back. Mai understands him, is sympathetic and an intelligent correspondent who is easy to talk to, where Jason’s own wife is contemptuous of him. But —of course—as we find out, things are never quite as simple as they seem…

Words to the wise on self-publishing

I noticed on your blog that you decided to end your relationship with your agent because of his feedback on this book (or the lack). Can you say a little more about that?
He didn’t feel he could “shop” the book to publishers and I thought that was pretty useless. I mean, not even trying. What’s the point of having an agent who basically says he can’t be bothered to try and sell your book? If he doesn’t feel he can sell a thriller set in the Middle East, then we’re never really going to get on, are we?

I know you worked in editing. What is your editorial process?
I always do a number of edits, both by myself and in response to beta readers and then, of course, it goes for professional editing. In the case of Shemlan, Gary Smailes at Bubblecow did the edit and a fine job he did, too. He also cut 30,000 words from the manuscript, which left some reconstruction work to do, but he had made a valid structural point and I accepted that yes, I had to rebuild the West Wing if the house was going to work. My best beta reader (now everyone else is going to hate me) is a chap called Bob Studholme, who is actually an English lecturer in a university here. He’s very good at “yep, that works; nope, that doesn’t gel” feedback, which is what you really want. And Katie Stine proofread the edited MS and found no less than 230 flubs still in there. She’s a fantastic proofreader. And, yes, it takes all that to polish a manuscript if you’re going to take publishing seriously!

Now that you’ve finished The Levant Cycle, what’s next? And can we look forward to your return here next December?
I’ve just started on a new book that’s set in the UK, about a woman who can’t remember what happened to her when she was working as a teacher in Iraq (that might change to Southern Lebanon). She comes back to the UK to teach here in an institute for talented kids and finds her life starts to unravel as the amnesia fades. Her friend is a journalist who sets out to find out what happened to her before she loses her mind completely. I might junk it after a few chapters and move on to something else, but that’s the current plan and I’m enjoying writing it so far!

10 Questions for Alexander McNabb

Finally, I’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
1. Last truly great book you read: I’ve just finished re-reading The True Deceiver, by Tove Jansson. Oh me oh my but that book is glorious. Stark, brooding and oppressive—but glorious!
2. Favorite literary genre: I don’t really have one. I’ll read almost anything – except dystopian paranormal chick lit with vampires. I avoid that.
3. Reading habits on a plane: I tend to watch films on the plane and never at any other time. 99% of my reading now is on my Kindle.
4. The one book you’d require PM Cameron to read, and why: Ulysses by James Joyce. Because it would cause him great pain and therefore gladden me.
5. Favorite books as a child: Oh dear. Confesses. I loved Enid Blyton‘s Famous Five books. By the time I was eight I’d moved on to The Bridge over The River Kwai. I was a terrible bookworm. I once got a detention for reading Scottish author Alister Maclean‘s The Way to Dusty Death during an English class. It had a lurid cover and I hadn’t even bothered to cover it in brown paper. I recently re-read the book, incidentally, and was angered at how utterly crap it was. Awful, awful stuff. Proper shocked at just how bad a piece of writing had become a big bestseller back then.
6. Favorite heroine/hero: I always liked Smilla in the Danish novel Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, and Kristen Scott Thomas in the film version of The English Patient… For heroes: Bertie Wooster.
7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: Lawrence Durrell. He was an atrocious human but a writer of genius. And an expat, though he preferred to be thought of as cosmopolitan.
8. Your reading habits: Kindle all the way. Capricious. I’ll read a good book anywhere. Waiting rooms, toilets, bed, hanging upside down from a tree, I don’t care.
9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: Olives, without a doubt! As mentioned, I’m working on it…
10. The book you plan to read next: There are several lined up on my Kindle and it could be any one of them—or something I stumble across on Amazon. That’s the wonderful thing about Kindles—the next book is just a click away!

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Thanks so much, Santa McNabb. Does anyone have any COMMENTS for this right jolly old elf? Hurry, before these special offers go up the chimney! The winner of Shemlan (for best comment) will be announced in our January 3rd Displaced Dispatch. And the CODE FOR ALL THREE BOOKS will be in the Dispatch published this weekend, on Saturday the 21st, GOOD FOR JUST TWO DAYS: DEC 21 & 22!!!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, some last-minute suggestions for expat and international travel e-books to buy for the holidays, including, of course, this one!

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

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An expat author on why he can’t get enough of Beirut — and your chance to win his thriller named for that city!

Beirut Collage 3We here at the Displaced Nation simply can’t get enough of the displaced thriller-writer Alexander McNabb. Last month he gave away his first book in his Levant series, Olives — A Violent Romance, to several lucky Displaced Nation readers. (Yes, they were thrilled!) And today we announce a couple of more McNabb giveaways, including of his second book, Beirut (see below). But before we explode with excitement, let’s hear what Alexander has to say about that notoriously dangerous city…

— ML Awanohara

To start off, I’d like to present a passage from my new book, Beirut, that I hope captures the flavor of this historic and extremely dynamic Middle Eastern city. The scene centers on the displaced Gerald Lynch, the British Secret Intelligence Service officer we encountered in Olives:

It was late in the afternoon as Gerald Lynch hopped along the uneven paving that lined Gouraud Street, the heart of Beirut’s bustling Gemayze area. He wore jeans and a leather jacket against the chill spring air, his hands in his pockets as he squeezed between the parked cars.
Gouraud’s bars, as ever, welcomed those who wanted to party and forget the woes of a world where violence and conflict were a distant memory but a constant worry. Orphaned by Belfast’s troubles, Lynch appreciated Beirut’s fragile peace and sectarian divides, the hot embers under the white ash on the surface of a fire that looked, to the casual observer, as if it had gone out. Lynch scowled as he passed a poster carrying Michel Freij’s smiling face, encircled in strong black script: “One Leader. One Lebanon.”

There can be few places on earth so sexy, dark, cosmopolitan and brittle as Beirut. At night the city celebrates with a vigour that borders on the manic. Louche young things puff cigarette smoke up into the air, DJs make music, poets dream and artists stencil the walls with the painful irony of youth. Drinkers drink, dancers dance. They celebrate life there as only people who realize how slender the tightrope they walk is — as only a people who collaborated in a 15-year-long enterprise designed to wipe themselves, and their country, off the face of the earth can.

But first, the country

It’s important to understand that Lebanon is a country of divides: north and south; mountain and coast; Shia, Sunni, Christian and Druze.

The country was born out of Greater Syria and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following World War II. The French as the reigning colonial power created it by cobbling together communities who had been in conflict since the Crusades and legislating their way through ancient attitudes and rivalries.

Lebanon’s answer? To enshrine the sectarianism in its constitution, with each religious sect being given its own proscribed role.

Beirut, the Monte Carlo of the East

From its early days as Roman Berytus, Beirut — Lebanon’s capital and largest city — has been a city with greatness in her heart. Surrounded by lush Mediterranean countryside, the verdant Chouf mountains and the glorious fecundity of the Bekaa Valley, served by the sea and a history of maritime trade going back to the Phoenicians, Beirut developed in the course of the 20th century into a major financial center and trade entrepôt.

It was “the Monte Carlo of the East,” the jewel of the Mediterranean. Rich Arab playboys tossed cash around them like leaves; mean-eyed British spies clung to the hotel bars, trading waspish observations and gathering undiplomatic innuendoes. And the women! The olive-skinned beauties of the Levant, like Beirut itself, were so welcoming, so corrupting!

The impact of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990)

Lebanon tore itself apart in a war as senseless as any other, admirably abetted by the Palestine Liberation Organization, Syria and Russia, America and Israel. It’s always the outsiders who throw kindling on the hot passions of Lebanon’s divisions. And then the Lebanese pay a heavy price for their lack of moderation and willingness to invite those outsiders in.

After the war, Beirut dragged itself wearily to its feet, slowly but surely rebuilding its commercial heart — the efforts to rebuild dogged by constant conflict, corruption and terrible old men who weave together influence and fear to maintain their profitable status quo.

When the war finally ended, in 1990, the travel magazines were starting to gush about Beirut again — its stunning restaurants, funky bars and glorious sights.

But the potential for violence remains. As you may recall, a deadly car bomb attack occurred in October of this year. It tore a busy square in Ashrafiyeh apart, killing the head of Lebanese intelligence.

A bomb as big as the monstrous blast that had taken the life of Rafiq Hariri in 2005, the man who had led the effort to rebuild Beirut — an explosion big enough to make the Syrians finally quit Lebanon.

Both of these car-bomb assassinations left three-meter craters.

The book Beirut

Although Beirut — An Explosive Thriller is set across a swathe of Europe and not just Beirut, the book is about Beirut at its core. It’s about sectarianism and power, corruption and sex. It’s about wealth and poverty, love and betrayal.

While writing it, I spent hours walking around the city, along the curving corniche and up into the busy streets that cling to the foothills rising from the coast up to the snow-capped mountains.

Walking with friends, walking alone — day and night, spring and summer. From the maze of funky little bars of Hamra to the boutiques of Verdun, from the spicy Armenian groceries of Bourj Hammoud to the cafés overlooking the famous rocks at Raouché, I have long reveled in the city’s beautiful wealth and its grim poverty.

How can you not write books set in the Levant? I’m only amazed I’m in such scant company. As a playground for spies and powerful men, beautiful women and deadly conflicts you can’t beat it. And yet, as a writer of novels, I have it pretty much to myself.

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Now it’s time for the freebies! Displaced Nation readers, you can get your very own copy of my latest book. Here are 2 ways to do so:

1) For TDN readers with an iPad or ePub compatible reader (Nook, Sony, Kobo, Android etc): Get your copy of Beirut — An Explosive Thriller free of charge (and save $4.99) on Smashwords. But first, you’ll need to sign up for the DISPLACED DISPATCH to get the code (it will come in the issue delivered this Saturday, December 8). NOTE: The code is valid ONLY FROM THIS SATURDAY, DECEMBER 8th TO MONDAY DECEMBER 10 — and then, pfft, it’ll disappear. Dear readers, you are MORE than welcome to share that code with family, friends, strangers, dogs in the street — even lawyers.

2) For TDN readers with Kindles: Leave a comment on this post with your e-mail, and I will send a Kindle file and instructions how to install it. Best I can do, I’m afraid — Amazon doesn’t let me do freebies! Do remember to use “name dot name at domain dot com” so the spambots don’t find you! Or you can hit me up directly at @AlexanderMcNabb on Twitter.

If you miss out on these opportunities and/or would like to read something else I’ve written, my first novel, Space (a spoof of international spy thrillers), is available for free download on Amazon from today onwards for three days.

TO ALL READERS: If anyone wants to add their voice (whichever way it leans) about my books on Amazon or Goodreads, that’s welcome feedback. The more people know they exist, the merrier! 🙂

Finally, congrats to Apple Gidley, who left an engaging comment on my last post and will be getting a print copy of Olives by post!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, consisting of some 2012 highlights from the Anthony Windram series, Expat Moments.

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

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Images (of the book, of Beirut): All from Alexander McNabb.

Oblivious to controversy, this expat author stirs up tales of violence, romance and tragedy in the Middle East

Alexander McNabb isn’t afraid of ghoulies, ghosties, long-leggedy beasties, and things that go bump in the night — which, as Kate Allison announced the week before last, is this month’s theme at the Displaced Nation.

How do I know he isn’t afraid? Because he is too busy tuning into other sources of thrills, chills and excitement for his books — namely, Middle Eastern politics and intrigue.

Though he doesn’t seek controversy, he doesn’t shy away from it either. His books are violent, explosive, and deadly. One has actually been banned in Jordan.

I now have the pleasure of giving Mr McNabb the floor to tell us more about his affinity for such dastardly topics. Don’t worry, he doesn’t have fangs but is a gentle sort with a great sense of humo(u)r… He is also a lively conversationalist, with his own radio show in Dubai, and a cook.

Welcome, Alexander. Shall we start out with what should be a basic question (though it rarely is for us displaced types): where are you from?
I was born in London, in Edgware General Hospital, which they have since knocked down, presumably to stop lightning striking twice. I grew up in various countryside areas north of London and was unwillingly educated at The Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School in Elstree.

When did you first go to the Middle East?
In 1986. I was selling an insanely visionary software package put together by a directory publisher that had the wonderful idea of selling its information as an integrated database. I presented this to a number of puzzled Saudis who lost no time in introducing me to their most junior members of staff and leaving me there. It taught me an important lesson — Gulf Arabs never say “no,” it’s considered rude. And “not no” doesn’t mean “yes”!

How did you end up living in Dubai?
When that project and, ultimately, the company failed I got involved in the publishing side of things. And so in 1993 I moved out to Dubai to start a subsidiary of the publishing company I worked for. And got myself shut down by the Ministry of Information. But that’s another story…

We will talk about your trio of books set in the Middle East shortly. But first: do you have any other published works?
The first book I wrote was a spoof of international spy thrillers, called just Space. I re-read the manuscript a couple of months ago and it made me laugh a lot, so I published that as a $2.99 Kindle-only book. I worked for ten years as an editor and publisher and for longer than that as a writer and journalist, so there are millions of my words out there — lost and crying out plaintively…

No need for them to mourn as you’ve just now published Beirut — An Explosive Thriller, which is the second in three books you are writing that are set in the Middle East, called The Levant Cycle. The first was Olives — A Violent Romance and the third will be Shemlan — A Deadly Tragedy. Could you say a little more about the Levant Cycle?
The Levant Cycle was never meant to be — the three books just happen to be set in the same region, contain some of the same characters and be roughly contiguous. But they are very different. Olives is really a novel — the story follows young British journalist, Paul Stokes as he arrives in Jordan and quickly falls afoul of the law — while Beirut is a hardcore international spy thriller. And they’re independent works in themselves. I had always thought of a book that would form an interlinear to Olives, a telling of that story from another perspective, possibly that of Gerald Lynch, the British Secret Intelligence Service officer that Paul encounters. Beirut wasn’t meant to follow on from Olives and then it just did, sort of taking up from when Paul moves to Beirut. And of course Beirut shows a very different Gerald Lynch, because in Olives you only see Lynch from Paul’s somewhat jaundiced perspective. So the books can be grouped, but I didn’t want a trilogy — a cycle seemed more appropriate.

Are you now working on the third book?
Yes, I’m about halfway through Shemlan and loving it. It’s a great deal darker than the other two books. It’s about a retired diplomat who’s dying of cancer going back to his past and finding that past is likely to kill him before the disease does.

What does “shemlan” mean?
Shemlan is a tiny village high in the hills above Beirut. It’s a little-known fact that Shemlan was for many years home to the Middle East Centre for Arabic Studies, where the British government taught its diplomats — and its spies — Arabic. A lot of my research for the book has consisted of taking friends and colleagues up there for lunch at Al Sakhra (The Cliff House), the lovely Arabic restaurant in the village. I know, it’s hard…

What made you decide to center the action of your books around the politics of the Middle East?
No one else was writing fiction centered on this region. There hasn’t been an interesting Middle Eastern spy thriller since Eric Ambler’s The Levanter. Olives was intended to introduce a Western audience that doesn’t care very much to some of the more complicated aspects of life in that part of the world — to some of the human issues that lie behind the glib headlines.

I presume you aren’t afraid of controversy?
Bring it on! Actually, I was amazed at the “controversy” that Olives provoked because of my having depicted Muslims drinking alcohol and Arab women having sex with foreigners. These things never happen in the Arab World! And then the Great Naming Scandal, when my use of a real Palestinian name (Dajani, for the Palestinian family Paul gets involved with) was deemed by distributors in Jordan to make the book too hot for them to handle. It still can’t be sold there!

How about Beirut?
I was truly blown away when the UAE’s National Media Council granted the necessary “Permission to Print” for Beirut. I’m sure someone, somewhere will find some aspect of the book controversial, but I think that’s more a product of the lack of narrative literature in the region than it is any quest for controversy on my part. And yes, you do actually have to get permission to print a book here — and government clearance to import books into any country in the region.

What audience did you have in mind for Olives?
Olives was written for a British audience but has appealed broadly across Europe and the US as well as in the Arab World. I’ve been more than pleased at Western readers who have enjoyed Olives and said, “I didn’t know about all that stuff.” And, because I thought I might lose Arab friends, I have been truly overjoyed that so many Palestinian and Arab readers have loved it.

At one point in Olives, Paul, the British journalist, becomes romantically involved with his Palestinian coworker, Aisha Dajani. Do you think Westerners can have successful relationships with Arabs and live happily ever after?
I really don’t see it as a “Westerner/Arab” thing at all – it’s an awful cliché, but love transcends nationality, culture and, yes, religion. I have seen relationships founder on that particular rock, where the partners can’t clear the hurdle of converting to or from Islam, but I have also seen couples deal with that. And, of course, there are still a great number of Christians in the Arab world and Muslims in the West. East and West doesn’t have to be about Islam, even if it often is.

Did you base the hero, Paul, on anyone in particular?
Paul Stokes is modeled on a number of callow Brits I have encountered arriving in the Middle East over the years, most of them journalists. You get a lot of credit in the Arab World for having tried to understand things, for actually bothering to learn something about the region and its people before you go leaping in blindly, as Paul does. I have often been highly amused at the way Arab friends have reacted to the behavior of British people new to the region — funny little things like different approaches to generosity, family, children and manners. I remember once walking into the office to be met by horrified glares from the girls, all trying to catch my attention and draw it to the new Brit who was happily — and loudly — clipping his nails at his desk. Or the British staffer who labelled her things in the office fridge. To the Arabs, you just share and if we’re out of something, you get it — someone labeling a bottle of milk was a source of appalled amusement.

Paul becomes “localized,” even becomes a smoker, which is why he is so torn between “home,” represented by his girlfriend Anne, and “away,” which of course is Aisha. And she, of course, is the hero of the book. You’re not actually supposed to like Paul, really. Perhaps sympathize with him…

You characterize Olives as a “violent romance.” What does that mean exactly?
The book’s working title for years was just “Olives.” The problem with that is that when you google “Olives,” you get Crespo, cookbooks or restaurants. So I decided on a defining subtitle — and nothing else seemed to suit other than “violent romance.” Olives is both a romance and a spy thriller. Thriller readers would find it too slow or romantic, romance readers would find it a little rough was the general concern. I hate how publishing brackets and pigeonholes us like that. The love story part of it has been popular, for sure — but a lot of people didn’t know about the region’s water crisis and learned about it from Olives, which has been cool.

Will Beirut attract the same readers?
Beirut is a totally different book and I was perhaps a little gleeful at how Olives readers would react to its much more hardcore spy thriller nature, particularly female readers. I was also a little scared, because I was setting out to kill what little fan base Olives has won for me. Readers, including females, have loved Beirut so far, which has me slack-jawed to be honest. But then it shows how wrong those traditional publishing preconceptions are — women actually reading a thriller? Oh, the shock of it all!

Is that why you are self-publishing The Levant Cycle — because the books do not fit in traditional publishing categories? I ask because quite a few expat authors we’ve featured on The Displaced Nation have self-published their works.
Let’s start with 250 rejections from agents for, respectively, Space, Olives and Beirut. When London agent Robin Wade signed me, it was for Beirut. I thought I was made, I really did. 250 rejections — and then an agent comes along and makes like a scrooch owl! Robin shopped Beirut around to 14 top publishers (there’s an image of the list I had of them, one after another struck off as the news came in, posted up on the Beirut site) and they, to a man, rejected it.

Why do you think that happened?
The ignorance about the Middle East from agents and editors alike has been shocking: “We have terrorism here at home, I don’t think people want to read about that” and “This novel, set in war-torn city Beirut” were two low points. But the worst was the editor who praised Beirut’s pace, setting, style and dialogue, compared it to Le Carré — but said he didn’t think it would fly in supermarkets. After that, I decided to see what readers thought without waiting for the gatekeepers. I am so glad I did.

Funnily enough, I discovered your books last month, when the Displaced Nation was dedicating itself to a series of food posts and I happened upon your collective blog about food, The Fat Expat.
Blogging became an outlet for me between frustrated bouts of writing. My partner in foodie crime, Simon “HalfManHalfBeer” McCrum, and I tried bringing others on board — but in the end The Fat Expat was doomed to tempus fugit failure. Still, I loved it while it lasted. I used to run a food magazine so am quite experienced in food preparation, photography and so on — and I love cooking.

Last month we were asking all of our interviewees: would you travel for food?
Damn right I would! Sweden this year, stunning food at stunningly high prices but you haven’t lived until you’ve eaten sour cream and crayfish on toast for breakfast. Estonia last year, a gorgeous holiday of art, museums and culture interspersed with the world’s largest, cheapest Martinis and top class cuisine — pelmeni in chicken stock, venison in red wine! But you want to really eat? There are stunning restaurants in Jordan — puffed up flatbreads fresh from the brick oven, potato pan-fried with egg and Mediterranean herbs. And, of course, Beirut — French food that makes Parisians blush alongside mountains of mezze, splashes of Armenian spice and of course Lebanese wines. I had to edit out my descriptions of Château Musar from Beirut because they crossed that threshold between what matters in a book and what readers need to know. But Musar is one of the world’s great wines. And the rosé from Château Ksara? Barmy, quite barmy. Do not, if you have the chance, neglect Massaya — a lovely wine from the achingly beautiful Bekaa Valley.

Next month’s Displaced Nation theme will be expats and politics — in honor of the U.S. elections. Do you have a horse in that particular race?
Obama. I don’t think anyone should forget that the people behind Romney are the people who took America to war against Iraq for no reason other than profit and dominance. There were never any WMDs and there was no link whatever between the murderously secular Saddam and the New Caliphate of Al Qaeda. Over a million people have died, the Middle East is lurching from crisis to crisis — and those old men are still doing three-martini lunches and planning their next move to make the world a safer place. At least Obama represents a hope of inclusion and reason.

Do you think expats should stay in touch with their home country’s politics? Do you?
Living in the Middle East, US politics are something you tend to follow because it pretty much shapes the region. I follow British politics to a degree, but it’s hard to be passionate about a system that has become so centrist and messaged. It’s something of a sitcom really.

What’s next, after the Cycle is finished?
I can’t even begin to think about what’s next, but there are plenty of contenders for next project, including a book set in Ireland and one about a traumatized teacher coming back from Iraq. Neither feature Mr. Lynch.

Readers, why not give those witches, ghosts, zombies, werewolves and vampires of yours a break and try Alexander McNabb’s wonderful cocktails of romance, intrigue, and high-stakes international politics instead?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s episode in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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Images: Alexander McNabb author image and book covers.

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