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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.

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

LDF in DR Collage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

C5 Bullet stuck in my back 2 weeks after the shooting

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

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

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

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

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

Every pot will find its lid

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

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

Lindsay&family

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

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

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

If ifs and ands were pots and pans…

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

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

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

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

Panning for a publisher

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

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

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

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

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

10 Questions for Lindsay de Feliz

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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Is it cooler to be married to someone from another country? Yes, particularly if they’re Brazilian!

Is it cooler being married to someone from another country? In my experience, it’s often everyone else who seems to think so, although maybe that’s because I happen to be married to someone from a country whose people are perennially voted the coolest nationality on the planet.

Typically, as soon as I mention that I’m married to a Brazilian the almost universal reaction is:

“Cool! I’ve always wanted to go to Brazil!”

Such reactions inevitably tend to be informed by the idealized images most people have about Brazil and Brazilians:

  • Carnaval
  • Samba
  • Football
  • Exotic beaches frequented by beautiful people wearing minuscule pieces of beach attire.

Brazil is, of course, far more complex than this. It’s as equally well-known for its

  • Favelas
  • Drugs
  • Gang violence
  • And…errr…films about favelas, drugs and gang violence.

Naturally though, people tend to assume that I probably haven’t married a gun-wielding, drug-pusher from the favelas, and so it’s the cool, beach-loving Brazilians they tend to envisage whenever I mention my marital status.

So, in everyone else’s eyes at least, my story of marrying the Brazilian girl I met in Argentina is way cooler than that about the girl they met in their local boozer in London.

And to be fair, it is a pretty cool story.

Cool as in mind-expanding

Yes, the samba, the beaches and the football (especially the football!) make life exciting, but what’s even cooler is that marriage to a Brazilian woman has been a life-changer — in a good way. For instance:

1) My horizons have been broadened immeasurably.
I’ve learned to view things through the eyes of someone who’s experienced them within another country and culture. Thus, things you may have previously found exotic, unusual or irrational become familiar, normal and logical.

2) I now see “cultural differences” in a positive light.
True, cultural differences have the potential to make a relationship fractious. But in our case, these cultural differences help to fill in certain gaps that we’d always looked for in the people we’d dated.

As a self-conscious Brit (British stereotype No 1: tick), I find it appealing to have a naturally sociable and confident wife (Brazilian stereotype No 1: tick), who is able to take control of social situations in which I’d otherwise feel uncomfortable. Her effortless sociability is the perfect counterbalance to my stuttering inability to engage in anything other than mindless small talk with most strangers.

By the same token, she appears to have found it a pleasant surprise to encounter a man who was a little less “forward” than what she had been used to in Brazil.

That, and the fact that I was the only man she’d ever met who could cook, I imagine.

3) I also think that cultural differences are often overdone.
Despite the perceived and real differences between our countries and cultures, there are occasions when I realize that in many ways, my wife and I aren’t all that different. As a football geek, I’ve found my wife’s interest in watching football one of life’s great blessings (Brazilian stereotype No. 2: tick; British stereotype No. 2: tick). I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve come home to find her watching a game on the telly.

Cool as in constant adventure

Another cool thing about marrying someone from another country is that life becomes more adventurous — at times rather literally. For example:

1) I’ve had the opportunity to learn and explore a culture and country with what effectively amounts to having a free tour guide.
And, let’s face it, where would you rather go when you have to go and visit the in-laws: Brazil or another boring town in England?

2) I’ve now embarked on the adventure of learning another language.
This is something I’d always wanted to do but was too lazy. Also, language schooling is pretty appalling in the UK — I can barely remember any of the French of German that I learnt all those years ago.

Whilst it’s still a work in progress, my Portuguese is now at least functional — and improving everyday.

3) I’ve been able to do something I always wanted to do, live abroad.
Indeed, my language learning has been significantly aided by our recent relocation from London to São Paulo. Would I have done this without my wife? Maybe not, because of circumstances and/or apprehension of moving countries on my own. For me, the option to live in Brazil was instantly made more manageable by my wife being from the country we moved to — my own personal relocation advisor if you will. As explained it my Random Nomad interview, it makes me feel a lot less displaced.

But, not always as cool as it sounds

However, despite how cool all this sounds it’s not to say that marrying someone from another country doesn’t come without its own particular challenges. Here are two that really stand out for me:

1) The early days weren’t easy.
Once we’d both returned home, following what was effectively a holiday romance, there was the little issue of us both living in different continents — a mere 6,000 miles apart.

And then, once we’d decided to give the whole (very) long-distance relationship a go, there was the feeling, similar to the one expressed by fellow Brit James Murray in his column last month, that the few weeks here and there we occasionally managed to spend together consisted mainly of getting re-acclimatized, rather than enjoying each other’s company.

And, of course, there were the usual issues that complicate long-distance relationships: loneliness, uncertainty, jealousy, lack of communication, etc. Fortunately, we had the Internet — a relationship like ours would have been unimaginable 15 years ago.

2) UK immigration laws — need I say more?
When my wife made the crunch decision to move to the UK, there was the added complication of the navigating a Kafka-esque immigration system that does its best to keep out anyone deemed to be from a “developing country.” Four years, various visa refusals, threats of deportation and thousands of pounds later, my wife was finally able to settle her status permanently in the UK.

Rather ironically, as soon as she received permanent status, we scarpered from the economic crisis in Europe to the relative calm in Brazil — where they’ve been far happier to accept me as a resident.

But hey! That’s pretty cool, too.

* * *

Readers, having witnessed Andy’s valentine to his Brazilian wife, what do you think? Are you in a cross-cultural relationship and if so, do you perceive similar benefits? Or are you more jaded than he is — suspecting that the challenges can outweigh the benefits once the “cool factor” wears off? Please leave your thoughts in the comments!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, when a Random Nomad with a finely-tuned sense of romance joins us!

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An expat looks for love in her adopted country — only to be told she’s “exotic,” the Other (2/2)

We welcome back Zeynep Kilic to the Displaced Nation for Part 2 of her story about searching for love in the United States. Turkish born and bred, she’d endured two failed marriages to Turkish men before determining to hunt for an American mate. By then she’d taken out American citizenship and had an American Ph.D. In Part 1 of this post, she described her first bout of Internet dating in Arizona. She’d become increasingly frustrated by being told she looked “exotic” as compared to American women. Let’s see how she fares in Alaska, the aptly-named Last Frontier…

— ML AWANOHARA

I move away to Alaska in 2008, slightly tired of the recurring comments from American men about my exoticism as well as my record of failure on Arizona’s online dating scene. I know nobody means any harm by labeling me exotic. I know it is a compliment. I have been told that many times.

Still, it doesn’t sit well in my heart.

But the fact is, I am still shaking my metaphorical ass in this literal mating dance, which must mean one of two things at this point:

  1. I must have some hope left that gentlemen don’t prefer blondes; or
  2. I am desperate to make it work with an American before going back to choosy Turkish mothers and their sons.

Lots of space — and lots of men?

Before my move, everybody jokes that there are so many men per woman in Alaska that I should find a man soon enough. Like a good academic, I research the validity of this legend — only to find that it’s true only if you can stand to live in the Bush — the remote, rural parts of the state. In such places, sexual abuse and rape are also rampant, particularly against Alaska Native women.

I will not be going anywhere near.

In fact, I am moving to the largest city in Alaska — which is literally the smallest town I would have ever lived in as an adult. And in this city, the male-to-female ratio is about the same as elsewhere in America.

I am not holding my breath.

As I search through profiles I realize that my chances in fact might be lower in this part of the world. I see just two kinds of men:

  1. The über-athlete who can’t go to bed in peace unless he skis a super hard-core mountain every weekend, backpacks all summer, and camps in -30 degree weather because — gasp! — it is “fun”; or
  2. The I-kill-a-bear-for-my-woman-with-my-bare-hands kind of guy, who lives for his gas-guzzling vehicle, be it a dirt bike, snow machine, or huge truck that hauls thousands of pounds of manly stuff in the back.

I decide I have no chance in this town. These are not my people.

It’s all relative!

To my surprise, my profile attracts greater interest in the frozen north. Who knew I had to drive across the continent to become a relative hottie!

I am almost forty and still overweight. I’ll take it.

Though I am still surprised no one thinks I am an American.

Let’s be honest, the name is not helping — but seriously? How could I have been blind for so long? Why did I fancy myself as Americanized?

My friend Eun tells me I need to acquire racial consciousness: I am not a white woman; I am a woman of color. I consider it. It will take three years but I will eventually acknowledge the debt I owe to the American men I met in a romantic context — who, unbeknownst to me, upon seeing my picture online, established my exotic quotient right away.

Who would have guessed I would learn a lesson about my racialized self because of these men who objectified me — not because of my education on the topic? This moment of reckoning does not make me feel good about my academic self, by the way, though my non-academic self is sheepishly feeling, well, sexified.

Happily ever after…

But let’s get on with my story. Am I with an American now? Yep. Is he close to his mother? Nope! Am I feeling bad about myself for wishing for a hands-off mother-in-law? You betcha!

He (his name is Wayne) is blond and has blue eyes. I take Wayne to Turkey, and all my friends and family tell me what lovely blue eyes he has. “Oh, no,” I cut them off, “stop focusing on his blue American eyes! That does not make him a better guy compared to my earlier Turkish mates who had beautiful non-blue eyes.”

They all laugh. They think I am so uptight (must be the sociologist in me).

“Relax,” they say. “He is a cute American, and we like his tattoo.”

Did I mention that Wayne has a manly tattoo sprawling across his very muscular — non-Turkish — arms?

Wayne is truly enjoying the objectifying comments from the ladies — my mom of all people, who whispers about how strong he looks and covers her smile with her hand like a schoolgirl.

He states with a grin that Turkish men look kind of puny. “Yeah, they haven’t been eating hormone-injected beef on a daily basis,” I say sarcastically.

Enough of this Orientalism

What is wrong with him? What is wrong with everyone? Has no one read Edward Said?!!!

One day when Wayne and I are lying in bed, he tells me how exotic my skin is, how much he loves my olive complexion.

I stop him with a sigh:

Do I look green or black to you, because that is all the olives I know?

I see him with a deer-in-the-headlight look on his face, wondering if he has messed up. He is probably thinking: “She is a PhD and holds all kinds of theories in her head. Not wonder she gets bent out of shape unexpectedly. But, wait, her skin is definitely darker than mine, it’s exotic — what do I do, what do I do?” So he apologizes.

I tell him that, incidentally, I am considered to have very fair skin in Turkey. He says he is sorry; he just meant I am hot, that’s all.

He is a nice guy. He means well and he absolutely thinks I am exotic and sees nothing wrong with this.

I tell him that wheat makes more sense than olive. He agrees.

From now on, every time he eats his cherished Turkish olives, he smiles and says he can never look at a zeytin (olive) the same way anymore.

Neither can I.

* * *

Readers, now that you know how Zeynep’s story ends, do you have any comments or further observations about the perils, and potential joys, of seeking love abroad? Please leave them in the comments. We’d love to hear them…

Zeynep Kilic lives in Anchorage with her blue-eyed American husband, complains about the dark or cold on a regular basis, and fails miserably at skiing. She is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Alaska Anchorage, where she is navigating the treacherous waters of tenure. You can find her on Google+ and on Twitter: @zeynepk

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

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Images: The photo of Zeynep Kilic and her husband, Wayne, is her own; photos of olives, wheat, Arizona cactus and Alaska are from Morguefiles.

Is there a common theme — or better yet meme — for the expat life?

After writing, planning, commissioning, and editing posts for this site for just over a year — many of which were centered on the keyword “expat” — I have become rather fixated on that word of late.

Yes, we’re back to that old chestnut, but kindly indulge me while I rake it over the coals again and crack it open to take another look.

Back when I myself could have been considered an expat — first in England and then in Japan — I assiduously avoided describing myself in that way. It made me think of the kinds of people who go into a siege mentality, circle the wagons and say: “Right, it’s just us now.” I’m sure you know the kind of expats I mean, the ones who live in a colony or compound, or socialize as if they do. They hang out at the pool drinking G&Ts, exuding a sense of cultural superiority — along with great pride in having remained unassimilated.

After all, if you’re an expat, it means you come from the richer part of the world; otherwise, you’d be an immigrant.

Nowadays, I’m an American living in America, but I simply tell people that I used to live abroad. If I use the word “expat” at all to refer to myself, it’s in inverted commas: “Yes, I suppose I was an ‘expat’ for all those years. And now I’m a ‘repat.’ Hahaha…”

What about you? If you are reading this, chances are you are (or have been) someone who has ventured across borders to travel and/or live. How do you refer to your predicament? (BTW, my choice of “predicament” is the result of cultivating a British sense of humor over many years of living on that sceptered isle — no, not as an expat, but as an international resident!!!)

Maybe unlike me, you don’t have any hang-ups about calling yourself an expat — and think that people of my sort are inverse snobs for rejecting the label?

As the blogger Tabitha Carvan (The City That Never Sleeps In) has written:

To the Vietnamese who live around me, it’s clear where I fit in here: I don’t. The differences between us are as plain as the enormous nose on my big fat face.

So is it fair to say we’re all “displaced”?

One of the other founders of The Displaced Nation, Kate Allison, is an Englishwoman who has lived in the United States for more than 15 years. I sometimes think of her as an immigrant, except that she tells me she keeps a foot on each side of the Atlantic.

Strangely, I did not wince at all when Kate Allison proposed the word “displaced” as a descriptor for our common situation, when she and I were first chatting about starting up this site.

Well, perhaps I winced just slightly. I know from my studies of international affairs that “displaced” is often used for people who are forcibly removed from their homes by natural disaster, famine, civil wars and other tragedies.

In this narrow sense, “displaced” in no way applies to me, Kate or others of our ilk, who have led privileged lives.

But in a broader sense, I had to agree with Kate that “displaced” seems a good fit. As the Italian poet Cesare Pavese once said:

Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky — all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.

If there is any common theme that applies to all of us, surely it’s that sense of being “constantly off balance,” as Pavese so aptly puts it. By trotting off to investigate — and live in — far-flung corners of the globe, we are casting off the balance of our lives and choosing a life where, for a while, the only things we have in common with anyone else are the basics: air, sea, sky, sleep, dreams — a life of displacement, in other words…

And in some cases — Kate’s would be an example — we are trailing others who have made this choice on our behalf, or on behalf of family and kids. (See her “Libby’s Life” series.)

Always look on the bright side of life!

In an article last month for the FT, Edwin Heathcote had this to say about what he called “a life less ordinary”:

The expat experience combines a cocktail of the thrill of the new and the ennui of global alienation, of displacement and dislocation.

Readers may wonder why the founders of The Displaced Nation have chosen to emphasize the negative ingredients of this cocktail. After all, the meaning of “displaced” is only a shade or two away from “misplaced” or “out of place.”

Why not look at the bright side instead — the allure and the thrill of a life overseas?

Well, the fact is, the founders of The Displaced Nation don’t necessarily see displacement as a negative. As shown in numerous ways on this site over the past 12 months, it’s a necessary first step in making the leap beyond the known to the unknown — to feeding what for many of us is, or soon becomes, an insatiable hunger for new ways to knowledge.

By becoming displaced, we open up our minds to new forms of

Now if that isn’t the bright side, we don’t know what is!

Keep ’em laughing as you go

As far as our site stats go, readers have most enjoyed the series of posts where we’ve explored the good and the bad, the yin and the yang, of the displaced life, with a large helping of humor thrown into the mix.

1. Alice in Wonderland

Top of the charts is the month that we dedicated to the “curious, unreal” aspects of the displaced life with the help of Lewis Carroll’s Alice.

When you stop to think of it, barging into other people’s countries is rather like falling down a rabbit hole: full of adventure but also misadventure, of curious — and sometimes scary (because so incomprehensible) — encounters.

Kate Allison produced two brilliant posts illustrating just how unreal things can sometimes get: “5 lessons Wonderland taught me about the expat life, by Lewis Carroll’s Alice,” and “How many of these 5 expat Alice characters do you recognize?”

Meanwhile, Guest blogger Carole Hallett Mobbs kept us in stitches when describing the scenes of young adults dressed up in furry romper suits, “doormice folk,” and flying potatoes that formed the backdrop to her everyday life in Japan.

2. Pocahontas

Readers also appreciated the month when we recruited the legendary Pocahontas to help us understand, from a native’s point of view, what it’s like to be bombarded with clueless nomads.

In particular, we focused on the cases when displaced types befriend, or even marry, the natives, causing them to lead displaced lives (sometimes to tragic effect — I’m thinking not so much of Pocahontas, but of her tribe!).

I weighed in with a post that was partly based on my own experiences: “Cross-cultural marriage: Four good reasons not to rush into it.” Somewhat to my bemusement, the post proved extremely popular — that is, until it was surpassed by new TDN writer Tony James Slater’s hilarious (but with a hard kernel of truth) “Does love conquer all, even language barriers?”

Counterbalancing Tony’s and my cautious take on such matters was a two-part interview series with two cross-cultural couples — all of whom seemed to find their situation “no big deal.”

That blasé sentiment would later be echoed by Wendy Williams, author of the new work, The Globalisation of Love. In a guest post in honor of Valentine’s Day, she pointed out that in an era of increased international travel, multicultural unions are an inevitability — and even deserve their own label: “GloLo.”

3. Global philanthropy

Another monthly theme that earned high marks from readers was “global philanthropy” — the idea of displacing oneself on behalf of the forcibly displaced.

Readers responded with high praise for Kate Allison’s interview of Robin Wiszowaty, who immersed herself in Maasai culture and now runs development programs in Kenya on behalf of the Canada-based charity Free the Children.

Also popular was a feature on international aid worker and consultant Jennifer Lentfer. (Lentfer has received the most hits of any of the 40 Random Nomads who’ve been featured in the site’s first year.)

But even when covering this seemingly sacrosanct topic, we were hard pressed to prevent a note of skepticism, verging on irreverence, from creeping into the site. Guest blogger Lawrence Hunt stirred things up with his well-received post making fun of gap-year students who think they can save the world in just six months. And I wasn’t far behind with this one, still getting many hits: “7 extraordinary women travelers with a passion to save souls.” (Hey, the current generation isn’t the first to perform good works on behalf of those less fortunate!)

But is it a meme?

First, what is a meme exactly? My dictionary tells me it’s an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.

Memes are the cultural analogues to genes that get selected and then self-replicate.

Is the kind of “displacement” we talk about on this site a meme? Not in the Internet sense — it hasn’t spread like wild fire throughout social media.

But has it been a meme within our community? You tell us — does “displaced” work for you, or is there some other organizing principle we should be using on this site? Expat, perhaps? (Groan…)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, a roundup of recent displaced reads by Kate Allison.

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“We read to know we’re not alone”: 1st-ever litfest for expats & random nomads

The displaced writer Hazel Rochman once said that reading “makes immigrants of us all”:

Reading takes us away from home, but more important, it finds homes for us everywhere.

That must be why author interviews have played such an important role in the entertainment mix provided by The Displaced Nation since our founding one year ago.

A book that enables us to escape to a new world without buying a plane ticket? Bring it on!

A book that makes us feel at home in another part of the world? There’s nothing we crave more.

We’ve also taken authors into our confidence who, as St. Augustine once advised, treat the world as their book, rather than staying put and reading only one page. Because of their own peripatetic ways, these writers have much to say to the rest of us nomadic types about how to make sense of feelings of isolation, ennui and displacement.

As C.S. Lewis once said:

We read to know we’re not alone.

In honor of The Displaced Nation’s first anniversary, as well as in the spirit of World Party Month, I would like to propose the first-ever Displaced Nation literary festival featuring authors who have been interviewed or in some way featured on the site during the past year.

“We read to know we’re not alone”: THE FIRST-EVER LITERARY FESTIVAL FOR EXPATS AND RANDOM NOMADS
Note: The following is a tentative line-up. It includes previews of the kinds of insights we can expect to glean from such an extraordinary gathering of expat literati.

We anticipate the festival to extend from a Sunday night to a Thursday morning, with an opening night gala and a couple of closing events. Click on the headlines to go to the event descriptions for each segment:

OPENING NIGHT GALA EVENT

It seems only fitting that we offer something totally mad on our opening night. We will screen Alice in Wonderland, the 1903 British silent film directed by Cecil Hepworth and Percy Stow, which was partially restored by the British Film Institute and released in 2010. (NOTE: You can see portions of the film in a video specially made by Anthony Windram during The Displaced Nation’s “Alice in Wonderland” theme month.)

The film is memorable for its use of special effects: Alice’s shrinking in the Hall of Many Doors, and then growing too large in the White Rabbit’s home, getting stuck and reaching for help through a window.

The film matches our theme of “We read to know we’re not alone” — could anyone ever feel lonelier than Alice did at such moments?

But here’s the new twist: the screening will feature a live accompaniment by Seremedy, the displaced Swedish visual kei band this is now making such a sensation in Japan, reacting musically and without any rehearsal beforehand, to the silent film in front of them. Unique, spontaneous — and perhaps even terrifying, given that the band’s (male) lead guitarist, Yohio, looks like an anime version of Alice.

DAY ONE: “We’re not alone” — We have each other

Iranian Childhoods, Inspiring Stories

TONY ROBERTS and ASHLEY DARTNELL each spent portions of their childhood in Iran. Roberts has produced a novel based on his memories of that time, Sons of the Great Satan, which we featured on this blog about a year ago. Dartnell, who has yet to be featured (we hope she will!), released her memoir, Farangi Girl, last year (it was recently issued in paperback).

Roberts and Dartnell have in common the status of being so-called third culture kids — growing up in a third culture not common to their parents (Roberts’ parents were American and Dartnell was the product of an American mother and British father). They also have in common that they were enjoying their lives in Tehran until something terrible happened — the memory of which affects them to this day.

In Dartnell’s case, it was the sudden collapse of her father’s business (her parents subsequently split up), whereas for Roberts, it was the experience of being evacuated because of the American hostage crisis — suddenly, he was back at the family’s small farm town in Kansas, having no idea of where his friends had gone.

TCKs experience such traumas in isolation (Roberts continued to feel isolated well into his adulthood). Roberts and Dartnell, who have never met before, welcome the opportunity to forge a new connection over their common displacement.

PERFORMANCE: “The White Ship,” by Ethan Kenning

Ex-folk singer Ethan Kenning — known as GEORGE EDWARDS when performing with the former psychedelic rock band H.P. Lovecraft — will give a special performance of “The White Ship,” a song based on a mystical tale by horror writer H.P. Lovecraft (from whom the band took its name), about a vessel sailing on a sea of dreams. Critics have described it as “baroque, Middle Eastern-flavored psychedelia at its finest.”

Multicultural Marriage Boot Camp

Two Wendys — WENDY WILLIAMS and WENDY TOKUNAGA — will answer questions about the benefits as well as challenges involved in marrying someone from another culture.

Wendy Williams is the author of The Globalisation of Love and has coined a term, “GloLo,” to refer to this phenomenon. She was last week’s Random Nomad and has also been a contributor to The Displaced Nation with the post: “Why expat is a misleading term for multicultural couples” — a topic big enough to be a festival theme in its own right!

Wendy Tokunaga, who was one of The Displaced Nation’s 12 Nomads of Christmas, recently published Marriage in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband, consisting of interviews with 14 Western women involved in cross-cultural relationships.

GloTinis will be served — those in particularly challenging unions may wish to order theirs straight up.

Romance Across Borders: Fairytale or Myth?

JANE GREEN, a prolific writer and one of the founders of chick literature, will interview MEAGAN ADELE LOPEZ and MICHELLE GORMAN — both of whom have produced first novels exploring the idea of looking for romance in other cultures. Lopez is the author of Three Questions: Because a quarter-life crisis needs answers (self-published, October 2011), about a cross-cultural romance that blossoms through the asking of three questions; and Gorman, of Single in the City: One girl, one city, one disaster waiting to happen (Michael Joseph, 2010), about an American who goes to London in search of love and the perfect life.

The Displaced Nation recently featured Lopez on our site and will feature her tomorrow in a guest post. We have yet to interview Gorman but would like to — especially as she recently self-published Misfortune Cookie, about a young woman who moves to Hong Kong to be with her boyfriend.

Both women relied heavily on their own autobiographies to produce these first novels. As Lopez said in her interview with Tony James Slater:

Hey — they always say to write about what you know, so that’s what I did!

But is it the stuff of chick lit? No one is better placed to judge this than the displaced author Jane Green (she is now an expat living in Connecticut). As early readers of The Displaced Nation will recall, Green “came in” for a chat during our coverage of last year’s Royal Wedding — she had just produced a multimedia book celebrating the young royals as an example of a “modern fairytale.”

Though Kate and Will aren’t from different cultures, they might as well have been since Kate — unlike the Prince’s mother, Diana — does not come from a royal lineage. But from Green’s point of view, this is what is makes the couple modern — and why their marriage is likely to last:

I loved discovering just how unusual William and Kate are: grounded, humble, and thoroughly modern, eschewing much of the pomp and circumstance that surrounded the wedding of Charles and Diana.

One Person’s Home — Another Person’s Nightmare?

BARBARA CONELLI, who lives in Manhattan for half of the year and Milan for the other half, will interview SHIREEN JILLA, whose first novel was set in the Big Apple.

Thanks in large part to the influence of her Italian grandmother, Conelli qualifies as the ultimate Italophile. Last year she published Chique Secrets of Dolce Vita last year — her first book in a three-part series about the Italian grasp of the “good life.” When asked by Kate Allison to explain the differences between her two homes of Milan and New York City, Conelli said that New Yorkers need to learn the Italian art of taking the time to actually live:

We need to stop and smell the roses more often.

On this point, Jilla would certainly concur. After spending three years in New York as an expat when her husband was BBC’s North America correspondent, Jilla came away thinking that “New York is a city populated by control freaks.”

But, unlike Conelli, Jilla found this control freakery sinister — which was what inspired her to write a novel that depicts the city as, as one critic said, “a teeming pit of vipers, only just covered with a finely buffed veneer of sophistication.”

In the online discussion we hosted of Exiled, Jilla commented on how culturally different New York and London are — despite New York not being seen as a particularly adventurous posting among the expat crowd. She went on:

New York in fact reminds me a lot more of Rome than London. Passion is lived out on the street, for good and bad.

Hmmm… It will be interesting to see what Conelli, whose series includes a book on Rome’s joyful idleness, makes of that!

Are Expats Defined by Their Boundaries — or the Lack? James Joyce Unplugged

One of The Displaced Nation’s founders, ANTHONY WINDRAM, and the novelist JOANNA PENN will join forces to discuss the topic of whether being an expat necessarily entails producing “expat” literature. In a post published last year on The Displaced Nation, Windram noted that although James Joyce spent most of his adult life in continental Europe, he continued to write about his home, Ireland:

If we were to be glib, we might say that Finnegans Wake was conceived in Dublin, but Paris was its midwife.

Likewise, Joanna Penn, who has been a TCK and an expat, does not self-identify as an expat writer and sets her novels at least partly in Oxford, the city she calls home. She does feel, however, that wanderlust is a big part of what fuels her to write thrillers set in various countries, as she explained in a comment on a post deconstructing a post of hers on what “home” means to writers.

DAY TWO: “We’re not alone” — Global activism

Travel for a Purpose

For this event, we hope to engage the world-famous novelist BARBARA KINGSOLVER to interview ROBIN WISZOWATY, who is Kenya program director for the Canadian charity Free the Children and the author of a memoir targeted at young adults on her own experience of living in Kenya, My Maasai Life.

Kate Allison interviewed Wiszowaty during the month when The Displaced Nation explored the topic of global philanthropy.

Around the same time, Allison also wrote a post on Kingsolver, exploring the idea that her novel The Poisonwood Bible was intended an allegory for what happens when you barge into someone else’s culture thinking you know everything and they know nothing.

Notably, Wiszowaty could almost have been a Kingsolver character in the following incident that occurred during her initial two months in Nairobi, as reported to Allison:

One street man nearby…said in Swahili, “What are you doing in Kenya, if you can’t help us?”

Despite my halting comprehension of the language, I understood his question. What was I doing here? Was I here to help Kenyans? I couldn’t remember any sort of altruistic impulse as my reason for being me here. I only pictured myself three months earlier, curled up on my family room couch reading books on cultural sensitivity, or shopping in neighborhood department stores for appropriate clothing, thinking this was a chance for me to enlarge my experience and pick up others’ points of view. I’d been driven simply by a desire to escape, not to improve the lives of these poor people.

Wiszowaty, of course, came around and now thinks constantly about what she can do for Kenya. We expect that Kingsolver, who funds a prize for authors of unpublished works that support social change, will approve; but will she also offer a critique?

PERFORMANCE: “The Boy with a Thorn in His Side,” by Pete Wentz

Fall Out Boy’s PETE WENTZ will do a performance in which he puts passages from his 2004 book, The Boy with a Thorn in His Side, to music. The book chronicles the nightmares he had as a child.

Wentz is a supporter of Invisible Children, Inc., an organization dedicated to helping the cause of child refugees in Uganda. He once participated in an event called “Displace Me,” in which 67,000 activists throughout the United States slept in the streets in makeshift cardboard villages.

(Notably, Wentz has also earned his chops as world traveler. Before Fall Out Boy went on hiatus in late 2009, it made an unsuccessful bid to the only band to play a concert on all seven continents in less than nine months — unfortunately, weather conditions prevented them from flying to Antarctica.)

Why Feisty Heroines Need Not Always Be Named Pollyanna, Calpurnia or Hermione

Melbourne-based author GABRIELLE WANG writes books under the Penguin label targeted at young adults in Australia. Her heroines are always non-white, Chinese or some mix. They are culturally marginalized.

Wang, who fell into writing accidentally — she had planned to be a book illustrator — loves to use her imagination to create characters who are historically plausible yet never show up in history books. One such character is Mimi, who feels ashamed of being Chinese until she has a magical, transformative experience that makes her proud of her cultural heritage.

Another such character is Poppy, a half-Chinese, half-Aborigine girl who lived in the 19th century.

Wang told us she was able to draw on her own background to portray how Poppy might have felt:

I think I was able to imagine the Aboriginal child’s situation quite easily because I know what it feels like to be an outsider, and to suffer racial prejudice. I was the only Asian child in my school in Melbourne and I only saw white faces in the street.

The Search for Paradise

The search for paradise has been underway for as long as human history. Understood as an idyllic realm located at an exact spot somewhere on the earth, and yet as a place separated from the world, the possibility of reaching paradise has aroused the curiosity of travelers over many centuries and continues to do so.

MARK DAMAROYD, who has lived in Thailand for the past several years, subscribes to the idea that paradise is indeed what many men have claimed it to be since time immemorial: life on an exotic island, with sandy beaches, coral reefs and coconut trees, and with an exotic, much younger girlfriend. That is why, as he told us in an interview last summer, he had Koh Samui in mind when creating the island setting for his first novel — the aptly named Pursuit to Paradise.

Coming from a somewhat different direction is JACK SCOTT, whose memoir — Perking the Pansies: Jack and Liam Move to Turkey — was reviewed at the end of last year by Kate Allison.

In it, Scott tells the story of how he and his civil partner, Liam, left the rat race in London behind to live in Bodrum, Turkey. A picturesque spot on the Mediterranean with a temperate climate, the city was their vision of paradise.

Naturally, though, things were not that simple. The couple soon encountered another rat race — the expat one. To quote directly from Scott’s book:

Sad people, bad people, expats-in-a-bubble people. They hate the country they came from; they hate the country they’ve come to. This was my social life. This is what I gave everything up for. This was Liam’s bloody Nirvana. We were the mad ones, not them.

PERFORMANCE: “Red Right Hand,” by Nick Cave

NICK CAVE is a distinguished musician and songwriter from Down Under. He took the title of this song from a line in John Milton’s epic Paradise Lost, referring to the vengeful hand of God. According to the lyrics: “You’re one microscopic cog in his catastrophic plan.”

Cave has also occasionally dabbled in literature. As one reviewer put it, his first novel “reads like a logical extension of the dark world his music has already created.”

Ghosts of Nations Past and Future

In honor of Dickens’ bicentenary, Displaced Nation contributor ANTHONY WINDRAM will give a spirited reading of his favorite passages from A Christmas Carol (already explored in a post), followed by a discussion of whether Scrooge’s displacement could inspire the planet’s wealthiest people to behave more humanely. To quote from one of the comments made on Windram’s original post:

If such a man as Scrooge can displace his lust for money with a love of humankind — and an awareness of other people’s suffering — then does that mean there’s hope for the 1%?

Through the Looking Glass: Delhi & Bangkok

JANET BROWN, author of the travelogue Tone Deaf in Bangkok, and DAVE PRAGER, author of the travelogue Delirious Dehli, will discuss the need for travelers to do more than the usual amount of preparation when entering cultures that are very different from one’s own, on a par with Alice’s Wonderland.

As Brown explained in her interview with us, travelers to Thailand can be “tone deaf” because Thai is a tonal language and it’s easy to make mistakes. But they can also be “tone deaf” when it comes to figuring out the Thais’ communication style:

“You looked so beautiful yesterday” probably means today you resemble dog food and ought to go home and rectify that at once.

Whereas for Prager, one of the points about living in Dehli is that you may end up deaf as there are always people, animals and vehicles around.

In conversation with Anthony Windram, Prager admitted that getting used to America again — he and his wife now live in Denver — hasn’t been easy:

What’s struck me is that the US just seems so empty. It’s not that India is always intensely crowded; rather, it’s that India you’re never completely alone.

WRITING LAB: What (Not) to Write

Expat writing coach par excellence KRISTEN BAIR O’KEEFFE will explore techniques to develop your writing skills and help you find which world, of your many worlds, you want to write about, and how to get started.

Last summer’s post “6 celebrated women travel writers with the power to enchant you” was officially dedicated to O’Keeffe for delivering these pearls of writerly wisdom during her “Expat Writing Prompts” series:

Writing a multi-volume treatise is NOT the answer. Of this, I am sure.
Instead find a nugget. A moment. A single object. One exchange. One epiphany. One cultural revelation.
Find one story and tell it.
Just it.

DAY THREE: “We’re not alone” — Eat, drink, be merry & look good

Classy and Fabulous: French Style as Universal Norm

The French may be under fire for how they treat immigrants, but expats continue to thrive there. For this event, the classy and fabulous JENNIFER SCOTT, author of Lessons from Madame Chic: The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris — which has been a runaway success (it’s now under contract by a major publisher!) — will set out to prove, as she did last month in an interview with us, that no one can edit down their clothes and belongings as well as the French can.

The equally classy and fabulous ANASTASIA ASHMAN, co-editor of The Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey — and participant in our “Cleopatra for a Day” series last month — will serve as discussant. Two of the cultural influences for Ashman’s wardrobe are Southeast Asia (she once lived in Malaysia) and Turkey (she was an expat in Istanbul for several years). She does, however, adore French perfume!

Which Came First, Story or Recipe?

It’s food — so that means France again! ELIZABETH BARD, an American who lives in France with her French husband, and her opposite number, CORINE GANTZ, a Frenchwoman who lives near LA with her American husband, will explore why food is so central to the works each of them produces.

Bard is the author of the best-selling Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes. So did she ever think of writing it the other way around: recipes with a love story? Here’s what she told ML Awanohara in their conversation last autumn:

When I sat down to think about the moments that really helped me discover French life, I kept coming back to the dinner table, the markets, the recipes — so it seemed natural to structure Lunch in Paris around those experiences.

Gantz can no doubt relate. When we featured her novel, Hidden in Paris, last summer, here’s what she said when the topic of food came up:

For me, writing a novel is a barely disguised way for me to talk about food — the novel being a vehicle for food just as grilled toast is a vehicle for foie gras.

Fans of Hidden in Paris, please note: Gantz has just now released a playful cookbook featuring 20 delicious dishes that were described in mouth-watering details in the novel.

Moderating the discussion between Bard and Gantz will be the well-known novelist JOANNE HARRIS. Harris, who was born over a sweet shop in Yorkshire to a French mother and an English father, rarely misses an opportunity to bring food and drink into her novels — the most famous example being Chocolat.

Displaced Storytelling Circle

Verbal antics, stories, music and more. Highlights include readings by

  1. Displaced Nation contributor TONY JAMES SLATER, from his highly entertaining travelogue, That Bear Ate My Pants! Adventures of a Real Idiot Abroad.
  2. Displaced Nation interviewee ALLIE SOMMERVILLE, from her wry memoir Uneasy Rider: Confessions of a Reluctant Traveller. (Allie, please read the passage about the campervan being too wide for one of the Spanish streets!)
  3. Displaced Nation nomad KAREN VAN DER ZEE, from her collection of expat stories. (Miss Footloose, please tell us the ones about the crocodile and the couple in the Roman restaurant!)
  4. Founder KATE ALLISON, from The Displaced Nation’s weekly fiction series, Libby’s Life, which as you may have noticed, is now up to 46 episodes. (Kate, be sure to read the one where you introduce Sandra, Libby’s MIL from hell!)

The Art of Drink: Ian Fleming

One of The Displaced Nation’s founders, ANTHONY WINDRAM, will talk about the role of food (and especially drink) in Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, on which he did a post last year:

The Bond of the novels isn’t solely a martini drinker. He’s always one to try anything local that’s on offer. In Jamaica he’ll drink a glass of Red Stripe, in the US he’ll have a Millers Highlife beer. Throughout the novels Fleming uses food and drink to convey an alien culture, demonstrate social status, show Bond’s mood and his sophistication and ease with the world.

An array of drinks — not only shaken martinis but also bottles of Heineken!– will be served. Green figs and yogurt, along with coffee (very black), will be made available to anyone who is still suffering from jetlag.

Enchanted by Wisteria: Elizabeth Von Arnim Unveiled

Displaced Nation founder (and the author of this post!) ML AWANOHARA will read her favorite passages from the collected works of travel writer Elizabeth von Arnim, on whom she wrote a post last year. As she pointed out then, Von Arnim was fond of the idea of a woman escaping her marital, motherly and household duties in the pursuit of simple pleasures such as gardens and wisteria. A magical Italian castle — such as the one featured in her best-known novel, The Enchanted April — can also be a tonic.

CLOSING NIGHT + BONUS EVENT

To close the festival, we will screen both the Swedish and Hollywood versions of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, followed by a critique from CHRIS PAVONE, author of the new novel The Expats. Pavone will discuss whether:

  1. it was really necessary for Hollywood to produce its own (non-subtitled) version; and
  2. all the female-perpetrated violence cropping up in film and on TV of late presages a “fourth wave” of feminism.

Pavone is well qualified to judge the latter as his novel (not yet featured on TDN!) is an offbeat spy story with a female protagonist — a burned-out CIA operative who moves to Luxembourg. Apparently, this was the kind of thing Pavone thought about when he was trailing his spouse in that cobblestoney old town.

And, just when you thought it was all over, we bring you a final treat: a chance to hear from the historian SUSAN MATT, who recently published Homesickness: An American History to much fanfare in the thinking media. Matt disputes the stereotype of Americans as westward wanderers by showing that Americans are returning to their homeland in greater numbers — that’s if they ever leave at all. (Our ancestors must be turning over in their graves!)

* * *

So, shall I sign you up? And can you think of any additional topics/authors/performers who ought to be featured? I look forward to reading your suggestions in the comments.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s guest post from Meagan Adele Lopez, on the differences between American and British wedding celebrations.

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Love, love, love — love (& film) is all an expat needs… Welcome to February!

Two expats — he from England and she from Germany — first lock eyes in the lobby of a posh hotel in the Big Apple.

Returning to his room from the gym, he stops in his tracks, bowled over by her exotic Northern European beauty, while she is drawn to his toned and muscular physique. (Did we mention that he is of mixed — Nigerian and Brazilian — ancestry, and wearing bicycle shorts?)

She is, as it happens, already carrying another man’s child. But luck is on his side: she has split up with that man, some months back, after catching him in the arms of a jewelry heiress.

The goddess is available!

He wastes no time in sweeping her off her feet and, after less than a year, invites her to a custom-built igloo in British Columbia on the top of an glacier in uncharted terrain — kitted out with a bed, rose petals, and candles — to ask for her hand.

The couple are of course Seal and Heidi Klum — who until recently were the exemplar of a cross-cultural, cross-racial expat marriage.

Happy Valentine’s Day

But we’re here today to celebrate — not caution against — such unions. It’s February 1, and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.

The Displaced Nation is dedicating the month to international nomads who are out there looking for their own Heidi/Seal. Some of you may already have found a candidate, in which case you are busy decking out your version of Seal’s igloo with hearts and champagne, in preparation.

But whether you’ve found someone or not, the Displaced Nation is where you’ll want to hang out this month. We’ll have posts on Valentine’s Day customs, seductive foods, hook-up stories, and testimony from those who, unlike our celebrity example, have lived happily ever after — all with an international flavor.

And we’ll be celebrating love’s robust and free-wheeling spirit, as unleashed in the following lines:

Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love.
There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung.
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game
It’s easy.

Notably, John Lennon composed these lyrics after the Beatles were to come up with a song for Our World, the first live global television link (it was watched by 400 million in 26 countries). He was told it had to contain a simple message to be understood by all nationalities.

John and Yoko — there’s another international, interracial couple. They were living in New York. Would they still be together if John were alive? One likes to think so…

Hey, listen — should love not prove as easy as the song suggests, our blog can assist with that, too. One of our most frequently visited posts is one I wrote during Pocahontas month last summer: “Cross-cultural marriage? 4 good reasons not to rush into it…” (I’m not exactly proud of that, given that I’m the veteran of two cross-cultural marriages — a case of “don’t do what I do but what I say”?)

Pocahontas-John Smith are of course an archetype of cross-cultural, cross-racial marriage à la Lennon-Ono, Seal-Klum.

Just sayin’!

Movie-ing right along…

I promise I’ll come back for you. I promise I’ll never leave you.
–Hungarian geographer, Count László de Almásy (Ralph Fiennes) to his married lover, Katharine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas), in The English Patient

Sometimes fiction can be more wondrous than truth. Certainly that is the hope of those magicians of cinematography, who seek to manipulate us by reaching through the big screen to move our hearts and change how we see the world, remind us we have a soul…

If you’re a cinema lover, you’re in luck — because we are also dedicating this month to the movies.

In honor of film award season — the BAFTAs as well as the Oscars — The Displaced Nation will spend part of February paying homage to films that in some way feature expats and/or international travel.

Ah, the movies… As you get older, how much preferable it seems to experience danger and romance via the big screen. Why? Because you’re so much more aware of the risks.

Now, if only there weren’t so much bromance about. All of this male bonding is enough to make you long for Hollywood’s Glory Days, when stars were paired for their sizzling on-screen chemistry. Is is any wonder so many of us have turned to the small screen — namely, Downton Abbey — for that sort of thing of late?

Downton has the expat theme going for it, too, with an American heiress — played by Elizabeth McGovern, herself an American expat in England with an English husband — at the heart of the action (her money has kept the British estate from going under). And Shirley MacLaine will be arriving in Season 3 to play her mother!

Okay, I’ve gone off on a tangent. Back to what celluloid has to offer. When asked by Charlie Rose in November to explain the allure of film, Alexander Payne, director of the Oscar-nominated film The Descendants, said:

Like so many people, I’ve been madly in love with film as long as I can remember. If you love film, you love life. It’s the most verisimil [sic] mirror we have… If we look to art in general to be a mirror of our lives, to give us context, give us something to reflect off of — we’ve been waiting millennia for film… it really is us. And it also captures time, it defeats death in a way… You can capture moments of in life, core samples of someone’s life…

I don’t know about you, but I think we displaced types deserve a piece of that action!

Questions: Do you have any Valentine’s Day abroad stories to share with us? Are you rooting for any particular films at this year’s Oscars? And is anyone else besides us left feeling oddly bereft at the news of Heidi and Seal’s break-up?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s episode in the life of our fictional displaced heroine, Libby Oliver. Having uncovered corruption in Patsy’s Munchkinland, Libs wonders what to do. Should she inform WikiLeaks of the situation, or write a strongly worded letter to the Woodhaven Observer? Or is it just simpler to say ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’? (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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The Displaced Nation’s Halloween post is…mysteriously displaced!

Kate Allison was supposed to post today, for Halloween…but then, pouf, she vanished without a trace!

How very strange, we think you’ll agree…

Her topic was going to be Halloween costumes for expats. Given her offbeat sense of humor, none of us would have been the least bit surprised had she suggested we dress up as:

  • Dorothy, staggering around with a sign that says “I’m not in Kansas any more.”
  • Pocahontas &  John Rolfe — suitable for cross-cultural, bi-racial couples with large age differences.
  • Mary-Sue Wallace, to give ourselves a break from feeling displaced for a few hours.
  • A giant red snail, to signal enthusiastic support for the slow-food movement that began in Italy and is s-l-o-w-l-y spreading around the world.
  • Marcel Proust, carrying a madeleine and looking very displaced.

But instead of speculating what Kate might have written about, perhaps we should be spending our time wondering where she has gone. ML Awanohara and Anthony Windram have a few hypotheses — do let us know if you can think of any others!

  1. She enjoyed a repast of the seven deadly dishes from around the world, overdosed on snake wine, took a nap to recover, and hasn’t yet woken up.
  2. She is out flying on a broomstick with her fictional sidekick, Libby — or, even more likely, with Libby’s nemesis, Melissa (and they are evilly plotting Melissa’s next move on Libby).
  3. She was the victim of some sort of gothic expat tale — either a trick-or-treater dressed up as Hannibal Lecter, who thought she looked tasty and got carried away; or else some sort of natural disaster, such as a bizarre October blizzard, leading to widespread power outages.

Kate, chills are running down our spines as we fantasize about all the spooky things that might have befallen you on this All Hallows’ Eve. New England is not the same as Merry Olde, as no doubt you and your English family have discovered…

Of course, knowing you as well as we do, you may simply be playing a prank by not treating us with one of your posts.

But if that’s not the case and you truly have been spirited away, send us a signal, and the citizens of The Displaced Nation will perform some incantations on your behalf over a bubbling cauldron — a molten mix of Marmite, Fluff and chocolate, with the odd tongue-in-cheek thrown in…

STAY TUNED for Tuesday’s post, introducing November’s theme, on those who displace themselves on behalf of those less fortunate.

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The Displaced Nation’s monthly themes — witty, wacky, wise, all or none of the above?

Before drawing up the charter, as it were, for The Displaced Nation in April, the site’s two Founding Mothers — Kate Allison and myself — and its one Founding Father, Anthony Windram, engaged in some vigorous debate over what the site’s “categories” should be.

We had met through our blogs. What topics did we all have in common?

One of them was easy: cultural discombobulation, to borrow a phrase from Anthony Windram’s blog title. Except we had now come up with a new term: displacement.

Now what do we mean by “displacement” in the context of global travel and residency? My favorite analogy is to an old-fashioned fruit slot machine — but where each fruit is assigned a national identity. I suspect, for instance, that my two colleagues, both of whom are Brits who are living in the U.S., sometimes have days when they spin the reels and get two gooseberries (British fruit) and one cranberry (American fruit) — meaning they’re feeling a lot more British than American. Whereas for me — an American who has lived in both the UK and Japan — I’ll often get one cranberry, one gooseberry and one mikan (Japanese fruit), an outcome that makes my head spin, as I simply don’t know where or who I am. That, btw, is what’s known as hitting the jackpot in our displaced world!

Thus the category What a Displaced World was born, the default category for most of our articles.

Speaking of fruits, food was another obvious category. It was something that had drawn the three of us together in the first place. Indeed, Kate Allison’s blog — Marmite & Fluff — even has food (two of her favorites) in its title.

For this category, we came up with It’s Food! — which, if less than original, we hope does the job thanks to the exclamation mark.

Around the time we spoke about starting this blog, Kate was beginning to serialize a fictional account of a trailing spouse, Libby, on her blog. She proposed moving Libby’s Life to the new site, and we came up with the category It’s Fiction! Libby now shares that real estate with our posts consisting of interviews with novelists who’ve written about the expat life or travel.

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and the category Random Nomads sprung out of our decision to have me continue the interviews with expats and repats I’d started on my blog, Seen the Elephant. If “nomad” was obvious, the three of us felt that “random” worked well with it, since we’re constantly bumping into — actually as well as virtually — the kind of people who strike us as being interesting because of their displacement.

As for the Displaced Hall of Fame, this came about because of Anthony Windram’s desire to explore the writings of famous people who’ve been displaced both in centuries past and our own time. While he has a bent for the classics — and has chosen to feature literary giants such as Vladimir Nabokov and James Joyce in his posts — Kate and I have occasionally expanded the category to include celebrity types, ranging from the actress Mia Wasikowska (a Third Culture Kid) to the model India Hicks to the chef Jamie Oliver.

The “monthly theme” idea

But then once the blog got underway, we decided that in addition to these categories, we enjoyed organizing our posts around monthly themes, rather like a magazine (the fashion issue, the cheap eats issue, the summer issue, etc.).

This came about rather by accident as Kate Middleton and Prince William’s nuptials took place around the time we launched, prompting us to do a series of Royal Wedding posts focusing on what a global event this quintessentially British occasion had become.

Other initial themes were:

  • Domestic expats — the idea that you didn’t have to go abroad to feel displaced (apt in these economically troubled times), anchored by Kate Allison’s The domestic expat.

But then something (we’re not quite clear what) happened, and our thinking morphed again. We started exploring themes based on particular characters, historical and literary, that have inspired us, as well as books:

And September will be — wait for it! — Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance month, a series of posts inspired by Robert M. Pirsig’s 1974 philosophical novel.

Some say they like the way we cover themes, while we suspect others find it rather zany.

How about you, what do you think? And if you’re pro-theme, can you suggest any you might like us to cover?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post on films and TV series that take vacations to other lands.

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

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Youth writer Gabrielle Wang’s characters solve cross-cultural conundrums with magic and aplomb

The spirit of Pocahontas has been haunting The Displaced Nation this month, lending a helping hand to anyone who feels stymied by the strange customs they’ve encountered in other lands.

This precocious Native American girl appears to have been naturally gifted in openness and tolerance — else how could she have become an intermediary between her father’s tribes and the Jamestown settlers at age 10?

The majority of us, however, are not naturals when it comes to cross-cultural relations. We could use some basic training, preferably while still young.

As suggested in one of this month’s posts, one solution might be to absorb the whole of Harry Potter — all those tales of discrimination against Half-bloods and Muggles.

But not every youth can identify with a universe that is governed by the laws of who’s magic and who isn’t. Take Pocahontas, for instance. If she prayed for magic in her dealings with the white invaders, it was most likely for herself, never mind anyone else.

Perhaps, then, I have her to thank for guiding me towards Melbourne-based author Gabrielle Wang, whose books for children and young people feature characters who in many ways resemble the feisty Anne of Green GablesPollyanna or Calpurnia Tate — but with a further twist: Wang’s heroines are always non-white, Chinese or some mix. They are culturally marginalized.

Wang’s very first book, The Garden of Empress Cassia (to be published for the first time in the U.S. this fall) involves a heroine, Mimi, who feels ashamed of being Chinese until she discovers a a box of magic pastels that enables her to draw, and then enter, the garden of the Empress Cassia — a transformative experience.

Wang’s latest heroine, Poppy, is even more unusual: she’s a half-Chinese, half-Aborigine girl who lived in the 19th century. Poppy’s Aboriginal mother died when she was a baby, and her Chinese father disappeared before she was born. When her brother, Gus, runs away to look for gold, Poppy decides to follow. Disguising herself as a boy, she stows away on a paddle steamer and keeps in touch with Gus through a secret code and Chinese symbols.

Wang’s books are targeted at the youth market, but adults are very fond of them as well. Here’s what one reviewer had to say of her first book in the Poppy series:

I’m sure young girls living in Australia who are interested in their country’s history will love this book, but as an adult living in America, I really enjoyed it too!

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Gabrielle Wang in person — at a congee restaurant in New York City’s Chinatown. Here’s how our conversation went:

Can you tell me a little about your background?
I’m a fourth-generation Chinese Australian on my mother’s side and first generation on my father’s. I live in Melbourne, where I’ve been a professional writer of children’s and young adult books for nine years. I’ve written ten books published by Penguin Books Australia, and a picture book published by Blackdog Books, now an imprint of Walker.

All my novels involve cross-cultural issues as that is my background. Being brought up in Australia and knowing little about my own heritage, I felt was a tremendous disadvantage. I was ashamed of looking different. I couldn’t speak Chinese and knew little of the beliefs and customs of China. Now, when I look back at that period in my life I know that if I’d been steeped in the culture of China, I would have grown up proud of my heritage. It was only when I left school that I realized that belonging to two cultures was an advantage and began learning Mandarin.

My latest books are being released this year three months apart. There are four in the Our Australian Girl series about a half-Chinese half-Aboriginal girl named Poppy.

Right now I’m working on a ghost short story for a Penguin anthology as well as thinking about my next novel, called The Wish Bird.

This month, our blog has dedicated many of its posts to Pocahontas, who was a member of the original displaced peoples in North America. Are the stories of the Native Americans and Australia’s Aborigines very similar?
Definitely, there are many similarities. But my impression of the Native Americans is of a more warring people — at least that’s how they’re often portrayed in the old cowboy-and-Indian films. I’m probably stereotyping here. The Aborigines were also driven off their hunting grounds. Many were slaughtered by the squatters while others starved to death or died from disease. It was a tragic time in Australian history which carried through even to the 1960s. The scars and the injustices still exist today.

The European settlement of Australia occurred at least a century later than that of North America. Were Australia’s settlers still influenced by the ideal of the Noble Savage, “the good wild man,” in their encounters with the natives?
The squatters of the 1800s looked down upon the Aborigines. They had no idea that the Indigenous Australians had a highly advanced and complex culture and belief system. And by the 1850s and 1860s, when my Poppy stories take place, the ideal of the Noble Savage never crossed anyone’s mind. At that time, large numbers of people from all over the world went to Australia to look for gold, not to discover a new land.

Turning to your Poppy books, I noticed that you employed the nature trope that’s associated with the Aborigines. Poppy uses the Southern Cross to guide her travels, follows water birds, eats wild raspberries and honey-flavoured sap-sucking bugs…
The Aborigines’ belief system is closely linked to the land they inhabit and to the animals in their environment. They have animal totems and there are sacred places all around Australia. Unfortunately, most of these sacred sites are not in the hands of the local Indigenous people and have been lost or desecrated. But if you go and visit the known ones, like I have, you can still feel a tremendous power and energy in the landscape.

When I was on a writing/walking trek through Central Australia near Alice Springs, we camped, with the permission of the local Indigenous tribe, on a sacred site. It was an amazing experience.

I am very interested in the Chinese philosophy of yin and yang, the I Ching and Daoism – which are not that dissimilar to the beliefs of the Indigenous Australians and their relationship with nature. The Aborigines are also like the Chinese in that they have an advanced plant medicine system.

Was it difficult to think through how an Aborigine child might have felt back then?
In my story, Poppy was born on a Christian mission, so she knows very little about her own culture. I am not an expert on Aborigine culture, so I was careful not to step over the line. I had several Aboriginal advisors who I consulted with. John Sandy Atkinson is an elder for the Bangerang tribe and Maxine Briggs is the Koorie Liaison officer at the State Library of Victoria. They were invaluable to me while writing the Poppy series. As a Chinese person, I know how wrong some authors can be when writing about a culture they have little knowledge of. It is easy to misconstrue and misunderstand things so I was careful to avoid this.

Since you’re so interested in the topic of portraying other cultures, you may find it interesting that Maxine Briggs lent me Werner Herzog’s film Where the Green Ants Dream just so I could see how NOT to portray another culture. The film as you may know had to do with a dispute between a mining company and the local Indigenous tribes in the Australian desert.

I noticed in reading some excerpts that the white people Poppy meets behave quite decently. Did you make them like that on purpose?
Race is a highly sensitive subject and sometimes it’s difficult to strike a good balance. In Poppy’s time, the 1860s, racial prejudice towards Aborigines was at an all-time high. But I’m always aware of my audience — children 8-11 years old. When you write for young people you have a responsibility. It is important to be positive; otherwise, the same prejudices can begin all over again.

Up until now, you’ve created Chinese heroines for your book. What inspired you to create a character who was only half-Chinese?
I wanted to write about the period when my maternal great-grandfather came to Victoria to join the Gold Rush. I also wanted to highlight the plight of the Indigenous population during that time when white settlement expanded at such an alarming rate. Before 1834, around 100,000 Aboriginal people lived in the State of Victoria. By 1860, with the influx of white settlers and the discovery of gold, this number had fallen to less than 2000. That figure is shocking.

I think I’d also been influenced by the recent consciousness in Australia about the injustices done to the Aborigines. Beginning in 1869, the Australian government rounded up the Aborigines into missions (as already mentioned, Poppy is from one such mission) and began removing some of the children — the ones who were of mixed race — from their families to work as indentured servants for white families. I’m talking about the so-called stolen generations. If you’ve seen the film Rabbit-Proof Fence, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

It’s a big issue right now in Australia — and is finally being recognized as a national tragedy. The former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, presented a formal apology in 2008 for this misguided policy. It was a long time coming.

To sum up: I could have just written about a Chinese child, but I wanted to stretch myself and imagine a child who was half Chinese, half Aborigine. It is important for young people to walk in the shoes of someone who is different — who might be of a different culture, race and skin color. Only by doing this can we empathize with others.

Were you able to find any examples of half-Chinese, half-Aboriginal children on which you could base the story?
In my research there were no written records in Victoria of mixed race children at that time. But there’s no doubt they would have existed as the Chinese gold diggers were all men. They left their wives and family back in China.

So an Aboriginal character was a first for you. Was it also the first time a non-Aboriginal person had written a story for kids?
No. The highly respected and wonderful Australian children’s author Patricia Wrightson may have been the first. But I’m certainly the first non-white Australian author to write about an Aboriginal character.

Is it important that you’re a “non-white”?
I think I was able to imagine the Aboriginal child’s situation quite easily because I know what it feels like to be an outsider, and to suffer racial prejudice. I was the only Asian child in my school in Melbourne and I only saw white faces in the street. I always felt embarrassed when my parents came to school as my mother would sometimes appear in traditional dress, and my father didn’t speak English well, which I found embarrassing. Of course, it’s changed now as more Chinese have migrated to Australia, but back then, Chinese Australians were real outsiders.

You have been an expat for several years, living in Taiwan and then Mainland China. Can you tell us what that felt like?
Strangely enough, before my first visit to China in 1977, I always said that I was going back to China even though I had never been there before. Perhaps this is true of many children of migrants. When I actually went to Taiwan and China to live, I was at a disadvantage because I couldn’t speak Chinese very well and therefore was never fully accepted. Language is so important.

There were a couple of incidents in particular that made me realize how difficult it would be living in China — apart from the difficulty of learning the language, that is.

Once in Taiwan, I was invited to a friend’s house. It was her birthday. I brought a gift of a necklace, but was so surprised when she didn’t open the gift, nor did she acknowledge its receipt with a thank-you. I thought, how rude! I had no idea that in China, it’s rude to open gifts in front of the giver.

The other incident occurred in Mainland China, when I was invited to a banquet by a friend of my mother’s. She sat next to me and kept filling my plate. In Australia, it’s impolite not to finish the food on your plate, so I kept eating what was given to me, only to have it filled again. Finally, when I couldn’t fit in another morsel of food, I put my chopsticks down and sat back. My hostess breathed an audible sigh of relief. In China, of course, people like to show their hospitality by giving their guests more food than they can possibly eat.

Your personal story is inspirational as you never fancied yourself a writer.
When I was younger, I didn’t think I could write at all. I failed Year 12 English and had to repeat the whole year because I wanted to study Graphic Design at University. When I became interested in children’s books, it was to illustrate them not to write the words. But in the year 2000 I took a writing course and discovered I had hidden potential. We all do, I think. And it’s never too late to find out what it is. I explore that theme a lot in my books, especially The Hidden Monastery.

As part of Pocahontas month, we’ve been coming up with proverbs for those who wish to spend their time abroad getting to know other cultures. Can you give us one proverb based on your own experiences?

“If you want to know what it means to be a migrant or a person who is displaced by outside forces, then live in — don’t just visit — another country where you cannot speak the language.”

To that I would add:

“If you can, make it a country where people have skin of a different color to yours. Then, and only then, can you understand what it means to be an outsider.”

Gabrielle Wang’s book The Garden of Empress Cassia will be published in USA by Kane Miller this September. You can also visit her Web site at www.gabriellewang.com.

Images: Gabrielle Wang at Congee Bowery, NYC (by Susumu Awanohara); front cover of Wang’s first Poppy book; and front cover of the about-to-be-released American edition of her very first work, The Garden of the Empress Cassia.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s installment of our displaced fictional heroine, Libby, who learns more about her bête noire, the realtor Melissa. Were her initial misgivings about Melissa justified?

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