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WORLD OF WORDS: On a Mary Morris-inspired kick down in Mexico, writer Marianne Bohr feels entirely at home

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about words?

Columnist Marianne Bohr in her World of Words

Cinco de Mayo is fast approaching, a holiday that is virtually ignored in Mexico but, for some reason, has evolved into a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage in the United States. Here, Marianne Bohr tells a rather different story of heading to Mexico to celebrate her Mexican heritage in situ—an adventure that of course involves immersing herself in a world of (Mexican Spanish) words. —ML Awanohara

Me llamo Mariana Cañedo. My name is Mariana Cañedo.

“Did you know that Mayan Indians have crooked fingers?” my grandmother asks as she rubs my oddly shaped adolescent pinky. “It’s true,” she says as I wince and look at her quizzically.

“Your grandfather was born in Mexico, so you never know. You could be an Indian princess.” She gives a quick laugh that ends in her characteristic snort.

My Midwestern grandmother has a penchant for coming up with all sorts of interesting, random tidbits of information.

“Don’t cha know,” she says, “one day you’ll go to Mexico and find out for yourself.”

* * *

Going to San Miguel de Allende is a calling. The city has been tucked away in a cobblestoned corner of my imagination for 25 years. Mary Morris’s courageous chronicle Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone put it there. Her soul-baring tale of living in San Miguel, 6,400 feet high in the Sierra Madre of central Mexico, captured my heart and gave me even more courage than I already had to travel alone.

And now I’m finally here, lucky girl that I am, on my own for a week-long writer’s conference.

Mary Morris’s soul-bearing tale of living in San Miguel captured Marianne’s heart at an early age.

The place is everything I’d pictured, painted in vivid, brilliant color: greens and golds; mango, mustard, and lemon; and of course, every shade of red imaginable—burgundy, cayenne, paprika and raspberry. Ceramic pots filled white, purple, and blue blossoms set off the pueblo colors.

Brimming with boisterous gardens and with a temperate, year-round climate of brisk mornings, warm afternoons, and cool evenings, San Miguel is eternally spring. With more than 140,000 residents, it can certainly be labeled a city, but deeper down, at its heart, it’s a delightful, lively village.

There are many places in the world others consider lovely but leave me feeling cold. San Miguel, on the other hand, embraced me the moment I arrived. I feel I belong here, with these people of my tribes.

“The place is everything I’d pictured, painted in vivid, brilliant color…” (Photos supplied.)

At home with her two tribes

One tribe is the writers I commune with during the day—novelists, poets, essayists, playwrights, memoirists, and screenwriters. And when I escape into the long shadows and crystalline light of the late afternoon to wander narrow lanes between high, painted stucco walls and monumental wooden doorways, I find my other tribe, the people who look like my father and my grandfather before him.

The men are short and the women shorter. Just like my Dad and just like me. I recognize my siblings’ body types in those of the flower vendors and musicians on the square in front of the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel. The features set in their silky brown complexions—heavy-lidded eyes and full lips—are the very same features that look back at me and my easily tanned white skin in the mirror.

These people are my ancestors, those in the sepia picture of my grandfather’s 1906 First Communion, his mother and his sister beside him, multiple aunts and cousins in the background.

Yes, indeed, I feel at home here.

The faces of people in San Miguel remind Marianne of the photos of her ancestors. Photo credit: San Miguel de Allende, by Christopher Michael via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

What if my Mexican grandfather…?

I stop for breakfast one morning on San Miguel’s central square. I choose a table in the shade, the breeze already warm. My mouth waters as a beautifully arranged platter of fresh fruit is set in front of me—mango, melon, banana, pineapple, and papaya, with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkling of granola.

The waiter could be my brother with his sturdy Cañedo silhouette. My years of Spanish classes serve me well as he and I chat, even though I admit: “Comprendo mucho, pero hablo solamente un poquito.” I understand a lot but I speak only a little.

Fruit juice drips from my chin and my thoughts drift to a “what-if” of my family tree. What if my Mexican grandfather and my American father after him, hadn’t both married Irish women, Mae Duffy and Mary Darby? I would likely look just like her, this woman who passes by in a hot pink dress and turquoise apron—traditional dress worn to help sell the handmade dolls and woven flowers spilling from baskets looped over her arms. My long, dirty blond hair, while still long and straight, would be lustrous and dark, just like hers. Mi hermana mexicana. My Mexican sister.

My new friend clears my empty plate and asks if I’d like more coffee. “No, gracias,” I answer and smile. It’s time to get back to my other tribe—my writing tribe—but I’m reluctant to leave this comfortable spot where it’s so easy to watch the world of San Miguel pass by. I pay la cuenta and leave a tip worthy of family.

“Hasta mañana?” he asks as I swing my bag over my shoulder. Will I see you tomorrow?

“¡Claro que sí, señor, hasta mañana!” Of course you’ll see me tomorrow!

I step from behind my table, my crooked pinkie waving goodbye in the sunshine.

* * *

Marianne, I understand that San Miguel has thousands of Canadian and American expatriate residents as well as an untold number of snowbirds in the winter months, many of whom simply use English, which is widely spoken in the city. I love it that you went to that part of the world for creative purposes and to explore your roots. And of course you spoke in Spanish! (I’d expect nothing less…) —ML Awanohara

Readers, have you ever had the experience of recognizing the faces of your ancestors in a foreign country? Do tell in the comments!

Marianne C. Bohr is a writer whose book, Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries, was published in September 2015 with She Writes Press. She married her high school sweetheart and travel partner, and with their two grown children, follows her own advice and travels at every opportunity. The couple has taken early retirement in Park City, Utah, where Marianne is now working on Book #2. She has an author site where she keeps a blog, and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

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Photo credits: Top of page: Marianne Bohr (supplied); world map via Pixabay. All other images via Pixabay except the one of red tape: Tied up in red tape, by James Petts via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

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

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

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

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

* * *

Fall 2016

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


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


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


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

Summer 2016

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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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

Spring 2016

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Winter 2016

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


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


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


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


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


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

* * *

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

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

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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Photo credits: All photos via Pixabay or Morguefiles.

A valentine to kindred creative spirits encountered in far-away lands

Expat life has a transient quality that is not always conducive to making close friends. Thus when two people reach out and find a connection, it feels very special, as we learn from this guest post by Philippa Ramsden, a Scottish writer who until recently was living in Burma/Myanmar. Philippa has been on our site before. Her story about discovering she had breast cancer shortly after her arrival in Rangoon/Yangon was one of the dragonfruit “morsels” that Shannon Young, who contributes our Diary of an Expat Writer column, chose to share with the release of an anthology she edited in 2014, How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia. I must say, it is a pleasure to have Philippa back in our midst. Not only is she doing much better health-wise, but her story of friendship makes a perfect read for Valentine’s Day! —ML Awanohara

As I was eating my breakfast quietly this morning, in this peaceful retreat, I was joined at the table by another couple. We started chatting a little, enthusiastic about the day ahead and our various plans for exploring, relaxing and creating.

That’s when I saw the plate of dragonfruit in front of them! I hadn’t seen dragonfruit since leaving Asia, I did not even know it grew in South America*.

It was a striking coincidence given the special place dragonfruit holds in my creative heart. The first time I had my writing published in a proper book was when it appeared in the How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? anthology, which came out in 2014. What’s more, something unexpected emerged from the process of refining the writing in preparation for publication, which ultimately led to my present surroundings.

* * *

We were a team of 27 women, including and guided by our editor, Shannon Young, towards producing a collection of stories from our lives as women in Asia. Stories of our lives in countries where we were essentially guests, for a shorter or longer term. From a dozen different countries, we varied enormously in our situations but were tied together by the fact that we were all, or had been, women living in Asia as expatriates.

It was fascinating to get to know each other through our stories and through email connection as we were kept up to date on the decision of the title, the reveal of the cover art and the lead-up to publication.

Just after my writer’s copy of the anthology arrived, I received an email from one of the other writers, Sharon Brown. She had read my account of moving to Myanmar and being diagnosed with cancer. I, meanwhile, had read her story, “Our Little Piece of Vietnam,” in which she recounted hurtling through the streets of Hanoi on the back of a motorbike while being in the throes of labor, reaching the hospital just in time for the (safe) arrival of her daughter.

Sharon had reached out to me because she and her family were moving to Yangon!

“Once we’re settled in, if you have time, I would love to meet with you for tea one day,” her email said.

And indeed we did. Just think, had it not been for our Dragonfruit connection, it is highly unlikely that our paths would have crossed in Myanmar over the two years of their stay. We would not have enjoyed those cuppas and chats, writing together or being part of the same book club.

A wonderful connection, thanks to the Dragonfruit anthology.

cuppas-and-chats

Fast forward two years, to May 2016. As it turned out, Sharon and I were both preparing to leave Myanmar. I was packing to leave Asia for Africa, and I learned that she was leaving Asia for South America: Ecuador. Along with her husband, she was embracing the opportunity to take on a new challenge. They would be running an eco-lodge in Ecuador, something close to their hearts, values and beliefs. They were filled with enthusiasm and zest for their new adventure.

Sharon said:

“You should come to the lodge. It would be the perfect place for a writing retreat. Do come.”

What a fascinating thought—but hardly a likely venture. Ecuador is further west than I have ever travelled. It is more than a day’s travel from Africa. Would it be rash to travel such a distance when the year has already seen such intensity, change and indeed long-distance travel? Would it not be wasteful given that there is so much to explore on my new African doorstep?

These are sensible questions, but my mind is not so wise. The thought kept returning that this is an opportunity which might not arise again. That it is probably better to travel when health is reasonable as nothing can be taken for granted. And the sneaking reminder, that if I did visit Ecuador, then incredibly, this would be a year which would see me on no less than five continents. (I do believe that I have not travelled to more than two continents in any year in the past.) How many grandmothers are able to do that?

* * *

So here I am, in the beautiful La Casa Verde Eco Guest House, nestling in the hills of Ecuador. I am sitting on the balcony of what is now being called “The Writing Room”, tapping away at the keyboard with the steep green hills right in front of me, the sound of a donkey braying in the distance, the trees swaying in the breeze and in the company of blue grey tanagers. The creative silence of the past months is being lifted gently in these inspiring hills.

I could not resist the temptation of visiting such a new part of the world to me, and of bringing the year to a close in a peaceful and inspiring place.

Had it not been for our Dragonfruit connection, I might never have made it to this fascinating new land. Serendipity and the friendship of a kindred spirit have enabled this retreat to happen.

Like so many journeys, the one to get here was not an easy one, but I am powerfully reminded of the importance of making that effort and seizing the day. These opportunities are to be embraced and treasured. And will surely be long remembered.

Thank you, Dragonfruit!

Editor’s note: In fact, dragonfruit, or pitaya, is native to the Americas.

serendipity-and-friendship

* * *

And thank YOU, Philippa, for such an uplifting story! Displaced Nationers, do you have any stories of friendships that blossomed because of creative pursuits, and if so, did they lead you to new parts of the world? Do tell in the comments.

And if this excerpt has made you curious to about Philippa Ramsden, her blog is Feisty Blue Gecko, where a version of this post first appeared. You can also find her on Facebook and twitter. She has written several meditations on the challenges and joys of life in a foreign environment—and they are all fascinating. She is currently working on a memoir.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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Photo credits:
Opening visual: (clockwise, from top left) Dragonfruit anthology cover art; the photos of schoolgirls in Baños, Ecuador (where the eco-lodge is), of the two young women in a field in Myanmar, and the two kinds of dragonfruit are all from Pixabay.
Second visual: The photos of the cups of tea and of the two women making a heart with their hands are both from Pixabay. Image on the left: Inside The Strand Hotel & some of their gift shops – Rangoon, Myanmar (Burma), by Kathy via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); image on right: downtown Rangoon with Sule Pagoda in distance, supplied by Philippa Ramsden.
Last visual: The photos of the green hills of Ecuador and the eco-lodge balcony view were supplied by Philippa; the photo of the blue grey tanagers is from Pixabay; and the rainbow image should be attributed as: Ecuador, over the rainbow, Baños, by Rinaldo Wurglitsch via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

THE ACCIDENTAL EXPAT: Moving on to fabulous, fragrant (and fatiguing!) Hong Kong

THE ACCIDENTAL EXPAT
At the moment when women all over the world are demanding a right to be heard, columnist Indra Chopra is here to remind us that an expat spouse is a person in her own right, with her own voice. Something else that makes her column well timed: it is about Hong Kong. I can guarantee her descriptions (particularly of food!) will put you in the mood for Chinese New Year, which is just around the corner… ML Awanohara

In a previous post, I described my family’s expat life in Muscat, Oman. Our next big adventure was a move to Hong Kong, which took place after a planned hiatus of six years in our home country.

I agreed to the Hong Kong move, not because of the Indian family tradition of a wife walking seven steps behind her husbandbut because I, too, am into adventure.

Join me as I take you into the fabulous, fragrant place I initially encountered.

* * *

Water brings luck

No sooner had I agreed to our move to Hong Kong but I am looking down from a rental suite on the 38th floor of Harborview Horizon in Hung Hom, Kowloon, at the teal waters of Victoria Harbour. There is a line of vessels—scampering ferries, catamarans with orangey-brown sails, nose-in-the-air cruise ships with names like Star Virgo and Pisces, rusty junks, barges and sampans—silhouetted against the vast blue sky, with brawny mountains in the distance.

I spend the entire day settling in while taking sneak-peeks at the unfolding harbour scenes. By the time night falls, it looks as though someone has taken a painter’s brush and dabbed sequined color on the concrete structures in the distance and then streaked the water in rainbow hues…

On the day of our arrival in Hong Kong, a friend told us that staying near water brings luck. Hm, is that what the Britishers felt when they first set foot in “The Fragrant Harbor” in 1841, and is that why they stayed for so long?

fabulous-victoria-harbour

A taste of “home”

The so-called City Island is eons ahead of staid Muscat, and I find myself unsure of how to approach my new life: as a novice or as a widely traveled person critically appraising what was on offer?

Being Indian, I am naturally drawn to Chungking Mansion (Nathan Road, in Tsim Sha Shui, Kowloon), a building full of small, family-run Indian and Pakistani restaurants serving traditional food. Believe me, the best Indian snacks or spices in Hong Kong can be found in little peek-a-boo stores under stairs or between shops—dark patches one could easily overlook while being bombarded with DVDs, mobile phones, suitcases, watches, currency exchangers, not to mention steady streams of locals and foreign tourists. I would taste the best butter chicken I would eat during my time in Hong Kong at a Pakistani eating-place on one of the floors of Chungking. I like the feeling that no one can ever get to the bottom of this cavernous, mysterious place. The possibilities are limitless.

a-taste-of-home

Fabulous…and fragrant

Our fresh-off-the-boat year is mesmeric…and exhausting. We are constantly meeting new people and making new friends among Hong Kong’s potpourri of nationalities. I never get homesick, except for family, thanks to the sizable Indian diaspora.

Now, it would be easy to be a stay-at-home wife who joins the various kirtan (prayer) groups, coffee mornings or kitty parties. Watching me deliberate on which Indian ladies to befriend, a British friend is surprised: “What’s the big deal, aren’t you all Indians?” Well, yes, but each of us has our own individual traits.

But something within me desires a whole set of new experiences. I know I won’t rest until I can understand more about the vignettes of daily life I keep witnessing as I navigate my new surroundings.

Perhaps energized by Hong Kong’s Autonomy Movement, I start asserting my own autonomy. Joining the crowds on the Peak Tram and the Mid-Levels escalator, I step out of my comfort zone and start peeking into the curtained windows of posh villas and spa treatment facilities that reek of Chinese herbs and other concoctions. I sense there is something unique about this place. Part of it is a sensibility but there is also an aroma that is manifestly Chinese.

I start taking day trips to Macau, China’s Las Vegas clone. I queue up for weekend ferries to the outlying islands of Chueng Chau, Lama, Lantau, Peng Chau, Pui Oh, Tai Wan Long, and Sai Kung. I even join some treks and hikes, including to the Ng Tung Chai waterfall, the biggest in Hong Kong, and within the lush, secluded greenery of the New Territories.

I visit the former Kowloon Walled City (Kowloon Walled City Park), the history of which traces back to the Song Dynasty (960–1279), when an outpost was set up to manage the trade of salt.

Strolling through subterranean air-conditioned passages or along overhead walkaways, I find aspects of my adopted home enchanting. I stand mute in front of the iconic lions as I reach the front of the HSBC Main Building in Central, which was designed by British architect Norman Foster. Catching sight of the International Finance Centre (IFC), I visualize French Spider-Man, Alain Robert, doing loops atop its towers; and, as I make my way through the high rises of Central, Wan Chai and Causeway Bay, I feel like Moses as he walks through the parting seas in The Ten Commandments.

Hong Kong has an excellent public transportation system, and I even manage solo travel to Lo Wu, which lies on the border between Hong Kong and mainland China, though I do not cross over to Shenzhen as I still don’t have my China visa.

On brutally hot days, I hop on a bus or a train and escape to an unknown neighborhoods in search of alfresco cafes, local designer stores, tearooms, parks and gardens, art galleries or libraries.

Whenever I feel I have seen and done it all, I have a niggling doubt there is more.

fabulous-and-fragrant-hk

Fabulous, fragrant…and fatiguing

Although Hong Kong still has pockets of antiquity here and there, with links to the region’s rich historical past, much of the region is in flux. For instance, Sheung Wan, one of the earliest settled places by the British, and part of the Central and Western Heritage Trail, is rapidly turning into a dining hotspot and bustling shopping mecca. The same is true of Sai Ying Pun, an area once known for its small lanes and historical buildings.

Similarly in Kowloon, Sham Shui Po—Deep Water Pier in Cantonese—the peninsula’s commercial and industrial hub, is fast becoming a street-shopping mecca.

Talk about change—one has only to look upwards at the constantly changing skyline. Hong Kong has more skyscrapers than anywhere on the planet, with its notorious shoe-box apartments piled atop shopping malls piled atop subways stations. Then, two years ago, a giant wheel suddenly landed in the midst of all these shifting layers, giving Hong Kongers their own version of the London Eye: what a fantastical embellishment to this swathe of reclaimed land!

Not long after my initial arrival, my feet are in urgent need of pampering. I have never done so much city-walking before—so followed the lady handing out leaflets in one of the by-lanes to a third-floor cramped salon that offered reflexology massage. It’s not one of the cleanest experiences, but soon I will have my favorite places, where I take visiting friends and family when they, too, are in need of some down time…

Travel writer Paul Theroux has said that travel is a state of mind. In Hong Kong, the fear is you may never get out of that state… No sooner have you taken in the brightly colored tong laus (19th-century tenement buildings) than you find yourself in a murky alley full of yan ching mei (the essence of humanity). It can be difficult to take in the sounds of traffic and never-ending foot-falls, the smells of traffic fumes, cigarette smoke, raw meat and fish…and not feel overwhelmed.

Making my way around this cacophonous Island city, I pick up many lessons, two of which stand out:

  1. Silence is golden—best exemplified by unblinking people in malls, the surging and pushy crowds of the MTR, and the mute cashiers at general stores.
  2. Survival is an art. You have to learn how you deal with the guttural rudeness of fruit sellers in wet markets, the pestering sales-peddlers of “genuine fake” watches and purses on Nathan Road, and the “No cheap” snide comments of shop assistants in brand showrooms once they notice you’re from the Sub-continent. After a while, I begin to comprehend the “I stay in a beach-side villa” hand-flick of long-time expat residents, the “couldn’t care less” attitude of locals, the jostling Mainlanders on weekly shopping sprees, and the hired helpers laying siege to open spaces and parks on weekends.

I shadow a friend as she navigates past umbrella-poking pavement walkers; impervious-to-others, 70+ matrons pushing carts laden with used cardboard boxes; cell-phone strollers; feisty old ladies twirling to “Sugar Sugar Honey Honey” in a neighborhood park; and Rambo seniors swimming in the cold waters of Hung Hom Bay. Little by little, I am getting in step.

It’s food!

A member of my writing group suggested I should spice up my writings rather literally, with more mentions of food—not a difficult task when it comes to Hong Kong, which entices its visitors into alleys, eateries and restaurants with its distinctive smells.

It is not long before I learn there is more to Chinese cuisine than my favorite dishes of Indian-Chinese Manchurian chicken, chow mien and hot & sour soup. In my various gastronomic quests on both sides of the Island, I discover finger-licking fish balls, succulent dim sum dishes, as well as slurpy wanton noodles, at the cha chaan ten (traditional Chinese eateries). In time my list of favorites comes to include:

Food is a kind of entry point into the mysteries of Hong Kong, the key to pinning down some of its elusiveness. I learn what people consider to be esoteric or exotic (e.g., snake soup, whole pigs or fish varieties) and become aware of the apparently important need to distinguish between dim sum, the word for a traditional lunch or brunch where one eats small portions of food served with tea, and dumplings, consisting of small pieces of dough wrapped around various fillings (meat, veggies or even fruit). Dumplings are not dim sum but a dim sum dish.

By making the restaurant rounds—from Michelin starred restaurants. to neighborhood open-air food stalls or dai pai dong, to book cafes and fast food outlets—I come to know parts of Hong Kong I might not otherwise have encountered.

Most important of all, I discover The Toothpick: the fine art of flicking food particles from in between tooth gaps, after one finishes eating. It is fascinating to watch all the Chinese people immediately reach for a toothpick at the end of every meal. A friend always carries a packet of toothpicks because “some eating places do not place it along with sauces and the salt-and-pepper set.” Now I, too, am addicted and my mouth craves that instant gratification.

its-food-hk

* * *

In John le Carré‘s The Honorable Schoolboy, it is said at one point that “when you leave Hong Kong it ceases to exist.” That was not my experience. After a seven-year stay, Hong Kong never ceases to exist for me.

To be continued…

* * *

Thank you, Indra! As always, you bring a unique lens to your travels and expat experiences. I wonder, does Hong Kong seem familiar in some ways to you because of its British colonial heritage, not unlike India’s? —ML Awanohara

Indra Chopra is a writer/blogger passionate about travel and curious about cultures and people. Her present status is that of an accidental expat writing to relive moments in countries wherever she sets home with her husband. With over twenty years of writing experience Indra has contributed to Indian, Middle Eastern publications and online media. She blogs at TravTrails

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Photo credits: Opening visual: Airplane photo and India photo via Pixabay. Other photos supplied or else downloaded from Pixabay.

EXPAT AUTHOR GAME: What score does Lisa Morrow earn on the “international creative” scale? (2/2)


Readers, I’m happy to report that Lisa Morrow aced the algorithm test for her latest book, Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul, and will therefore be advancing to the second half of the Expat Author Game.

For this second round, we’ll be looking to see how closely she measures up to the Displaced Nation’s (admittedly somewhat quirky) notion of an “international creative.”

On the face of it, Lisa most certainly qualifies as “international”. Originally from Australia, she nurtured a passion for Turkey for many years, to the point where she and her husband finally took the leap to become full-time expats in Istanbul (they live in Göztepe, on the Asian side—extra points, Lisa, for that!).

Likewise, I think it is fair to call her “creative”. In addition to her latest book, recounting the couple’s permanent move to Istanbul, she has produced two books of essays:

But let’s see how Lisa does with this series of challenges on less tangible, but equally important, indicators of international creativity. Is she truly, madly, deeply “displaced”?

Welcome back, Lisa, and now let’s get started. Many residents of the Displaced Nation have had a moment or two when they’ve felt like a character in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, myself included. How about you? Please illustrate, if possible, with quotes.

Sure, I welcome this new series of challenges. Here are my top two picks for Alice quotes, with explanations:

1) ALICE TO CHESHIRE CAT: “But I don’t want to go among mad people.” What is madness anyway? Some people might define it as packing up all your personal belongings and moving to the other side of the world where you don’t speak the language, share the religion or properly understand the culture. A lot of my family and friends certainly thought my move to Turkey was risky, but if I’d stayed put in suburbia, where I’ve never ever felt at home, I’d have slowly wilted under the burden of trying to conform and eventually drowned in a rule-bound, limited life, before succumbing most definitely to madness.

2) ALICE TO MOCK TURTLE & GRYPHON: “…it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” I’ve met more people in six years living in Istanbul than I’ve met in the whole of the last twenty years. The majority of them have been Turkish, and as I worked through the cultural differences to develop close friendships with some, I’ve had to question who I am, how I relate to people, and what I want in all my relationships much more intensely than at any other time in my life. I did the same when I struck up friendships with foreigners. Such ties are equally fraught because you have to push past the tendency to think you have a common bond just because you all live in a particular country and aren’t natives of that country. Along the way, I’ve had some of my beliefs, in particular my tendency to think everyone is naturally generous and supportive, rather painfully disproved. That said, it’s been a positive experience overall because by being exposed to so many different people, beliefs, behaviours and lifestyles, I’m a very different person now than when I first came to Turkey, much more confident in my judgements of people—and that makes me happy. Nonetheless I’ll always be a work in progress. Feel free to ask me this question again in ten years’ time!

Moving on: According to George Elliot’s Maggie Tulliver, the best reason to leave her native village of St. Ogg’s would be to see other creatures like the elephant. What’s the most exotic animal you’ve observed in its native setting?

muffin-of-istanbulThat’s easy: Muffin the Street Cat. Part untamed domestic tabby, part savage cheetah, Muffin prowled our Istanbul neighbourhood in search of prey. Whenever I came back from doing the shopping he’d be waiting for me, drawn by the rustling of my plastic bags. Brought up never to feed wild animals, I’d fend off his ferocious claws before running for the front door. (That’s him in the photo: it’s as close as the beast ever allowed me to get. A very camera shy breed!) Even more spectacular than Muffin was his former pack mate Son of Satan, last seen struggling to get through the front gate after eating too much kibble. They breed them tough in Istanbul.

Last but not least on this series of literary challenges: We’re curious about whether you’ve had any Wizard of Oz moments when venturing across borders. Again, please use a quote or two.

For this challenge, there’s really only one quote I can use:

DOROTHY (WHILE CLICKING HEELS): “There is no place like home.” As well as being a writer I’ve worked as an ESL/EFL English teacher for many years and know how to teach the difference between the word ‘house’ and the word ‘home’. I teach that the former is a concrete structure of bricks and mortar and wood, while home is a conceptual idea of place and belonging. I can say that one gives solid, quantifiable shelter and protection, while the other gives, what? This is where I come unstuck because I have no meaningful comprehension of the idea of home. I can list what it’s not. It’s not my country of birth, it’s not the place where I spent my childhood, it’s not a house, apartment, flat or condo I’ve lived in. My furniture and belongings give me comfort but they aren’t home. Of all my possessions, my private library that packs up into 30 boxes and spans more than thirty years of my life, is the one thing I can’t imagine doing without. And yet I am still at home when my beloved books are in storage and I only have a poorly stocked public library for sustenance. I have to conclude that home—be it in me, a person or a place—is where I am most myself.

Moving on to another dimension of creativity: telling tales of one’s travels through photos. Can you offer a couple of examples?

My writing is fueled by the desire to examine the way tradition and modernity clash in Turkey, and meld to form something new. I’m also keen to dig behind the popular tourist images of mosques and beaches, to show the little everyday oddities that make Istanbul in particular such a fascinating place—like these goats I took a photo of in the Eminönü neighborhood:
goatsin-eminonu_lisamorrow

The photo below is from a street in Paris, which seemed unremarkable from the pavement but when I looked up I was rewarded by finding something extraordinary in the ordinary—another theme I explore in my writing.
parisstreetart_lisamorrow

And now for our interplanetary challenge: Can you envision taking your exploration of other modes of being beyond Planet Earth? How about a trip to Mars?

To answer this I’m going to borrow a line from Wendy Fox’s new novel The Pull of It, which is set in Turkey. She writes, “What kind of person doesn’t wonder about other people’s lives?”—and I have to say too many kinds of people. The two types that bother me most are those who run the world and don’t seem to care what others suffer, and those who write, vlog, tweet and Instagram their travels as lists of countries they’ve ‘done’, devoid of any reference to the actual inhabitants of whatever city or place they proclaim themselves expert. If ever our planet is left with just these two types of people—and no one is writing, thinking, exploring, documenting, experimenting, painting, and creating work based on wondering about other people’s lives—then I’ll go to Mars. My only caveat being that non-wonderers aren’t welcome.

* * *

Congratulations, Lisa! You have reached the end of the Expat Authors Game. I like the way you played it, not always giving us the obvious answers. Readers, it’s time to score Lisa Morrow’s performance on Part Two. How do you think she did with the three literary references? That was an interesting comment she made, about preferring the madness of Istanbul to the Sydney ‘burbs, and she even came out with her own non-definition of “home”! And what about that animal of hers, did you find it exotic enough? (Are we sure there aren’t any cats like Muffin in Sydney?) Still, that photo of the Istanbul goats more than makes up for it…!

Finally please note: If you’ve given Lisa Morrow a high score and her formula for international creativity appeals, we urge you to check out her author site. You can also follow her on Facebook (she adds photos, tips and vignettes about Istanbul and Turkey to the page nearly every day) and let’s not forget Twitter.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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

Related posts:

Photo credits: Photo of Lisa supplied; her comment: “Although I look happy in this photo taken in Bayonne, France, I don’t speak a word of French. It’s like being two years old and no one can understand you, but because you’re an adult you can’t throw a temper tantrum to get what you want.” All other photos from Pixabay.

EXPAT AUTHOR GAME: Lisa Morrow’s algorithm for “Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul” (1/2)


This month I am delighted to welcome Lisa Morrow to the Displaced Nation as the very first guest in our new author interview series, which, in my inimitable style, I’ve devised as a kind of game expat authors can play.

I told Lisa that her first challenge would be to supply an algorithm for her latest book rather than leaving it up to Amazon: if we like Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul, what would we also like?

Then, assuming she comes up with the goods, her next challenge would be to take the Displaced Nation’s “test” to measure how well she qualifies as an “international creative”—the results of which will be published in a second post.

It’s to Lisa’s everlasting credit that she was “game” to be the first to take on these considerable challenges. For those who haven’t read it yet, her most recent book, Waiting for Tulips to Bloom, tells the story of what prompted Lisa and her husband to pick up and move from their native Australia to Göztepe, on the Asian side of Istanbul, in 2010. Now, Lisa’s decision to move to Turkey was a long time in coming. She’d first developed a passion for the country and its people when living and working in London many years before. She’d visited Turkey for the first time as a tourist and somehow found her way to Göreme, a town in Cappadocia (central Turkey), where she’d ended up staying for three months. That first stay marked the start of a period of traveling back and forth between Sydney and Istanbul, living between both places, culminating in the “permanent” move almost seven years ago.

Given Lisa’s long exposure to Turkey, the transition to full-time expat life in Istanbul wasn’t as smooth as expected, and her new book recounts both the “drama and the joy involved,” to use Lisa’s words.

And now let’s roll out Lisa’s algorithm, beginning with…

algorithm_entertainment

If we like Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom, which movie/musical/play/TV series would we also like?

One film that closely mirrors some of the major themes in my book is The Dressmaker, based on the novel by Rosalie Ham, directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse and starring Kate Winslet. After making herself into everything her mother wasn’t and escaping the stifling norms of Australian society, Tilly Dunnage (Kate) returns to her hometown. Once there she’s tested by living in a community bound by strict rules governing social intercourse and an unquestioned social hierarchy. Although The Dressmaker is set in Australia, with a main character who’s a native speaker born into the culture, Tilly is as displaced in the fictional town of Dungatar as I have often been in the real world of Turkey. Though a long ways away from 1950s small-town Australia, Turkey is equally rigid about social interactions and power structures. To live here I’ve had to get a handle on them or risk forever being ostracised. However, in order to be comfortable in both my new home and myself, I’ve had to learn to what I’m capable of, and what principles I’m not prepared to relinquish. I’ve also had to be flexible enough to incorporate different ways of seeing and living into my own perspective and daily practices. In both The Dressmaker and my book Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul, belonging, and feeling happy as a result, isn’t predicated on living in your place of birth. It’s about understanding that being displaced is a point of reference from which to start living, regardless of where you find yourself, and not a condition to be cured.

What meal or dish would go well with reading your book?

The dish that would go best with reading my book is Çerkez Tavuğu, or Circassian Chicken as it’s known in English. This dish doesn’t require infinite culinary skill, just a lot of time and patience to prepare it. What results is a cultural and historical delight harking back to the complexity of Turkey’s multicultural past. It reflects my experience of coming to live in Turkey, where I learnt that what I thought was important to know wasn’t helpful, and only by being patient would I ever get what I wanted. I particularly like the inclusion of walnuts in the sauce because they’re a symbol of strength and power. I’ve come to realise I have a lot more of both than I ever knew.

The recipe is quite long so here is a link to the website that gives the closest version of the one I cook. Naturally I make it using a whole chicken because if I’m going to this much trouble, I want to share the results with all my friends. I also add bay leaves to the chicken when I cook it, and freeze any leftover stock to use in soups and casseroles later on. (You never know when you’ll need it!)

drink-algorithm

If your book had a signature cocktail, what would it be?

It would have to be a champagne cocktail. According to the International Bar Association:

“A champagne cocktail is an alcoholic drink made with sugar, Angostura bitters, champagne, brandy and a maraschino cherry as a garnish.”

I prefer mine with just a sugar cube at the bottom of a chilled champagne flute, two or three drops Angostura Bitters or cognac when available and then filled to the top with brut champagne. It’s the perfect signature drink for my book because like the champagne cocktail, Turkish culture, although bound by regulations, is extremely versatile and adaptable. Few people actually follow the rules and when things go wrong, which they often do, they’re very good at finding alternative ways of doing things. As a person prone to getting hung up on details and subsequently unable to creatively problem-solve, living in Istanbul and constantly having to re-negotiate ways of being stops me falling back into old habits.

fashion-algorithm

Are there any special clothes/headgear/costumes/accessories we could wear to put us in the mood for reading your book?

Definitely a scarf. Not because I live in a predominantly Muslim country, although I do cover my head to show respect when I enter a mosque, but because I’m never without one. For the early chapters of my book a light cotton number in strong summer colours will put you in the mood for my optimism and enthusiasm as I pounded the pavements in Istanbul in search of a new home. As autumn sets in and things start to go pear-shaped, you’ll need something with a bit of body to wind around your neck and shoulders to give comfort when none is on offer. Winter brings biting cold and overwhelming stress, so wrap up tight in a shawl that covers the outfit you’re likely to wear day after day as you battle your fears and doubts. Spring passes in a minute so when summer comes around again choose something to wrap around your hips. Make sure it’s sewn with coins, so you jingle with delight when you join me as I dance for joy.

travel-algorithm

If we wanted to take a mini-trip to understand your story better, where would you recommend we travel and which one or two sights should we take in?

It would have to be to Istanbul, because it’s a city without substitute. Come on a Friday and head straight to Kadıköy, on the Asian side of the city. It’s a place to experience rather than see, so plunge straight into the crisscross of streets and make your way through the crowds of Friday shoppers, skirt the overflow of devout congregants praying on rugs rolled out onto the sidewalks, take in the scents, sight and sounds of Fish Street, and eat spicy lahmacun with parsley and lemon at Borsam. You’ll see plenty you want to photograph but first just stop, look and feel the energy swirling around you. Living in a city with so many people can be overwhelming, so I always try to balance the mania with more peaceful days out along the shores of the Bosphorus. Two of my favourite neighbourhoods are Kuruçeşme and Arnavutköy, because they offer a glimpse into Turkey’s multicultural past under Ottoman rule. You can find out more about these neighbourhoods in the Discover Istanbul section of my blog, Inside Out Istanbul, and from my book of travel essays with that title, recently updated.

* * *

So, readers, tell us: Has Lisa come up with a winning algorithm? Does the thought of wearing a jingly scarf, sipping a champagne cocktail and feasting on Circassian Chicken, watching Aussie flicks, and traveling to the Asian side of Istanbul (at least from your armchair!) make you want to buy Lisa’s book? At the very least, does it make you want to keep in touch with Lisa and her adventures? If so, be sure to check out her author site You can also follow her on Facebook (she adds photos, tips and vignettes about Istanbul and Turkey to the page nearly every day) and let’s not forget Twitter. And please leave any questions for Lisa in the comments.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts. Will they include Lisa’s next test? (You tell us: do you want to see her move on in the Expat Author Game?)

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

Related posts:

  • LOCATION, LOCUTION: An expat life in Istanbul frees Oliver Tidy to write crime novels set in places he knows well (and Turkey, too!)
  • Ten years after “Expat Harem,” foreign women will have another say on expat life in Turkey
  • BOOK REVIEW: “Perking the Pansies — Jack and Liam move to Turkey,” by Jack Scott
  • Photo credits: All photos from Pixabay; book cover (supplied).

    LOCATION, LOCUTION: Charles Lambert draws on his displaced life to produce psychological thrillers

    location-locution-charles-lambert
    Tracey Warr is here with fellow displaced Brit Charles Lambert, a master writer of literary thrillers. He was born in England, lives in Italy, and describes himself as deeply enjoying the status of being a foreigner.

    Greetings, Displaced Nationers.

    My guest this month is the writer Charles Lambert, who was born in Lichfield, UK, a cathedral city in the Midlands, but who has lived in Italy for most of his adult life. After graduating from Cambridge, Charles worked as an EFL teacher in Milan and Turin in the mid-1970s—one of the most tumultuous periods in post-war Italian history, which he has written about in his psychological thriller, The View from the Tower.

    After two years, he moved to Setúbal, Portugal, a smallish town south of Lisbon—and found himself, once again, at the heart of a political situation he struggled to understand (see his novella, The Slave House). After six months and a disastrous love affair, he returned to the UK to “get a proper job.” He ended up working as an assistant editor at a medical publisher’s on Euston Road.

    Fifteen months later, desperately unhappy, he turned down a promotion and headed back to Italy, where he has lived ever since—initially in Modena (northern Italy) and then in Fondi, about halfway between Rome and Naples.

    As I’ve already indicated, all of these backings and forthings have provided rich fodder for Charles’s imagination. Even his current work, as a language teacher in Italian universities, a job he has done since 1982, “makes up in the endless variety of human contact what it lacks, signally, in career opportunities,” as he puts it. Charles has also worked as a journalist for the news agency ANSA, translated for academic presses in the UK and the USA, edited for international agencies, and written critical essays on, among other things, George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, in which he confesses a unashamedly nerdish interest.

    But his true passion is fiction writing—in particular, the psychological literary thriller. In addition to his many blog posts, the afore-mentioned novella, The Slave House, the occasional poem, and his acclaimed short story collection, The Scent of Cinnamon (for which he won an O. Henry prize), he has written four novels:

    • The Children’s Home (Scribner, 2016): An inversion of a modern fairytale, the story centers on a disfigured recluse living on his family estate, with a housekeeper as his only companion. His solitude is disrupted when stray children start showing up on his doorstep.
    • The View from the Tower (Penguin Random House, 2013): A psychological thriller and second in a planned trilogy about the darker side of Rome, the story centers on Helen, who has been having an affair with her husband’s best friend, Giacomo, an ex-terrorist, for 30 years. She is in a hotel room in Rome with Giacomo when she receives the news that her husband, a high-level politician, has been murdered. She simultaneously becomes a suspect and suspicious of everyone around her—forcing her to examine her own past and peel back the years of secrets and lies.
    • Any Human Face (Picador, 2011): The first in a planned trilogy about the seamier side of Rome, the story concerns what happens when Andrew, a quirky gay bookstore owner and sometime art/antiquity dealer in Rome, stumbles into a political vipers’ nest involving high-level politicians and Vatican officials while also struggling to overcome heartbreak from his past and learning to love again. When the book first came out, the Guardian called it a “sophisticated literary thriller set on the seamier fringe of Rome’s gay scene, a magnet for the lonely and displaced located a long way off the tourist trail.”
    • Little Monsters (Picador, 2008): Lambert’s début novel and the first of his books set in modern Italy, this is the story of Carol, a young teenager who, having witnessed her father killing her mother, is put into the care of her aunt, who hates and resents her, and her uncle, whom she eventually marries. The story is told in two time frames: Carol as ward and Carol as an adult, when she finds herself drawn to a boat-refugee child in Italy (the child reminds her of her unwanted teenaged self).

    charles-lambert-oeuvre-525x
    He also recently produced a fictionalized memoir, With a Zero at Its Heart, capturing moments from his life in a unique, experimental format.

    Charles says he has no plans to return to the UK, and Brexit is unlikely to persuade him to change his mind:

    I don’t define myself as an expat. If I had to define myself, I’d probably go for “economic migrant” or, more simply, “foreigner”, a status I deeply enjoy.

    For entirely pragmatic reasons, he is currently in the process of becoming an Italian citizen.

    And now let’s hear from Charles about what techniques she uses to conjure up the Italy he knows so well as a long-time resident while also cherishing his status of outsider.

    * * *

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

    Every book is different. My first novel, Little Monsters, began with a sentence and, within seconds, the sentence had found a home in the Peak District, where I spent most of my adolescence. That place, and my memories of it, dictated much of the narrative. The other half of the book was set in contemporary Italy, where I live, although the story took me to a part of Italy I didn’t know that well and I had to use my imagination. So, one novel, half story-led, half place-led. The next two novels I published were both set in Rome, and I can’t imagine them being set in any other city. Rome’s a city with a uniquely composted history of beauty and blood-letting, high ideals and dirty low-down dealings, and the novels dig into that humus with relish. My most recent novel, on the other hand, The Children’s Home, is set in an undefined place and time and the lack of temporal and geographical definition is an integral part of the story.

    What is your technique for evoking the atmosphere of these places?

    When I’m writing I have a strong sense of where I am. It’s in my mind’s eye, so to speak, so all I need to do is look around and report on what I see. If the place is a real place, then memory is involved. If it isn’t, the details come as I need them. A shop, a street, a tree… As a general rule, though, I’d say less is more. It’s what I call the “Bakelite-ashtray fallacy”—the idea that obsessively name-checking historical materials and brands gives a sense of period. It doesn’t. It gives a sense of working too hard to create a sense of period, and is inevitably counter-productive. The same is true with a sense of place. Too much description draws attention to itself and to the writer’s eagerness to be believed, not to the place it’s supposed to be describing.

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

    All three, to a greater or lesser degree, and I’d add language to the list—but, as I said above, with parsimony. It can be hard to resist the temptation to describe in detail every dish your characters are eating—especially if you love food as much as I do and the scene is set in Italy, as scenes in my work often are—but if the purpose of the scene is, well, non-gastronomic, you just need to do your best to keep the detail pared down. My agent, with exemplary dedication, once counted the number of bottles of red wine consumed in one of my novels (Any Human Face, if you’re curious). It was frighteningly high but, we both agreed, integral to the narrative, although it may have contributed to creating, for my characters at least, a serious sense of dislocation!
    red-wine-bottles
    More seriously, I think descriptions of place need to serve a double purpose. They provide a location, but that location must also give the reader something else, something about the characters’ relationship with that place, for example, or about the way the place might have shaped the characters, who they are, what they think, why they behave the way they do. Without that, it’s window dressing.

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

    From Any Human Face (Picador, 2010):

    Thirty years ago, Andrew lived just round the corner from Campo de’Fiori, in a two-room garret above the latteria. The latteria still sells its large white bowls of caffelatte and rusk-like biscuits, but Andrew moved on when the intensifying effect of a picturesque tiled roof on winter cold and summer heat became too much for him. Since then, like some bobbing object impelled by a centrifugal force he can neither understand nor halt, he has lived in a series of rented flats, each one a half-mile further from the centre than the one before. By an equally mysterious process, his worldly goods have accumulated as their worth has diminished; each time he moves, the boxes and plastic sacks into which he has stuffed his life seem more forbidding, more intractable. He shuttles between the old flat and the new in whichever car he has borrowed, just one step above a bag lady pushing an overloaded supermarket trolley, front wheel askew, his whole world teetering on a metaphorical wonky castor. He used to think corridors were wasted space. He doesn’t think that now.
    roman-roof-tiles

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

    Intimately, fairly well, hardly at all. Once again, in other words, it depends. In the passage above, I’m describing a part of Rome I lived in for many years. I had breakfast in that latteria, I ate those biscuits, I sweated and shivered in the kind of garret Andrew lived in. In another novel, on the other hand, long sections are set in a town I spent four days in some years ago and have never revisited. I’m hoping no one will notice. I need to have “felt” the place in some way but that doesn’t necessarily require years of research (although Google Street View can come in handy) or lived, physical presence. Sometimes, a single word might be enough to evoke what’s needed. One of the most potent descriptions of place for me comes at the beginning of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis: “His room, a proper human room although a little too small…”, where the two words “proper” and “human” are enough to mark out the extraordinariness of what’s occurred. His room becomes our room, and yet not our room.

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

    In their very different ways, Cormac McCarthy and Penelope Fitzgerald. In works like the Border Trilogy, McCarthy’s vision of the world and of the lives of its inhabitants (both human and animal) make up a single vision: harsh, numinous, both indifferent and interwoven, a wonder of observation and lyricism. The settings in Fitzgerald’s last four novels range from 1950s Italy to pre-revolutionary Moscow, and there isn’t a moment when the world of the novel isn’t entirely believable. Once again, the trick is to reduce the detail to a bare—and convincing—minimum. There’s a moment in Innocence where children go to Upim (an Italian Woolworth’s) before school starts to buy their exercise books. I don’t know how Fitzgerald knew this, but it was all that was needed to persuade me of the authenticity of the novel’s world.

    a-few-of-cls-fave-books

    Charles Lambert’s picks for novelists who have mastered the art of writing about place

    Thanks so much, Charles, for your answers. It’s been a great pleasure.

    * * *

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

    Meanwhile, if you would like to discover more about Charles Lambert and his body of work, I suggest you visit his author site. You can also follow him on Twitter.

    À bientôt! Till next time…

    * * *

    Thank you so much, Tracey and Charles! I found this discussion fascinating. —ML Awanohara

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

    STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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

    Related posts:

    Photo credits: Top visual: The World Book (1920), by Eric Fischer via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); “Writing? Yeah.” by Caleb Roenigk via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); author photo, photo of Setúbal graffiti and of Italian cafe scene were supplied by Charles Lambert; A view of Lichfield Cathedral from the north West, by Roger Robinson via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0). Visuals that accompany the two quotations: Empty wine bottles via Pixabay; Roof Tiles (Rome), by Stewart Butterfield via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

    DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: Taking time off to look backwards on how far I’ve come…and forwards to the next goals

    Diary of an Expat Writer
    It’s been a while since we’ve heard from American expat in Hong Kong and aspiring writer Shannon Young. She actually gave herself a break this summer—and as soon as she came back at it, pieces started falling into place…

    Dear Displaced Diary,

    Did you have a nice summer? Mine was a great mix of family time and travel. Highlights included hanging out with my adorable nephew in Arizona, visiting my grandparents in Oregon, catching up with old friends in New York City, and riding a moped around Bermuda with my husband.

    After the intensive work of the previous six months, it was a much-needed chance to clear my head and remember how to be a human being again.

    As I shared at the start of the year, I needed to kick into high gear in the first part of 2016 or else start searching for a new day job.

    As a consequence, I barely looked up from my computer for six months, during which I wrote and launched the first two books in my new YA Steel of Fire fantasy series, within six weeks of each other.

    After the intensity of the winter and spring, the summer break gave me a chance to step back and take stock of how far I’ve come along the journey into a writing career.

    From travel writer…to fantasy author

    I started my career writing about Hong Kong. I envisioned myself as a travel writer because that seemed like the natural path for an American girl abroad. But the more I’ve written, the more it has become clear that my interests and skills are better suited for fantasy and science fiction. Those early projects were important practice for the kind of work I’m doing now.

    It’s common for writers to draw inspiration from the world around them even if they’re not travel writers. I’m sure you expats know what I’m talking about. You encounter a natural wonder or a style of clothing or a cadence of speech. It works its way into your brain, whether you write it down in that moment or not. Eventually it comes back. It may not be in the same form. You change it to align with the needs of your story world, or you remember it a bit differently than it was in reality. In fiction, you get to write from the inspiration rather than describing exactly what you saw—and that’s what makes it so much fun.

    Living abroad has helped me to write fantasy because I get to see so many different places and meet people from all over the world, even if none of them wield magic or ride dragons (so far). It has also helped me look at the place I came from with fresh eyes.

    MAGICAL HONG KONG: Inspiration for fantasy writing?

    MAGICAL HONG KONG: Inspiration for Shannon’s swashbuckling fantasies?

    From teacher in Arizona…to writer in Hong Kong

    While I was in the States, I took a few days to finish the second draft of Dance of Steel, which will be the third book in my five-book Steel and Fire series. I completed the draft on my 28th birthday in my favorite coffee shop in my hometown, Gilbert, Arizona. I used to spend hours grading essays at that very coffee shop during my first year as a teacher.

    At the time I was applying for jobs in Hong Kong, both at schools and with publishers, and it hadn’t even occurred to me to try writing books.

    It was fun to mark my progress in a place where I could see how far I’d traveled, both physically and in my career as a writer.

    MARK OF PROGRESS: From the coffee shops of Arizona to the Starbucks of Hong Kong

    MARK OF PROGRESS: No longer grading papers in an Arizona coffee shop, Shannon is drafting fantasy novels in a Starbucks in Hong Kong.

    From vacation mode…back to the grind

    I’m writing a five-book series, so I’m always thinking about where my story is going. A long project requires stamina and a steady course, but sometimes moving out of your usual routine can help to get the creative juices flowing again. Having already planned to finish the final draft of Dance of Steel upon my return to Hong Kong after a month off, I was already thinking about what would happen in the next book.

    My husband and I took a meandering road trip through Oregon and California before catching our flight to New York. Whenever it was my turn to drive, I’d pass the time on the road thinking through what would happen in the fourth book. I’d write notes in the evenings, but it was helpful to let the story unfold like a movie as I drove. It made me appreciate how much writing you can do when you’re not actually writing. You have to let those ideas develop and see if they really have legs. (Not to worry, I didn’t crash into anything!)

    Once we were back in Hong Kong, I hit the ground running to make my editor deadline for the final draft of Dance of Steel. After a month away from the computer, I spent about 100 hours at Starbucks over the course of 12 days.

    Hong Kong cooperated by being furiously rainy and dreary for all 12 days.

    At 136,145 words, Dance of Steel has ended up being my longest book by 40,000 words.

    It was a great way to get back into my routine—and it warned me to budget more time for each draft now that my books are getting longer. Finishing a book is a always a marathon, but I need to continue to work on my pacing.

    From aspiring…to official full-time author!

    The good news is, six years after I left Arizona, I’m officially making a living as a writer(!!). The month of May was the tipping point, when I published the second book in my Steel and Fire series, Duel of Fire, and my sales began to take off. This series has done exponentially better than my previous (Seabound) fantasy series.

    Dance of Steel is the sixth novel I have published under my Jordan Rivet pen name. In the four months since, I’ve met or exceeded my previous day-job income.

    And one more exciting piece of news: I signed with a literary agent to represent the auxiliary rights to the series and have now secured a three-book audio deal!

    I will have to keep working hard and publishing often to maintain this momentum, but for now, it’s an exciting milestone to celebrate.

    steel-and-fire-series_sept-2016

    Onwards and upwards…

    It’s good to be back at work after the time off. I’m now 80,000 words into the fourth book in the series (not counting thousands of words of notes).

    My goal is to finish in time for a Christmas or New Year launch. I’m also working on getting out to writing and social events more often and establishing a sustainable working pace that allows me to put out a book every three or four months.

    I’m in this for the long haul now. I want to keep learning, stay excited about the process, and make each book better than the last one:

    Thank you, my dear Displaced Diary, for all your help and encouragement along the way!

    Yours,

    Shannon Young
    AKA Jordan Rivet
    www.shannonyoungwriter.com
    www.jordanrivet.com

    * * *

    Shannon, I was watching an interview with the playwright Edward Albee, aired to commemorate his death earlier in the month, and he said that whenever he was writing a play, he would “see and hear” the characters in his mind and wait for them to tell him where his story was going. Your road-trip method sounds a little like his! Thanks once again for sharing your latest news. It’s uplifting! ~ML

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    THE ACCIDENTAL EXPAT: A stopover in Toronto, the world’s most multicultural city

    THE ACCIDENTAL EXPAT
    Columnist Indra Chopra is back. Born in India, Indra embraced the life of a trailing spouse to become a globetrotter. In this post she shares her impressions of Toronto, a place that arouses her curiosity and makes her feel (somewhat) at home. ML Awanohara

    In my last column, I promised to deliver the Hong Kong chapter of our diasporic shenanigans, beginning in 2008—but the present keeps intruding on my thoughts.

    This summer I am visiting Canada for the fourth time. Every visit has been an exposé on the resilience of immigrants waiting for the “turning point.” They start anew not knowing what is around the bend.

    “Canada is a place of infinite promise.” —John Maynard Keynes

    English economist John Maynard Keynes once said he’d prefer emigrating to Canada over the USA. It’s perhaps a good thing he never experienced driving along Don Mills Road in Toronto…

    The morning-evening views of humming cars and twinkling lights of Highway 401—said to be the busiest highway in North America (around half a million vehicles travel along it per day)—does not lull me into a poetic trance; I am too busy counting heads. The car lights represent the people from all over the world who have made this land their home, and the cars…their search for permanency.

    I wonder how many of the immigrants enjoyed their moves, whether it was voluntary or forced, under happy circumstances or tragic.

    Not all that long ago Canada was the land of Niagara Falls, polar bears and Arctic wilderness. The steady trickling in of immigrants and other displaced nationers has provided an opportunity to fill in the blanks, the empty spaces, with men, women and children looking for places to plant new roots.

    The human surge continues; new faces keep appearing from corners of the world that have been stretched to their limits; and there is talk of getting in still more.

    “It is easy to get a Canadian permanent resident card,” state a young couple from India. They willingly chose this option for a hassle-free life and the chance to be accepted into the Indo-Canadian diaspora that somehow lessens nostalgia for the homeland.
    canada-then-and-now

    “Toronto is a very multicultural city, a place of immigrants, like my parents.” —R&B artist Melanie Fiona

    I take the elevator down from the 32nd floor of one of the city’s high rises, stopping at different floors. Soon I am joined by African Canadians, Asian Canadians, Indo Canadians: different colors, different masks. I ask an Asian lady flaunting a diamond nose-pin whether she is from India. Her answer? “From Bangladesh. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh—we’re all the same; we wear the same dresses and speak the same languages.” I agree—it’s time I shed my parochial attitude.

    A walk in the nearby mall and it’s a mini-world of myriad tongues and dress: hijab-covered heads, Indian tunic tops, tank tops and short shorts… I wonder how they are all adjusting, what makes them leave their familiar environments to embark on a journey to an unknown land.

    “It’s relatives and friends who entice us with stories of luxury, which seldom are true,” they would probably tell me. And, once here, they do not want to return having used their savings but must honor their promises to help finance parents and other family member to join them in hopes of a better life, not only in terms of opportunities but also basic amenities.

    Of course, some want to return to their native lands, such as the Trinidad-born banker who tells me: “I cannot see myself retiring here. It is too cold.” In any event, she has no choice but to stay in Toronto for the time being, having enrolled her children in city schools. She thinks they will be misfits in their own country if they leave mid-way. She will wait for them to complete college before she decides on her next move, she says.

    There are the lone movers, the refugees fleeing torture, intimidation, famine, and poverty. Canadians recently opened their minds and hearts to 25,000 Syrian refugees and are committed to helping them resettle in their country.

    I see plenty of my compatriots: young men and women from Punjab and other Indian states. In 2011 Toronto was favored destination for Indians, with no or few limits on letting them work. Some are even doing manual labor—which they certainly would have felt below their dignity in their own country. Many are now investing in properties and enjoying affluent lifestyles—calculating how this compares to where they might have been had they stayed in India.

    “The fact that over 50 per cent of the residents of Toronto are not from Canada, that is always a good thing, creatively, and for food especially.” —Anthony Bourdain

    Toronto is the most multicultural city in the world, with more than 140 dialects spoken other than French and English. It is nicknamed the “city of neighbourhoods,”; some of the more famous include:

    We are driven around Brampton—aka Sikhland or Bangland because so many South Asian migrants have made it their home. It’s a suburban city in Greater Toronto. Many find it easier to settle in if they can live in pockets of ethnicity rather than having to navigate new neighborhoods.

    I read about “white flight”, a term that describes the pattern by which early settlers from England to Canada were replaced first by Europeans and then by Asians, Africans, Arabs…a never-drying stream.

    “In all of this, the mighty god Krishna moves, increasingly troubled by his lack of relevancy in this alien land.” —Gary Dickerson, about the Indo-Canadian film Masala (1991)

    I attend a Hindu prayer gathering (puja) at a relative’s house; and for two hours I am transported to a gurudwara in New Delhi. My reverie is broken when I hear two ladies whispering—not in Punjabi but in Canadian-accented English. Where am I?

    The kirtana (call-and-response style religious song or chant) that take place every weekend are a way to keep the umbilical cord intact. One can talk Indian politics, stay connected with friends, and expose children to Indian culture. Neighborhoods are thereby transformed into extensions of the pind (Indian village), with its internal rules and laws intact.

    India was/is a reservoir for brides and grooms for Canadian-based Indians, until the younger generation, born and brought up in Toronto, insists on the much-needed change of deciding their own fate by finding their own partners—a source of pride in their adopted land.

    A friend recounts his first few days in the country when his wife refused to step out of the house even though her relatives, parents were living next door. The wife was missing her daily routine of long chats with friends, the shared housework and space. Eventually she succumbed to the “good life”; and now with her children married and settled, she wonders how she could have been so “foolish in wanting to return to Punjab.”

    Living an expat life can be full of pitfalls or else promises, depending on one’s family life and their expectations.

    I meet up with an Indian lady who started her own spice business supplying to Toronto’s Indian grocery stores, first in her neighborhood, then in greater Toronto, and now to neighboring cities and provinces. Her business grew with support from her husband and children. She says:

    “When I came to Canada, newly married, I did not plan to sit in the house, and at the same time, I did not want to take up a nine-to-five job. A few experiments at self-business and finally the right idea came. Fifteen years back most of us would carry our spices from visits back home. In time it became tedious, and this is when I hit upon the idea of starting a business with something I was familiar with. We source spices from India and different countries and package and sell them in Canada.”

    At other end of the spectrum is a friend’s relative, who has been slogging away since the time she set foot in Toronto forty years back. The ashen visage says it all: having been married at a young age, she had no idea what she was getting into. The husband was of no help; the only silver lining there were no relatives or in-laws around. “It was not easy,” she says.

    She took up a job in a bank for financial stability—and with children to take care of as well, it was a balancing act between work and home responsibilities. Years have not changed her routine. She still gets up early morning to complete chores before leaving for work and returning home to prepare dinner, an endlessly exhausting double burden.

    I see the younger generation, my children included, who know what it means to globetrot, to assimilate to new surroundings and find their place under the Canadian sun. A Hindu girl lets drop that she eats beef in answer to last year’s “beef killings” in India (an incident where a Hindu mob killed a Muslim family for slaughtering a cow and consuming its meat).
    india-diaspora-toronto

    * * *

    Whether an immigrant from Europe, South East Asia, Far East, Middle East…the narratives are similar, voiced with a shuttered look as if to say:

    “We are here, this is what matters, not how we got here or why we came.”

    A walk on Toronto’s streets and neighborhoods and the international flavor of Canada devours you. I think of my own journey and where I would like it to end…

    * * *

    Thank you, Indra, for sharing your thoughts on Canada’s, and the world’s, most multicultural city. From your description, I think Toronto must be the closest physical counterpart our planet has to The Displaced Nation site! —ML Awanohara

    Indra Chopra is a writer/blogger passionate about travel and curious about cultures and people. Her present status is that of an accidental expat writing to relive moments in countries wherever she sets home with her husband. With over twenty years of writing experience Indra has contributed to Indian, Middle Eastern publications and online media. She blogs at TravTrails

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    Photo credits: Opening visual: Airplane photo and India photo via Pixabay. Second visual: Photos of Canadian wilderness, polar bear and Niagagra Falls via Pixabay; and night and morning photos of Don Mills Road (supplied). Third visual: (first row) 2013 Taste of the Danforth, by synestheticstrings via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0), and Chinatown mural via Pixabay; (second row) Immigrant, by Taymaz Valley via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); (third row) India Bazaar – Toronto, by The Lost Wanderer via Flickr (CC BY 2.0), and Lord Dufferin Public School Students Watch MLK Day Performance, by US Embassy Canada via Flickr (CC BY 2.0). Last visual: (clockwise from top left) The kulffi kid (Little India, Toronto), by sakura via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Toronto Temple, by shedairyproduct via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Sacred Hindu Cows, by Anthony Easton via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); and Hindu Markings on a Van, also by Anthony Eaton.

    BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: Expat creatives recommend books for the (not quite) end of summer

    End of Summer 2016 Reads

    Attention displaced bookworms! Our book review columnist, Beth Green, has canvassed several international creatives for some recommendations of books that suit the various end-of-summer scenarios those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere will soon be in (if we aren’t already!).

    Hello Displaced Nationers!

    I’ve traveled quite a bit this summer, and now I’m wondering what I can do, as summer slides into autumn here in Prague, to bask in those prized last few moments of glory before the days get shorter and a chill enters the air.

    I decided to canvas fellow international creatives about the books they would recommend for those of us who are:

    • Striving for one last beach read;
    • Stranded at an airport on our way “home”; and/or
    • Getting back to work/school/reality as autumn sets in.

    There was just one catch: I asked if they would please recommend books that qualify as “displaced” reads, meaning they are for, by, or about expats or other internationals and so speak to members of our “tribe” (see ML Awanohara’s contribution below).

    And now let’s check out their picks (correction: I should say “our” as I’m a contributor this time)—it’s an eclectic mix, but I predict you’ll be tempted by quite a few!

    * * *

    JENNIFER ALDERSON, expat and writer

    TheGoodThiefsGuidetoParis_coverWhen I read on the beach, the story’s got to be light and quirky or it goes back in my tote bag. The Good Thief’s Guide to Paris (2009), by Chris Ewan—or really any of the other four books in Ewan’s popular series of mysteries about a globetrotting thief-for-hire—fits the bill perfectly. I actually dislike the much-displaced Charlie Howard immensely—yet somehow end up rooting for him along the way. An Englishman, he doesn’t feel at home anywhere and travels the world to get inspired to write his next novel—and then ends up involved in criminal activities that mirror his fictitious plots. Each novel revolves around Charlie’s bungled robbery of an artwork or antiquity in yet another famous tourist destination: Amsterdam, Paris, Venice, Las Vegas, Berlin… Ewan’s descriptions of each city are spot on and quite beautiful, in contrast to the wonderfully sarcastic tone of the novels themselves. The capers are silly, absurd constructions involving the shadiest of characters, which inevitably leave a smile on my face. I’ve already finished Paris and Amsterdam. The Good Thief’s Guide to Venice is next.

    The City of Falling Angels_coverI actually have two suggestions for books I wish I’d had in my carry-on when stranded en route, both set in one of my favorite countries in the world: Italy! A few days before my husband and I set off for a week-long holiday in Venice, I popped into a local secondhand bookstore and spotted John Berendt’s The City of Falling Angels (2005). I absolutely loved Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, so I bought it without even reading the description on the back. Imagine my surprise when I pulled it out of my suitcase and realized it was all about the same magical city I’d just arrived in! It is an absorbing, magnificent novel that effortlessly blends fact and fiction. (Berendt moved to Venice in 1997, just three days after the city’s Fenice opera house burned down during a restoration—accident or arson?) The fabled city and many of her more eccentric residents form the soul of this book; art, opera and architecture are the main ingredients. Let yourself get lost in Berendt’s unique, almost conversational prose and follow along on his deliciously slow journey through one of the prettiest (and most mysterious) places on the planet.

    BridgeofSighs_coverMy other pick is the captivating historical novel, Bridge of Sighs and Dreams (2015), by former expat Pamela Allegretto. The story follows one Italian family through the 1930s and 1940s, when Mussolini and later Hitler ruled the land. It is a sometimes gritty, sometimes romantic, tale of betrayal, intrigue and—above all—survival. The author’s beautiful yet compact descriptions of the landscape, people and culture effortlessly transport the reader to this fascinating and complex period in Italian (and European) history. I highly recommend it.

    Whichever of these two books you choose, you’ll wish your flight was delayed indefinitely.

    The Disobedient Wife_coverI’ve only read the first two chapters of The Disobedient Wife (2015), by Annika Milisic-Stanley, yet I’m already hooked—and would recommend it for anyone trying to get back into work/school mode. It’s such an eloquent description of the expat experience; from the first sentence I felt as if I was reading a soulmate’s description of how it feels to move on to a new destination after building up a life in a foreign country: we say goodbye while wondering what, if any, lasting impact we’ve had on our temporary homes. [Editor’s note: This book also made the Displaced Nation’s “best of expat fiction” list for 2015.]

    The official synopsis reads:

    The Disobedient Wife intertwines the narratives of a naïve, British expatriate, Harriet, and that of her maid, Nargis, who possesses an inner strength that Harriet comes to admire as their lives begin to unravel against a backdrop of violence and betrayal.

    In the first chapter, Harriet is thinking back to her last post in Tajikistan: about the friends she’d willingly left behind and about her home, inhabited by another family only days after her own departure:

    “All traces will be erased until the Dutch tulips I laid last September rise above the earth to bloom in April and pronounce that I really was there. The language, learned and badly spoken, is already fading from my dreams…”

    These sentences stirred up so many memories for me of people left behind and as well as adventures past. I sometimes wish I could go back—even for a moment—to all of the places I’ve been in this crazy world and just say hello to the people I once knew there and remind them that I’m still around and do think of them once in a while. I cannot wait to finish this book. [Beth’s note: I did NOT mention to Jennifer that Annika is also participating in this column’s roundup—quite a coincidence!]

    Jennifer S. Alderson has published two novels, the recently released A Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery and Down and Out in Kathmandu (2015), which cover the adventures of traveler and culture lover Zelda Richardson. An American, Jennifer lives in the Netherlands with her Dutch husband and young son.


    ML AWANOHARA, Displaced Nation founding editor and former expat

    Inspired by the new BBC One TV miniseries, at the beginning of the summer I downloaded War and Peace (new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky) onto my Kindle. And, reader, I finished it! And now I’m having trouble finding any novels that hold my attention. By comparison to Tolstoy’s masterwork, they all seem too narrow in scope, and their characters aren’t as beautifully developed. Sigh!

    Tribe_coverI’m thinking I should turn to nonfiction until the W&P spell wears off. Right now I have my eye on Sebastian Junger’s latest work, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging—which I think could serve any of the purposes Beth has outlined above, though perhaps is best applied to the third condition (getting back to reality). Junger has been compared to Hemingway for his adventure non-fiction and war reporting, but this book is more of an anthropological look at the very human need to belong to a tribe. Though we expats have left our original tribes, I don’t think that this decision eradicates our tribal instincts. On the contrary, we are attracted to tribes of fellow expats; and some of us even find new homes in cultures more tribal than ours—where the people value qualities like loyalty and belonging more than we do in the West.

    Junger provides an example to which I can personally relate. Recounting the history of 18th-century America, he says that no native Americans defected to join colonial society even though it was richer, whereas many colonials defected to live with the Indian tribes. They apparently appreciated the communal, caring lifestyle of the latter. That’s how I felt after I’d lived in Japan for several years. I really didn’t fancy returning to my native society, which I’d come to see as overly individualistic and centered on self to the exclusion of little else. To this day (and especially during election years like this one!) I struggle with America’s you’re-on-your-own ethos. Wealth doesn’t necessarily translate into well-being: why can’t my compatriots see that? It’s something I can feel in my bones because of the more tribal life I had in Asia. Could this book help me understand the roots of my displacement?

    ML Awanohara, who has lived for extended periods in the UK and Japan, has been running the Displaced Nation site for five years. She works in communications in New York City.


    BETH GREEN, Displaced Nation columnist and writer

    Hotel_Kerobokan_coverI tend to pick beach books by the setting. So if I am going to the Caribbean, I’ll pick something set in the Caribbean. My last beach destination was Bali, and the book I wish I’d taken with me was Hotel Kerobokan: The Shocking Inside Story of Bali’s Most Notorious Jail (2009), a sharply observed account of life inside Indonesia’s most notorious prison, by Australian journalist Kathryn Bonella. Also great is her subsequent nonfiction title, Snowing in Bali (2012), a graphic look at Bali’s cocaine traffickers. Stories that depict true-life crime in unexpected settings (isn’t Bali supposed to be paradise?) automatically go on my to-read list—but I forgot to pick up Bonella’s book when we were at the airport and then wasn’t able to find in the area around my hotel. I know, most people go to the beach for good weather and strong cocktails; but for me, a holiday isn’t a holiday until I can peel back the veneer and peer at something darker underneath.

    The Bat_coverWhat I actually ended up reading was in fact very good—Jo Nesbo’s thriller The Bat, in which he introduces his hard-headed detective Harry Hole and sends him to Australia to pursue a serial killer—but I wish I’d planned ahead and got something that blended with the scenery.

    It’s a terrible feeling to get to the boarding gate and realize you don’t have enough chapters left in your book to get you through takeoff. (This is one reason I love my e-reader and try to have it loaded with dozens of books at all times.) For air travel especially, I look for the fattest, longest reads possible.

    The Mountain Shadow_coverFor my next long flight, I’m hoping to read Gregory David Robert’s The Mountain Shadow, which came out last year and is the sequel to his equally weighty Shantaram (2003). At 880 pages, this book will take even a fast reader like me a while! Set in Mumbai, India, it continues the story of an escaped Australian prisoner who finds a new niche as a passport forger—but also a better self—in the underbelly of the South Asian crime world. Engrossing and beautifully written, I think it’s the perfect companion for marathon flights. Even if you did manage to finish it mid-flight, you can spend the rest of the trip wondering how close the story is to the author’s real-life history as an escaped convict. Roberts spent 10 years in India as a fugitive after escaping a maximum security prison in Australia, and his first novel, at least, is rumored to be autobiographical.

    CatKingofHavana_coverFor the goal of channeling our more serious selves as autumn approaches, how about a fun read by the peripatetic Latvian author Tom Crosshill (he spent several years studying and working in the United States, as well as a year learning traditional dances in Cuba). Crosshill will release The Cat King of Havana (2016) this month. The eponymous Cat King is a half-Cuban American teenager who gets his nicknames from the cat videos he posts online. When he invites his crush to Havana to learn about his heritage and take salsa lessons, he discovers Cuba’s darker side…

    Beth Green is the Booklust, Wanderlust columnist for the Displaced Nation. Her bio blurb appears below.


    HELENA HALME, novelist and expat

    Murder in Aix_coverFor a last hurrah on the beach, I’d recommend Murder in Aix (2013), Book 5 in a mystery series by Susan Kiernan-Lewis, an ex-military dependent who is passionate about France, travel and writing. One of my secret pleasures in life is to settle down with a cozy murder mystery; I also have a passion for the South of France. So when I found The Maggie Newberry Mystery Series, consisting of nine books that featured an expat protagonist-sleuth who solves mysteries in and around Aix-en-Provence, I couldn’t wait to download the whole series onto my Kindle. In the fifth book, Maggie Newberry is heavily pregnant but that doesn’t stop her as she finds herself scrambling to prove the innocence of a dear friend arrested for the murder of an abusive ex-boyfriend. Her partner, a ruggedly handsome French winemaker, doesn’t approve of Maggie’s involvement in the case. “It’s too dangerous,” he tells her.

    The novel is pure bliss—a feeling enhanced if you can read it by a pool or on a beach, preferably accompanied by a glass of chilled rosé!

    TheBreathofNight_coverFor those inevitable airport delays, I’d recommend The Breath of Night (2013), by Michael Arditti, a much-neglected English author. The first book I read by him, Jubilate, said to be the first serious novel about Lourdes since Zola’s, is one of my all-time favorites, so I was delighted when The Breath of Night came out soon after. This is a story of the murder of one Julian Tremayne, a Catholic priest from England who was working as a missionary in the Philippines in the 1970s. Since their son’s tragic death, Julian’s parents have pursued a campaign to have him declared a saint. The story is told partly through letters from Julian to his parents and partly through an account by a friend of the family, Philip Seward, who has gone to Manila 30 years later to find out the truth about the miracles he is said to have performed. Did Julian lead “a holy life of heroic virtue”—one of the conditions for canonization? While telling an intriguing and captivating tale of life in the Philippines, the book provides a broader commentary on love and faith.

    TheParisWife_coverWhen the time comes to settle back into your routine, I would suggest a read of The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain (2011). It’s a fictionalized story of Hemingway’s first years as a struggling writer in Paris in the 1920s, told from the point of view of his first wife, Hadley, a naive Southern girl who suddenly finds herself suddenly plunged into a life of drunken debauchery in the French capital. McLain’s writing is precise and beautiful; her background as a poet comes through in her careful choice of words. Her descriptions of Hemingway when Hadley first meets him are particularly ingenious:

    “He smiles with everything he’s got…”

    “I can tell he likes being in his body…”

    “He seemed to do happiness all the way up and through.”

    It’s a brilliant read that will take you somewhere completely different and keep the challenges (boredom?) of work or school at bay a little longer.

    Helena Halme is a Finnish author of Nordic women’s and romantic fiction. She lives with her English husband in London. Her works include the best-selling autobiographical novel The Englishman (reviewed on the Displaced Nation), its sequel The Navy Wife, Coffee and Vodka (about which she wrote a guest post for us) and The Red King of Helsinki (for which she won one of our Alice Awards). The Finnish Girl, her latest novella, is the prequel to The Englishman.


    MATT KRAUSE, writer and expat

    A Time of Gifts_coverFor any of those circumstances, I would recommend A Time of Gifts, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (1977; reissued in 2011 with an introduction by Jan Morris). At the age of 18, Fermor dropped out of school to walk from the heart of London to Constantinople, and his account of that journey—which started in December 1933, not long after Hitler has come to power in Germany, and ended just over two years later—is hailed as a classic of British travel writing. Hitler’s abuses were not yet evident, and Fermor describes drinking beers with Nazis once he reaches Germany. But I particularly enjoyed his account of a luxurious extended weekend in Geneva (or some city, I don’t remember) with a couple of girls he met along the way. I read this book as part of my research before walking across Turkey in 2012–2013, and really liked it.

    Matt Krause is a communications coach based in Istanbul. He is the author of the memoir A Tight Wide-Open Space (reviewed on the Displaced Nation) and is working on a book about his walk across Turkey.


    ANNIKA MILISIC-STANLEY, ATCK, expat, painter, campaigner and writer

    two more book picks_Aug2016When I am on the beach, I get no longer than half an hour of uninterrupted reading time. For that reason, I took a book of short stories with me this year: Angela Readman’s Don’t Try This At Home (2015), which has stories set in the UK, USA, France and elsewhere. Brilliantly engaging, with an amazing use of language, alternately fun and fantastical, this debut, award-winning collection is well worth a read.

    Some of you may not be short story fans, in which case I’d recommend The White Tiger (2008), by Aravind Adiga. The “white tiger” of the book’s title is a Bangalore chauffeur, who guides us through his experience of the poverty and corruption of modern India’s caste society. two book picks_Aug2016_515xThe novel won the 2008 Booker, but don’t let that put you off. It is surprisingly accessible and a real page-turner: funny, horrifying and brilliant.

    For an agonizing airport wait, I have two suggestions: Atticus Lish’s Preparation for the Next Life (2015) and Sanjeev Sahota’s The Year of the Runaways (also 2015). Both feature immigrants describing their former lives, their motive for departure from their countries of origin, and the harshness of life in a new country as illegals.

    CentresofCataclysm_coverAnd once you’re back at the desk, I would recommend giving Centres of Cataclysm (2016, Bloodaxe Books) a try. Edited by Sasha Dugdale and David and Helen Constantine, it’s an anthology celebrating fifty years of modern poetry in translation—full of beautiful gems from poets from around the world. Profits go to refugee charities.

    Raised in Britain by Swedish and Anglo-German parents, Annika Milisic-Stanley has worked on humanitarian aid projects in Nepal, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, India, Burundi and Egypt as well as living in Tajikistan for several years. She currently lives in Rome with her family. In addition to writing and painting, she works as a campaigner to raise awareness on the plight of refugees in Southern Europe. The Disobedient Wife, about expatriate and local life in Tajikistan, is her debut novel and was named the Cinnamon Press 2015 Novel of the Year. Annika invites you to like her book page on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.


    PAMELA JANE ROGERS, expat and artist/author

    Saving Fish from Drowning_coverFor that last trip to the beach, I’d recommend Amy Tan’s Saving Fish from Drowning (2005). A group of California travelers decide to go on their planned trip to the Burma (its southern Shan State) without their (deceased) travel director, and in their total ignorance of the customs and religion of that part of the world, create havoc—and commit what is considered a heinous crime. I was directing a travel group in Greece when I read it, which may be why it seemed quite plausible, as well as darkly hilarious.

    If you haven’t read it yet (though most on this site probably have), an absorbing read for when you get stuck in an airport is Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible (1998)The Poisonwood Bible_cover, about a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. Between the evangelical Christian father wanting his converts to “gather by the river” in Africa for their baptisms, to the chapters written by his wife and daughters at different ages—the reader is in for a rollicking, sometimes absurd, sometimes sad and sobering, ride.

    And when it’s time to face work again, I recommend the book I’m reading now: Passage of the Stork, Delivering the Soul (Springtime Books, 2015), by Madeleine LenaghPassage of the Stork_cover, an American who has lived in the Netherlands since 1970. This is her life story. [Editor’s note: Madeleine Lenagh and her photography have been featured on the Displaced Nation.]

    Pamela Jane Rogers is an American artist who has adopted the Greek island of Poros as her home. She has written a memoir of her adventures, which she recently re-published with a hundred of her paintings as illustrations: GREEKSCAPES: Illustrated Journeys with an Artist.


    JASMINE SILVERA, former expat and writer

    The Best of All Possible Worlds_coverFor the beach I would recommend The Best of All Possible Worlds (2013), by Barbadian author Karen Lord. It’s what many people call “social science fiction” because the story is less obsessed with technological advances than with their interpersonal ramifications. The book opens after a cataclysmic event destroys the home planet of an entire civilization, rendering everyone who managed to be off-world at the time of destruction displaced. It follows the journey of a leader of a group of survivors, who decides to team up with an “assistant biotechnician” to find a suitable replacement home on a colony planet. I know what you’re thinking: it doesn’t sound like a rollicking good time! But it reads a bit like a “he said, she said” travelogue; and one of the two narrators has delightfully funny moments (I’ll let you decide which one). There is humor and sweetness, a bit of intrigue, and a satisfyingly happy ending.

    The Pilgrimage_coverFor an absorbing read suitable for a long wait in an airport lounge, try The Pilgrimage (1987), by Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho. [Editor’s note: He was once featured on the Displaced Nation’s Location, Locution column.] I’ll be honest, my experience of the Camino de Santiago was nothing like the one depicted in this book (more technical fabrics and guidebooks, less overt mysticism); but I still find Coelho’s account evocative and moving. Like the work considered to be his masterpiece, The Alchemist, it’s part engaging adventure, part allegory—and a wonderful story. It’s a good one to transport you elsewhere when you’re “stuck” in a place you don’t want to be in.

    Committed_coverIf the Way of St. James isn’t your thing, then I might recommend Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed (2010) for an absorbing read. I can’t imagine what it would be like to attempt a follow-up to a book that was a huge commercial success, let alone a direct “sequel.” But that’s what Gilbert did with Committed. People love or hate the book for all sorts of reasons. But it’s a good one to stick with, IMHO, because it explores not only the byzantine banalities of bureaucratic regulations (something all displaced persons deal with at some point in their adventures) but also the innermost workings of one’s heart as you navigate knowing when to go and when to, well, commit. And while Gilbert occasionally allows herself to navel gaze in less charming a fashion than in Eat, Pray, Love, overall this book is an honest, thoughtful exploration of what marriage and commitment means in a world of divorce, infidelity, and the “best friending” of one’s partner. The book starts out with a decision made and then backtracks through the process—but it’s the journey that counts, after all. [Editor’s note: Hmmm… Will she write a sequel now that she is divorcing her husband of 12 years?]

    Kinky Gazpacho_coverFor getting back into your groove at work, I’d recommend Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love & Spain (2008), by Lori Tharps. There are relatively few travel memoirs written by people of color, so a book full of observations around how race is experienced in different cultures is a rare treasure. As a black woman from the United States, I have found race to be an intrinsic part of my experience in traveling and living abroad. From being stared at, to being touched, to stumbling on some unexpected bit of exported racism where I least expect it, I would say it’s an oversimplification to think that race is something we only struggle with in the land of my birth (that said, I’ve known a few African Americans whose decision to live abroad was based in no small part on the gravity of the struggle for racial equality in America). Nowhere is perfect, and Tharp explores what happens when the fantasy and the reality collide during her year of study abroad in Spain, as she attempts to reconcile that country’s problematic past with its present. She also extends her adventures beyond those of a traveler to become an expat (this is not a spoiler: she marries a Spaniard). I enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love, but this book resonated with my personal experience of travel and life abroad much more deeply.

    A world traveler and former expat who remains a California girl at heart, Jasmine Silvera will release her debut, Prague-inspired novel Death’s Dancer in October (it was recently selected for publication by Kindle Press). Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

    * * *

    Thanks, everyone, for participating! Readers, what books would you recommend? Let us know in the comments!

    Till next time and happy reading!

    As always, please let me or ML know if you have any suggestions for books you’d like to see reviewed here! And I urge you to sign up for the DISPLACED DISPATCH, which has at least one Recommended Read every week.

    STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

    Beth Green is an American writer living in Prague, Czech Republic. She grew up on a sailboat and, though now a landlubber, continues to lead a peripatetic life, having lived in Asia as well as Europe. Her personal Web site is Beth Green Writes. She has also launched the site Everyday Travel Stories. To keep in touch with her in between columns, try following her on Facebook and Twitter. She’s a social media nut!

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