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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

Where I’m From
By Arabella Ovesen

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

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

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


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

Where I’m From
By Clarissa Meyringer

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

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

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

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

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

Where I’m From
By Gianluca Chincoli

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

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

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

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

From Italy, Gianluca has been living in Malta.

* * *

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

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

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

Fall 2016

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


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


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


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

Summer 2016

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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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

Spring 2016

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Winter 2016

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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

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Photo credits: All photos via Pixabay or Morguefiles.

LOCATION, LOCUTION: Novelist Dinah Jefferies melds themes of displacement and loss with the seductive beauty of the East

dinah-jefferies-location-locution
Tracey Warr is here with fellow historical novelist Dinah Jefferies. Dinah has led an unusually eventful life: not only has she lived in various countries but she has also suffered the loss of a child. These experiences have fueled a writing career that took off when Dinah reached her mid-sixties.

Greetings, Displaced Nationers.

My guest this month is Dinah Jefferies, who was born in 1948 in Malaya—as Malaysia was known then—where she spent the first nine years of her life, growing up against the background of civil war. Once Malaya gained independence from England, her parents decided to move back home.

Dinah found it wrenching. As she told a UK magazine:

“I was incredibly happy in Malaya. We just wore flip-flops and pants at home; it was so hot… I loved going to the Chinese quarter with my amah, sitting cross-legged on straw mats with her family, eating bright yellow, strong-tasting ice cream. It was like nothing like I’ve ever tasted since.”

Moreover, England did not make a good first impression:

“I just remember absolute devastation when I saw what England was like: February, the middle of winter – grey, cold, wet; no sunshine; horrible clothes.”

Dinah was bullied at school, and although she defended herself, that “feeling of not being quite a member of anything has stayed with me all my life.”

This outsider status led to a certain restlessness, which should be familiar to any of our Third Culture Kid readers. As a teenager, Dinah lived in Tuscany and worked as an au pair for an Italian countess. Much later, with her second husband, she attempted to retire in a 16th-century village in Northern Andalusia—a plan cut short after they lost most of their money in the crash of 2008.

But the experience that shattered life as she knew it was the death of her son in 1985, when he was just 14. Formally trained as an artist, Dinah channeled her unrelenting grief into her art work. Later her move to Spain afforded an opportunity to experiment with fiction writing. After settling in Gloucestershire to be near her grandchildren, she took to writing full time and found she enjoyed weaving her experiences of loss and displacement into stories set in the “extremely seductive beauty of the East.”

Dinah’s first published novel, The Separation, came out in 2014, when she was 65 years old. Set in 1950s Malaya, the book tells the story of a mother who journeys through the civil-war-torn jungle to find out why her husband and daughters moved up country without her.

Dinah landed a contract with Viking Penguin for that book and has produced a novel for them every year since:

  • The Tea Planter’s Wife (2015). Set in 1920s Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), the book revolves around a young Englishwoman who has married a tea plantation owner and widower, only to discover he’s been keeping some terrible secrets about his past.
  • The Silk Merchant’s Daughter (2016): Set in 1950s French Indochina (now Vietnam), the era when militants were determined to end French rule, the story concerns a half-French, half Vietnamese woman who is torn between two worlds.
  • Before the Rains (forthcoming, February 2017): Set in 1930s India, the book follows the progress of a British photojournalist who is sent to photograph the royal family in the princely state of Rajputana (Rajasthan). She ends up falling in love with the Prince’s brother…

To research her books Dinah has traveled to Sri Lanka, Vietnam and India. She will be speaking at the Fairway Galle Literary Festival in Sri Lanka in January, should any of you Displaced Nationers find yourselves in that part of the world.
dinah-jefferies-4-books

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

For all four of my books the location came first, though story comes a very close second. Once I’ve decided on the place, I then research the period and usually while researching that, the kind of characters I want begin to emerge. Sometimes I have the kernel of an idea before I hit on the location. For The Tea Planter’s Wife I did have the idea of a life-changing secret before I chose Sri Lanka—or Ceylon as it was then known.

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

It’s all about sensory detail. For my third book, The Silk Merchant’s Daughter, set in Vietnam, it was all about evoking the contrast between the elegant French quarter of Hanoi, as opposed to the clutter and noise of the ancient Vietnamese quarter with canaries singing in bamboo cages and the scent of charcoal and ginger in the air. The setting has to work to support the story in some way, and as this is a story of a woman caught between two worlds. I needed to show how different those two worlds were.

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

All those and more. I include everything I can to create the atmosphere of the place and the time. For historical fiction, one has to get the historical details right, too: the type of buildings, what people wore, their mindset, etc. It’s about what the characters would be seeing in their daily lives and how they would be interacting with their surroundings. For me the landscape has to almost be a character in itself. I try to re-create the beauty of the world in question as well as its unique personality.

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

From The Tea Planter’s Wife:

“Below her, gentle, flower filled gardens sloped down to the lake in three terraces, with paths, steps and benches strategically placed between the three. The lake itself was the most gloriously shining silver she’d ever seen. All memory of the previous day’s car journey, with its terrifying hairpin bends, deep ravines, and nauseating bumps, was instantly washed away. Rising up behind the lake, and surrounding it, was a tapestry of green velvet, the tea bushes as symmetrical as if they’d been stitched in rows, where women tea-pickers wore eye-catching brightly coloured saris, and looked like tiny embroidered birds who had stopped to peck.”

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

I like to know it as well as I can and I always visit a location I’m planning to use. Just being in a place can help in ways you never could have imagined if you hadn’t been there. When doing research for The Tea Planter’s Wife, I was staying at a tea plantation in Sri Lanka and found a library of wonderful books I’d never have known about back home. Those books provided me with amazing details, as did sitting outside in the evening watching the fireflies and listening to the cicadas. Being there made it real.

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

I love Julia Gregson’s book East of The Sun for the way it evokes a particular time in India. Also Simon Mawer’s The Girl who Fell from the Sky set in wartime France. Both are great books with terrifically realistic settings that are an important element of the story.

Dinah Jefferies’s picks for novelists who have mastered the art of writing about place

Interesting! I should tell you that one of my other guests, the novelist Hazel Gaynor, chose your books—The Tea Planter’s Wife and The Silk Merchant’s Daughter—in answer to this question. Also, my very next guest will be one of your picks, Simon Mawer.

Thanks so much, Dinah, for joining us. It’s been a pleasure.

* * *

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

Meanwhile, if you would like to discover more about Dinah Jefferies and her novels, I suggest you visit her author site. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

À bientôt! Till next time…

* * *

Thank you so much, Tracey and Dinah! Dinah, your Third Culture Kid story tells us so much about you. I wonder if it’s the reason location comes first, before story? And hats off to you for starting a writing career in your sixties. What a tribute to resilience, as well as to the therapeutic power of art! —ML Awanohara

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

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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

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Photo credits: Top visual: The World Book (1920), by Eric Fischer via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); “Writing? Yeah.” by Caleb Roenigk via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); author photo and photos of Dinah in Hall of Mirrors at Amer Fort (near Jaipur, India) and of Malacca, Malaya, supplied by Dinah Jefferies; and photo of England: Rainy Day, by David Wright via Flickr (CC BY 2.0). Visual that accompanies the quotation: Tea Picking In Sri Lanka, by Steenbergs via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

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!

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JENNIFER ALDERSON, expat and writer

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

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

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

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

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

The official synopsis reads:

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

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

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

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

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


ML AWANOHARA, Displaced Nation founding editor and former expat

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

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

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

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


BETH GREEN, Displaced Nation columnist and writer

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

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

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

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

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

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


HELENA HALME, novelist and expat

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

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

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

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

“He smiles with everything he’s got…”

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

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

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

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


MATT KRAUSE, writer and expat

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


PAMELA JANE ROGERS, expat and artist/author

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

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

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

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


JASMINE SILVERA, former expat and writer

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

Till next time and happy reading!

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

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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

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LOCATION, LOCUTION: Writer Tracey Warr is a troubadour of medieval life, telling stories she collects from roaming far and wide

Location Locution
Columnist Lorraine Mace, aka Frances di Plino, is back with her latest, and last(!), interview guest.

My guest this month is Tracey Warr, a writer of fiction and nonfiction who was born in London and lived there for a substantial portion of her life—but these days can be found in Pembrokeshire, in the south west of Wales; on the Aveyron in southern France; or in transit.

Actually, Tracey is more than just a guest; from next month onwards, she will be assuming the reins of the Location, Locution column. I’ve enjoyed my time interviewing a variety of talented expat authors, and I thank you all for your comments and for being part of my writing life.

I know you will be in good hands with Tracey, who already has lots of interesting interviews lined up for you. But first, like Jill Marsh and I before her, Tracey will introduce herself and her writing by answering the Location, Locution interview questions.

Tracey has enjoyed two illustrious careers. Her day job for many years was as an academic specialist in contemporary art history and theory. She studied English Literature at Oxford University and holds a PhD in Art History. She held the post of senior lecturer for 15 years, teaching art history and theory in not only the UK but also Germany and the Netherlands. She has been involved in art curation projects all over the world, including in Australia, the USA, Spain, Lithuania, Norway and Finland. She has a long list of published books and articles and contributes art book reviews to Times Higher Education. Her most recent publication in the contemporary art field is the edited volume Remote Performances in Nature and Architecture, which came out last year with Routledge.

But if Tracey’s head is in the world of contemporary art, her heart belongs to historical fiction. After earning an MA in Creative Writing at University of Wales Trinity St Davids in Carmarthen, she entered her second career: writing fiction and biographies inspired by the landscapes and medieval histories of southern France and south west Wales.

If Tracey’s head is in the world of contemporary art, her heart belongs to historical fiction. Photo credits: (top row) The mind via Pixabay; cover art for Warr’s recent book; (middle row) Tracey Warr author photo; Map bastides in 1271, by FRAMYJO, Wikimedia Commons (public domain); (bottom row) Hearts via Pixabay; Ramon Berenguer I and his wife, Almodis de la Marche, counting out 2,000 ounces of gold coins, via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Thus far Tracey has published two novels set in early medieval France, Spain and Wales: Almodis the Peaceweaver (2011) and The Viking Hostage (2014). Her new novel, Conquest: Daughter of the Last King, due out later this year, focuses on the 12th-century Welsh princess Nest ferch Rhys and the Welsh resistance to the Normans. In addition, Tracey is working on a biography entitled Three Female Lords, charting the lives and interactions of three medieval sisters who ruled in 11th-century southern France and Catalonia.

Tracey has already garnered numerous awards in her new career as a novelist and biographer. I won’t go on to list them because I am eager to get to our interview, but I urge you to read about her accolades on the page created by her publisher, Impress Books.

And now let’s meet Tracey Warr and hear her views on location, locution.

* * *

Welcome, Tracey, to Location, Locution, a column that will soon be yours! You have a strong sense of place in your historical novels, but tell us, which comes first, story or location?

Thank you, Lorraine, for hosting me and I look forward to assuming the column reins next month. In answer to your question: location! I was staying in a friend’s house in a remote village in the Tarn Valley in southern France for four months during a very cold winter. I visited the nearby medieval castle and village of Brousse-le-Château with my nephew, who was around 10 at the time and asked me to write a story about the castle. He loved it when I made up stories, and actually had me under a “contract” to write him at least one story a year—a hard task-master! During my research I came across an extraordinary real woman, Almodis de La Marche—and realised she would make a fascinating adult novel. The incidents of her life astonished me and I had to become a self-taught historian to discover more and more about her and then imagine what had happened during the gaps in the historical evidence. The landscape in this part of France is littered with spectacular castles and medieval bastide towns clustered around hilltops and connected by rivers, which served as highways in medieval times, so it became a process of location initiating and then feeding the development of the story.

Almodis inspiration

During her research on the castle, Tracey Warr came across an extraordinary real woman, Almodis de La Marche. Photo credits: Brousse-le-Château and Almodis cover art (supplied).

I’m particularly fascinated by watery landscapes—rivers, estuaries, coasts and islands. My second novel and the third one I’m working on now also began with landscapes—the Welsh islands off the coast of Pembrokeshire and the great triple river estuary at Carmarthen Bay.

What techniques do you use for evoking place in your stories? After all, the action takes place long ago.

If possible go there, take photographs, experience it, make notes on how it smells, sounds, feels, looks. The small details you gain from walking the ground are invaluable. The novel I’m writing at the moment centres around a number of medieval castles in Wales. I spent a few days staying in the village of Llansteffan near one of the castles, walking the cliffs and looking down on the spectacular river estuary and the dangerous tides and sandbanks of Carmarthen Bay. Watching birds hovering in the wind, seeing the weather lowering and rain coming in fast—I’ve used all those details in the novel. Although I’m writing historical fiction and many things have changed in a place, there are also many things that don’t change.

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

I use all of those, with landscape probably dominating, but I also use objects in museums, the literature of the times and places and medieval cookery books to help me evoke places. My characters need to eat, sleep, work, travel, use the garderobe and observe the rhythms of medieval life. A map of 11th-century Toulouse, a model of Viking Dublin, a Viking serpent brooch, medieval objects such as the Dunstable Swan Jewel, a medieval book of hours, the poetry of the female troubadours—all have been vital in helping me to create my fictional locations.

The Viking Hostage influences

Medieval objects such as the Dunstable Swan Jewel have been vital in helping Tracey create her fiction. Photo credits: (clockwise from top left) The Viking Hostage cover art, Dunstable Swan Jewel (British Museum), print from a Viking brooch (all supplied); Labors of the Months: May, from a Flemish Book of Hours (Bruges) via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Books such as medieval historian Ian Mortimer’s The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England, which treats that distant time like the Rough Guide series, are full of helpful details on everyday life. I do a lot of historical, literary, material culture and visual research, picking out details that I can use and adapt to my story to create a credible world for my readers to step into. I started writing medieval fiction as a kind of holiday in time away from my academic work with contemporary art, so I try to recreate that experience for the reader. I hope that when they have their noses in my books, sitting on the Tube in London, on a train going to Birmingham, in their modern bedrooms and living rooms or on a crowded beach, they find themselves travelling with my characters to 11th-century Barcelona, 10th-century Tallinn (in Estonia), 12th-century Pembroke—or they are on a Viking ship or a medieval passenger boat plying up and down the Thames.

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

In The Viking Hostage I used my knowledge of traditional markets in France and modern-day Tallinn to help me create the opening scene in the 10th-century Tallinn slave market:

A list of items for sale was called out in the marketplace. I was described as one female Northchild, but my name is Sigrid Thorolfsdottir. I am for sale along with my brothers, Thorgils and Olafr, who stand either side, holding my hands.

‘Ease up Sigrid,’ Thorgils whispers to me, ‘you’re crunching the bones of my hand. It will be alright.’

I try to relax my grip on his knuckles and look out at the few buyers staring up at the platform where we stand barefoot. Most of the crowd have gone since we are the last and least interesting item. Around the edges of the market square tall, thin houses are painted in gay colours. Awnings above the stalls flap in the slight breeze, their colours leached out by sun. Apples, nuts and cheeses are carefully arranged in small mounds and circles. Chickens are panicking in wooden cages. If I squint my eyes I can just see the sun sparkling on the sea in the distance, beyond the square and the buildings, and the buyers.

‘Three fine children of the Northmen, already growing muscled and hard-working,’ Klerkon, the slaver, shouts to the sparse audience, pushing up the grimy sleeve of Thorgils’ shift and pinching the flesh of his bicep, leaving white fingerprints against the brown skin. I glance up at the angry muscle shifting in my brother’s cheek.

Medieval markets

“A list of items for sale was called out in the marketplace. I was described as one female Northchild…” Photo credits: Talinn, Estonia (Old Town) via Pixabay; Villefranche-de-Rouergue market (supplied).

Later on in the novel my heroines are held hostage by Vikings on a Welsh island. I blended together the real Welsh islands of Caldey and Skomer, which were actually occupied by Vikings, to create my fictional island.

We climb the hill in the direction Thorgils indicated. As we move up the path we alarm plump brown curlews with long curving beaks like darning needles that are nesting in the brilliant green bracken. Large dragon-flies fly towards us swerving at the last minute. From the top of the hill we can discern the rough diamond shape of the island, cliffs spearing out erratically into the blue sea on all sides and ravines full of white flowers. Our eyes crease against the brightness of the light reflecting from the surrounding water. There is an overwhelming sense of space. The grey cliffs are dotted with short bright green grass and yellow lichen. To the left comes the regular boom of the sea in a rocky blow-hole. The white foam of waves studded with black boulders look like a thin necklace slung around the coast. Thick green and yellow seaweed rolls back and forth on the strand. The irregular patchwork of fields established by the monks where the thralls now labour, blanket the rocks and undulations of the island. Planes of colour are visible in the sea—greens, dark blues, grey-blues, grey-greens and blacks. Strings of other islands in the distance look as if they have been dropped out of the sky from a giant’s hand.

The island is teeming with life. Raucous screeching seabirds wheel around us, sit on nests on the narrow ledges of the guano-streaked cliffs like a great shrieking city, skid across the surface of the ocean carrying flapping fish in their beaks, plunge-dive at dark clouds of mackerel. Aina and I lay on our bellies on the edge of the cliff, watching the birds. There are fat black and white birds with striped beaks and long talons like the fingers of a lute player.

Blend of two islands

“Planes of colour are visible in the sea—greens, dark blues, grey-blues, grey-greens and blacks.” Photo credits: (top) Sea cave right through Skomer; view of the sea through Llansteffan Castle (both supplied).

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

It helps to know a place well from living there or visiting and making detailed research. But I also sometimes completely imagine a place without going there, or I transpose my knowledge and experiences of one place to somewhere else. In my first novel I had to write about a journey across the Pyrenees. At the time I’d never been there so I used maps together with experiences of the Scottish Highlands to conjure it. Now I have spent quite a lot of time in writing residencies in the Pyrenees and would probably write it differently—but I hope the ‘Scottish’ version still worked in the novel for the readers. I find that if I really imagine a place or a building in my own head, such as the Norman motte-and-bailey castle at Cardiff that I’m writing about at the moment, this can drive the plot. Certain scenes and events happen because of the layout of a place, because I’m imagining moving through that place with my characters.

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

Donna Leon—in her Commissario Brunetti series, she makes me feel that I am in Venice, wandering the streets, riding boats in the canals with Brunetti, dropping into a corner bar for a glass of wine or a quick coffee, accompanying him on his way home for a delicious lunch with his smart, Henry-James-loving wife. Being in Venice with Brunetti is at least 60 percent of the charm of reading those books, and the murder mystery is the rest. British historical crime writer Antonia Hodgson—her 18th-century London in her recent novel, The Devil in Marshalsea, is absolutely believable and alarming. And Wilkie Collins—in The Moonstone, he creates a vivid landscape and mansion that his story unfolds within, and he infuses place with emotions and suspense.

Fave books for place Tracey Warr

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

Thanks so much, Tracey!

* * *

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

And if you’d like to discover more about Tracey before she begins her column next month, why not visit her author site. You can also follow her on twitter.

And with that, I bid you a fond adieu!

* * *

Thanks, Lorraine! You’ve introduced us to so many fabulous writers, an experience that has touched all of us who have been inspired by the landscapes we’ve visited, or in many cases, have made into our homes. We hope you’ll drop by the Displaced Nation every so often and see what we’re up to. Don’t be a stranger!! —ML Awanohara

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

STAY TUNED for the next fab post!

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

WORLD OF WORDS: Oh, those faux pas! Those you commit, and others that are committed upon you, during your travels abroad

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

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

Columnist Marianne Bohr’s first book, Gap Year Girl, about an adult gap year she took with her husband, came out last September with She Writes Press. Here she recounts some amusing faux pas from their travels, and owns up to one of her own (from her first time in France).

In the world of words, language is a subtle art. So what happens when non-native speakers miss out on linguistic subtleties? To what extent does it rock the native speaker’s world?

Over the course of 12 months backpacking across Europe on an adult gap year with my husband in 2012, we were frequently amused by the quirky use of English we encountered. Indeed, while we would never want to discourage non-native speakers from giving English a try, hearing translations of our mother tongue that weren’t quite right was, more often than not, a source of entertainment.

And sometimes the results of such attempts were downright, flat-out, laugh-out-loud funny.

I’ll elaborate on those examples—that’s after I own up to one of my own French faux pas.

Pas de tout or pas tout? There’s a difference?!!

The delicate nature of language was highlighted for me when teaching a middle school French class a couple of weeks ago. I asked one of my best students if she understood the lesson we’d just completed on the formation of the passé composé. She looked at me guardedly and replied with a crooked smile, “Pas de tout.”

I was deflated. Crushed. One of my stars had freely admitted she’d understood nothing at all of my lecture. How could that be? Was my explication really that obtuse?

Vous comprenhez Pas de tout

Photo credits: Studying French at home and in Paris, by Modern Languages @ Finger Lakes Community College, by The LEAF Project via Flickr (CC0 1.0).

But then, like a flash, I remembered something from my own life that occurred almost 40 years ago, during my initial entry to France. I was a youthful 21-year-old backpacker, not the gap-year backpacker I would write about later, and was having my first authentic conversation with a native speaker. Instead of a husband, I was traveling with several companions, not one of whom spoke a word of the language of love.

We were checking into a seedy, Parisian budget hotel on the right bank. The front desk clerk spoke at a speed beyond my college ken, and from what I understood, yes, he had a room, but just one for the four of us (one boy and three girls).

My hesitation to reply, searching for the right words, and the panicked look in my eyes, stretched beyond the limits of his harried patience, and he demanded: “Vous comprenez, alors, mademoiselle?” Do you understand, miss?

Pas de tout,” I replied, so pleased that I’d managed to tell him that I understood most of what he’d said.

Oh, la,” he replied, straightening his posture and rolling his eyes in that distinctively Gallic way. “You understood nothing,” he said, in heavily accented English.

“No, no,” I countered, not even aware of how quickly I’d collapsed, reverting to the comfort of English. “I meant, I didn’t understand everything.”

I didn’t want him to think I was a complete imbecile. But the damage was done. I’d told him I hadn’t understood a word, when what I’d wanted to convey was that I’d understood, but perhaps not every word. The simple insertion of the little word “de” had completely changed what I’d said. “Pas tout.” Not everything. “Pas de tout.” Nothing at all. My merry band of four American youth did settle into a single room that night, but my faux pas would haunt me for the balance of our stay in Paris.

Fast-forward to my present-day classroom. “Did you understand today’s lesson?” I ask. “Pas de tout,” is the response, and now I smile. “Not everything,” is what she means, and not, “Nothing at all.”

She’s making the same mistake I did forty years ago. How can I possibly fault her?

A Catalan breakfast a la Cee-lo Green

Two months into our year-long gap-year journey, my husband and I have arrived in Barcelona after having spent seven weeks in my beloved France.

The familiar doorbell chime greeting of “bonjour, messieurs-dames” each time we walk into a shop or hotel has been replaced with a simple, straightforward “hola.” And we’re reminded at every turn by the abundant bright red-and-yellow striped flags and the street signs and billboards (the words of which I can decipher only a few), that we’re not yet fully in Spain; we’re in Catalonia, as we were in Andorra on our way here.

Now and then, I’ll spot a familiar word, like bella for beautiful, carrer for street or gambeta for shrimp.

Ordering food off a Catalan menu can be a real adventure!

On our very first morning in Spain, we experience one of those unexpected, laugh-out-loud moments that surprise you when you travel. In the well-lit hotel breakfast room, painted pale green and decorated with plentiful plastic oranges and daisies, we are the only two Americans filling our plates from the buffet. Imagine our surprise when the English-language rock music playing in the background launches into Cee-Lo Green’s original “Forget You.”

We practically drop our huevos in our laps. Are they really playing the uncensored version? “I’m like, 
f*** you! And f*** her too!”

No one else in the cantina even flinches. Ah, the beauty and innocence of enjoying another country’s music while you have no idea what the lyrics mean.

Breakfast in Barcelona

Photo credits (clockwise from top): Cee-Lo, by Pat Guiney via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Hello sign, by Oh-Barcelona.com via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Manifestació Som Una Nació, Nosaltres Decidim! 50, by Merche Pérez via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); and Breakfast (Barcelona, Spain), by PunkToad via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

The Golden Virgin & Kid

Marseille was founded in 600 BC. As the oldest town in France, it’s now the second largest city in the country (although the residents of Lyon often like to challenge this claim). My husband and I have an early seafood dinner along the lines of yachts and fishing boats and are pleasantly surprised that the wharf area isn’t half as gritty as we imagined.

Despite the sea breezes, the day is extremely hot, lethargy prevails and we find ourselves purchasing the most touristy tickets of our year. We take the miniature baby blue train on wheels that wanders the city and up to the top of a limestone peak with a panoramic view over the city.

As we approach the summit, the electronically generated (and apparently translated) French commentary announces we’re arriving at the Notre Dame de la Garde church, famous for its 30-foot high gilded Madonna and Child atop the steeple.

So far, so good except that the English translation that follows suggests that we “fold our necks and look up to see the golden Virgin and her kid.”

We must be the only English speakers aboard because we’re the only ones laughing.

* * *

Thank you, Marianne, for sharing these très drôles d’histoires (gosh, did I get that right?), one of which was at your own expense.

Readers, any faux pas of note to report from your travels, yours or others’? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Marianne C. Bohr is a writer, editor and French teacher whose book, Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries, was published last September (She Writes Press). She married her high school sweetheart and travel partner, and with their two grown children, follows her own advice and travels at every opportunity. Marianne lives in Bethesda, Maryland, where after decades in publishing, she has followed her Francophile muse to teach French. She has an author site where she keeps a blog, and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

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BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: 11 Expat- and Travel-themed Books to Expand Our Horizons in 2016

booklust-wanderlust-2015

Attention displaced bookworms! Our book review columnist, Beth Green, an American expat in Prague (she is also an Adult Third Culture Kid), is back with her personal picks for expat- and travel-themed books to watch for in 2016.

Hello again, Displaced Nationers!

It’s been quite a long time since I last wrote to you here. Since my last column we’ve started 2016, celebrated the beginning of the Year of the Monkey, written and revised our new year’s resolutions, and (hopefully) read some really great books!

As part of my own (ever-evolving) New Year’s resolutions I signed up for the Goodreads Reading Challenge. It’s currently showing that I’m 22 books behind schedule for my overly optimistic goal of 300 books this year—but, hey, it wouldn’t be a challenge if it was easy, right?

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 7.33.56 PM
Now, usually in this column I talk about books I’ve already read, but this month I’d like to highlight some that I haven’t. There are, of course, lots of intriguing books coming out this year—more than I can cover adequately in one column! But, of the expat- or international-themed books coming out in 2016 that caught my eye, I’ve chosen 11 to feature in this post, one for each month left in 2016. Take a look!

* * *

Beginning with…a Thriller and a Mystery

CambodiaNoir_cover_300x200Cambodia Noir, by Nick Seeley (March 15, 2016)
The debut novel from an American journalist who has been working out of the Middle East and Southeast Asia, Cambodia Noir is a thriller that I’ve had on my to-be-read list ever since I first heard about it. The plot: A young American woman who is working as an intern at a local paper in Phnom Penh, June Saito, disappears. Her sister hires a retired photojournalist with first-hand knowledge of the corrupt, dissolute ways of the Cambodian capital, to look for her. Author Nick Seeley got his start as a foreign correspondent in Phnom Penh. He’s been hailed as a “fresh voice” exploring the depths of the Far East’s underworld.


InspectorSinghInvestigates_cover_300x200Inspector Singh Investigates: A Frightfully English Execution, by Shamini Flint (April 7, 2016)
Always the fan of international crime fiction, I’m excited that one of my favorite series—a series of charming crime novels featuring the portly, lovable Sikh policeman Inspector Singh—is getting a new addition this year. Author Shamini Flint is sending Singh to Britain Diary of a Tennis Prodigy_cover_300x200in the seventh book in her series. Each book provides not only a puzzle for the reader to solve but also a close-up look at the locations where the books are set. This is the Inspector’s first time out of Asia, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he discovers in the UK.

And, a special note for readers with kids: on January 1 Flint, who is a Singapore-based Malaysian, published a middle-grade book, Diary of a Tennis Prodigy, with illustrator Sally Heinrich (Sally formerly lived in Singapore and Malaysia but is now based in Adelaide, Australia).

And Now Let’s Add Three Travel Memoirs…

No Baggage_cover_300x200No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering, by Clara Bensen (January 5, 2016)
I love memoirs that read like novels, as I’m hoping this one will! Recovering from a quarter-life meltdown, 25-year-old Bensen signs up for an online dating account, and to her surprise, ends up meeting Jeff, a university professor who proposes they take a three-week experimental trip spanning eight countries, with no plans or baggage. Her story resonates with the adventurer in me—I can’t wait to take a look.


Little Dribbling_cover_300x200The Road to Little Dribbling, by Bill Bryson (January 19, 2016)
It may already be old news to anyone who’s been in a bookstore recently—or read our Displaced Dispatch!—but the world’s favorite traveler, humor writer and expat, Bill Bryson, has a new travelogue out. It’s another of his road-trip books. (I much prefer these to his other writings such as A Short History of Nearly Everything and At Home—they started out great, but I ended up leaving them unfinished…) Bryson made a journey through Britain 20 years ago, which was forever immortalized in his bestselling classic, Notes from a Small Island. In Little Dribbling, he follows the “Bryson line” from bottom to top of his adopted home country. I’m looking forward to being in his company again.


In Other Words_cover_300x200In Other Words, by Jhumpa Lahiri (and translations by Ann Goldstein) (February 9, 2016)
As a London-born Indian-American, world-class novelist Jhumpa Lahiri excels at writing in English—yet has long harbored a passion for the Italian language. Not wanting to miss out, she moved her family to Rome to immerse herself and quickly reached a point where she was writing only in Italian. She kept a journal in Italian that has evolved into this dual-language memoir. As an expat who’s now tried to learn three foreign languages while abroad, I’m curious to see how Lahiri’s experiences match up to my own. (The critics would apparently like to see her go back to English!)

…Along with Two Works of Literary Fiction and a Harlequin Romance

WhatBelongstoYou_cover_300x200What Belongs to You, by Garth Greenwell (January 19, 2016)
An American professor working in Sofia, Bulgaria, hooks up with a male prostitute in a public toilet and slowly becomes more involved than he anticipated. Reviewers cite Greenwell’s lyrical prose as reason alone for picking up his debut novel, but I’m interested in seeing how this young writer—who himself once worked as an expat English teacher in Bulgaria—depicts the city and the relationships between locals and foreigners. (This book, too, was mentioned in a recent Displaced Dispatch.)


TheHighMountainsofPortugal_cover_300x200The High Mountains of Portugal, by Yann Martel (February 2, 2016)
Going over this years’ publishers lists, I’m now looking forward to reading a book by an author whose last book I despised. My friends were all gushing over Yann Martel’s 2002 novel Life of Pi; but, while it has an admittedly awesome premise, the story left me cold. But I’m excited to check out the chronically traveling Canadian author’s next book, which is set in Portugal and intertwines the century-spanning stories of a young man reading an old journal, a mystery-loving pathologist, and a Canadian diplomat. I’m planning a trip to Lisbon later this year, and hope to read this book before I go.


UndertheSpanishStairs_cover_300x200Under the Spanish Stars, by Alli Sinclair (February 1, 2016)
I’m pleased to report that former expat Alli Sinclair—my friend and former co-blogger from Novel Adventurers—has published her second romantic mystery novel this month. (Congratulations, Alli!) The action takes place in her native Australia and also in Spain. The plot: an Australian woman travels to her grandmother’s homeland of Andalucía to unravel a family mystery. She ends up meeting a passionate flamenco guitarist and learns her grandmother’s past is not what she imagined.

Finally, to Top Things Off, How About a Couple of YA Books?

I don’t read a lot of young adult books, but descriptions of two novels I saw reviewed recently stuck with me. Funnily enough, both books’ titles start with “Up”—maybe it’s the implied optimism that caught me? We could use a bit of cheer in our displaced world…

Up from the Sea_cover_300x200Up from the Sea, by Leza Lowitz (January 12, 2016)
This is a novel in verse. It tells the story of a Japanese teenager, Kai, whose coastal village is obliterated by the March 2011 tsunami, after which he is offered a trip to New York to meet children who had been affected by the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The trip also provides an opportunity for him to go in search of his estranged American father. Author Leza Lowitz is an American expat writer and translator living in Tokyo, where she also runs a popular yoga studio. Her favorite themes to explore in her writing include the idea of place, displacement and what “home” means to expatriate women.


UPtothisPointe_cover_300x200Up to this Pointe, by Jennifer Longo (January 19, 2016)
I’m always fascinated by stories of Antarctica so have my eye on this book about a teenage girl who aspires to be a professional ballerina but, when her grand plan goes awry, sets out on an expedition to McMurdo Station (the U.S. Antarctic research center) in the footsteps of her relative and explorer Robert Falcon Scott. Notably, Seattle-based author Jennifer Longo wanted to be a ballerina until she finally had to admit that her talent for writing exceeded her talent for dance. Like me, she harbors an obsessive love of Antarctica. I admire the way she has woven these two themes together!

* * *

So, Displaced Nationers, what do you think? What are you looking forward to reading this year? Any much-anticipated displaced reads that should be added to my list?

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 more 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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CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Expats, when you find yourself out of tune with the local language/culture, throw back your head and laugh it off!

Byron Williams, Jr. with one of his performers (supplied).

Byron Williams, Jr. with one of his performers (supplied).

Transitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol is in holiday mode with her latest interview guest.

Season’s greetings, Displaced Nationers! You may be in full hibernation mode by now or, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, perhaps you’re ready to hit the beach! Either way, I’d like to offer you some holiday cheer through this month’s column. My guest is singer, song-writer and long-term expat Byron Williams, Jr. Byron grew up in Miami, Florida, and Portland, Maine, before moving to Europe in the 1990s.

He started singing in a gospel choir when he was eight years old—and has been singing ever since. Since 1998 he has made his home in Fredrikstad, Norway, where he performs soul, jazz and rhythm ‘n’ blues with his duo/trio at all kinds of events: parties, anniversaries, festivals and more. He can go from Frank Sinatra to Barry White and everything in between.

During this cold and grey season, Byron has been spreading comfort and joy with his concert series “Christmas Joy N’ Soul.” Talk about holiday spirit!

Byron kindly agreed to share some of his culture shock experiences with us. Tune in as we talk about mistaken identities, language classes, mispronounced words and what to pack to get through awkward moments. Actually, as it’s the holidays, why not literally tune in to Byron? Click here to hear him croon…while you read on.

* * *

Hi, Bryon. Welcome to Culture Shock Toolbox. I know you were born in Miami and then went all the way north to Portland, Maine. Where have you lived abroad?

Spain (Mallorca) for three years and Norway (Fredrikstad) for almost 17 years.

In the course of your transitions into European cultures, have you ever ended up with your foot in your mouth?

When I moved to Norway back in 1998, I was getting off the train in Oslo and heading towards the central station, when a man approached me asking me something in Norwegian. And I, being the polite American, told him “No, I’m sorry and continued on my way to the station. He continued to ask me questions and I replied: “No, I do not have any money to give you.” As I was getting closer to the entrance to the station, he told me that he was a customs agent and needed to see my passport. I apologized to him for thinking that he was a beggar.

How did you handle that situation?

We both laughed and went our separate ways 🙂

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

When I began to take Norwegian classes, I mispronounced the word for “brick” in English and what came out sounded like the Norwegian word for murder. Back then the words sounded the same to me and didn’t notice it. Then my teacher started laughing and told me that the words meant two totally different things 🙂 I laughed it off by saying that that’s what happens when you learn a new language.

You have to have a sense of humor in life.

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

Carry a smile in your culture shock toolbox, it will take you further 🙂 And stock up on those smiley face stickers and emoticons for when you need a reminder!

smiley face toolbox

Thank you so much, Bryon, for taking the time to do this interview! As newbies in another culture, we aren’t always as inconspicuous as we’d like to be. Humor will definitely see us you through those awkward moments and make you feel more in harmony with yourself and your surroundings. Especially in this holiday season, why not crack a smile and try putting one on someone else’s face?!

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Byron’s advice? If you like what he has to say, I recommend you visit his site, where you can peruse his music. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter.

And to keep you in that holiday spirit, listen to Byron’s tribute to Barry White:

As always, thanks for reading, Displaced Nationers! Well, hopefully this has you “fixed” until next month/year. See you in 2016!

Until then. Prost! Santé!

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

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

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Wonderlanded with Dr. Karen V., scholar of linguistics and creator of a comic strip series on expat life

Welcome back to the Displaced Nation’s Wonderlanded series, being held in gratitude for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which turns 150 this year and, despite this advanced age, continues to stimulate and reassure many of us who have chosen to lead international, displaced, “through the looking glass” lives.

This month we travel
d
o
w
n
the hole with Karen V., a Spaniard who describes herself as an expat, linguist and skeptic. Her sociolinguistic adventures began ten years ago when she moved to Berlin, followed by Zürich, Madrid, Savonlinna and most recently Hamburg.

She speaks Spanish, German and English fluently and can communicate in French and Finnish.

But if Karen is in no uncertain terms a scholar, the only thing I knew about her before eliciting her participation in our Wonderlanded series was that she produces a comic strip series called “Expat Gone Foreign,” which depicts the adventures of a black-haired girl called tXc. The series—which Karen describes as “a graphic journey through culture clashes, social awkwardness, language-related phenomena and life itself”—has its own Website and products. It has attracted many social media followers.

In my backings and forthings with Karen for today’s post, she assured me that tXc is her (though her eyes aren’t nearly as big), and all of the anecdotes in the strips are real situations that have happened to her over the years.

That said, Karen assured me that today we would be wonderlanded with her, not with tXc—that is, until the very end, when tXc will make a special appearance.

Also, the phantasmagoria of images we will see during our journey through Karen’s wonderland were created by her, a first for this series.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to jump down the hole after Dr. V. Apart from anything else, I’m curious to hear her vision of Alice as a manga character.

* * *

Karen: Thank you, ML, and greetings, Displaced Nation readers. Before we begin our plunge, here is a little more background on me. I was born and raised in a small city in Southern Spain and became interested in languages and foreign cultures at a young age, mostly due to the interaction with the many tourists who visit the region and expats who live there. My curiosity would peak whenever my family and I went camping along the Andalusian and Portuguese coast during the summer holidays. There was something different about the lobster-looking Brits abundantly smeared in sun lotion holding their sangrías with little umbrellas, or the sock-and-sandals-wearing Germans sitting in the shade reading those huge newspapers and filling every crossword book. But there was more to it than their mere appearance. They spoke, gesticulated and interacted in a different manner than the locals; and it seemed to me that their language was just a doorstep into a whole new microcosmos of proxemics, social norms and unfamiliar mindsets. An intriguing foreignness. As I attempted to interact with these outsiders, I realized I relished the challenge of having to decipher sociolinguistic puzzles with pieces that were different than the ones I was used to playing with.

Eventually that curiosity led to becoming widely interested in languages and foreign cultures, getting into the field of linguistics and ultimately, stepping off my doorstep into the unknown…into the proverbial rabbit hole.

…after a few minutes it seemed quite natural to Alice to find herself talking quite familiarly with [the Dodo, the Duck, the Eaglet, the Lory, the Mouse, etc.], as if she had known them all her life.

When I first relocated to Berlin for university, I felt as if four million citizens were rowing in a boat simultaneously, all of them sailing in the same direction. That said, I don’t recollect my first experience of the city as being disorienting. Rather, I was relieved and exhilarated, as if I had finally gained the required space to explore and develop myself. My stranger self in the company of other million strangers, I felt at ease amidst complete unfamiliarity in the vibrant big city. The new everyday life was packed with novelty, strangeness and excitement. A mixture of emerging patterns waiting to be understood. A prophylactic change against stagnation.

Cheshire Cat to Alice: “[W]e’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

On my first day of university, I met a Finnish girl who seemed overwhelmed by the academic system and referred to it as pure chaos—a statement I didn’t understand until I moved to Finland four years later. Whereas I was utterly pleased by the German orderliness, she conveyed the impression of being rather irritated. It was a clear illustration of two individuals whose accustomed grounds were being torn apart—in this case, in two opposite directions; an example of how the societal life design in which we grew up outlines our boundaries of normality and acceptability.

Alice to the Cheshire Cat: “It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

After having lived in the same country for the most part of your life, it’s fair to assume that moving abroad involves a great deal of discordance coupled with an unsettling feeling of disconnection from the world. However, this wasn’t the case of my pioneer relocation abroad, but rather the trial I experienced when I temporarily had to move back to my home country after the first year in Berlin. It was a reverse culture clash and probably one of the hardest transitions. Returning to Spain meant bringing back the personal development and acculturation that had occurred during my time in Berlin and trying to fit it in the home environment, an environment so deeply familiar and yet that now seemed uncanny in so many aspects. I realised no one could possibly come back and pick up as the same person one was before leaving. Navigating the new set of circumstances meant facing the original issues that fostered the decision to leave in the first place. My solution was to try to recreate “wonderland” around me. I surrounded myself with German exchange students and spotted the local stores where I could get imported products. I learnt to bake dark rye bread with pumpkin and sunflower seeds—brunch became a Sunday ritual in my shared flat. I would wake up every morning listening to Berlin radio stations, watch Stromberg at night and skype with the friends I left behind. It worked until the time was right to venture into Wonderland again.

Alice to herself: “I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit-hole—and yet—and yet—it’s rather curious, you know, this sort of life!”

The first time I got sick abroad was during my first week in Switzerland. Patients in Switzerland receive their medical bills by post after being treated, and I still didn’t have any written proof that I was living there. I had to wander around Zürich for hours until I found a doctor who was kind enough to deal with my feverish cold. Unsurprising fact: he was also an expat.

Recipe for a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

I would serve seafood for the main course and chocolate chip cookie cake for dessert followed by lychee cocktails. I would invite American filmmaker David Lynch; English composer Michael Nyman; German-born Swiss literary giant Hermann Hesse; linguists Vyvyan Evans and Edward Sapir; Vanessa Yves (the heroine of the American horror series Penny Dreadful); German author of fantasy and horror E.T.A. Hoffmann; Oscar Wilde’s gothic hero Dorian Gray, and my good and displaced friend Ginger. I can’t think of a better combination of people for throwing a tea party. 🙂

Alice muttering to herself: “It’s really dreadful, the way all the creatures argue. It’s enough to drive one crazy!”

Since Germany has become my permanent place of residence and I have adapted to its interactional patterns, one of the things I struggle with when I visit Spain is talking to people. It takes me a couple of days to adjust to the fast conversational pace, the high volume, the close proximity, the somewhat intrusive physical contact and the fact that being interrupted doesn’t mean rudeness but cooperation and interest on the listener’s part. Likewise, many a time have I returned to Germany after my holidays in Spain and noticed people would be staring at me for being the loudest person in the room, so…back to keeping it down a notch.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

I find extremely interesting the way some people change fundamentally when they switch from one language to another. It’s not just the linguistic code, but also their voice register, their body language and even their emotions and opinions; as if one weren’t the same individual anymore but had rather suddenly shifted into a new identity. I have been told to manifest this behaviour a couple of times and I was skeptical at first, so I watched myself in mute videos to ultimately confirm their hypothesis.

Advice for those who have only just stepped through the looking glass

If you have ventured into the rabbit hole, there’s no turning back. The displacement or dépaysement (fr. the feeling of being disoriented or not at home, in a foreign or different place) will be recurrent, and it’s something you have to come to terms with. Finding yourself geographically rootless, a part of everywhere and nowhere, can result in restlessness and distress. I dare say it’s not an exclusive phenomenon of international relocation, but moving to a foreign country definitely enhances its scope. Take it from me and others who have been to Wonderland and back: one gradually turns into a patchwork of identities, a broken jigsaw, a mixture of places and cultures, an odd individual made of bits and pieces from everywhere and hence nowhere.

But there are always two sides to the coin. Should you experience any sense of bereavement resulting from your leaving, consider all the independence, freedom and professional as well as personal development you have gained by doing so. Picture yourself in a parallel universe in which you had never left and examine that hypothetical self. Would you rather be that person? I don’t think so. You are becoming the best version of yourself, embracing life at its fullest from its many a different angle, participating in a conscious awakening.

As Lewis Carroll writes at the end of Alice’s adventures:

“So she sat on with closed eyes, and half believed herself in Wonderland, though she knew she had but to open them again, and all would change to dull reality.”

Bonus: Alice as manga character

The cartoonist in me envisions a black-haired Alice who, after having spent a while in Wonderland, crawls back to the surface wielding a large scythe and haunts citizens for explanations as to what happened. She eschews the proper lady stylings of her literary counterpart, having both a voracious appetite and a temper.

Ta–dah! tXc is here!

92 Wonderlanded P

* * *

Thank you, Karen! Being wonderlanded with you was…beyond curious! I have to confess, there were a few times when I wondered whether you had become a creature of wonderland yourself…but I of course mean that as a compliment! Readers, any responses to Karen’s story? How about to her visuals and to the glorious appearance of tXc as Alice in Wonderland (or should that be Expatland)? Please leave in the comments. And don’t forget. If you want to keep in touch with tXc’s expat adventures, be sure to visit Expat Gone Foreign site, like the comic strip series on Facebook, and follow along on Twitter. ~ML

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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LOCATION, LOCUTION: The Way of expat author Joan Fallon lies in writing about the Camino and other Spain-related themes

Location Locution
Columnist Lorraine Mace, aka Frances di Plino, is back with her latest interview guest.

The theologian Richard Niebuhr once wrote:

Pilgrims are poets who create by taking journeys.

In that sense, today’s author, Joan Fallon, can be considered a modern-day pilgrim, of the kind often encountered within the Displaced Nation. She may not have walked the Camino de Santiago—but the path she took in her life led her to a place where she could write a novel about someone who did.

Joan was born with a foot in two cultural camps: her father was Irish and her mother, Scottish. Her first journey into a brand new culture was made as a child, when her family moved from Dumfries, Scotland, to the south of England, which many Celts consider to be a foreign country.

Joan went on to spend her formative years in England. She married, had a family (a son and a daughter), and worked as a teacher while also earning a BA from the Open University in History and Literature.

But in England, Joan was still a pilgrim; she hadn’t yet found the Way. In fact, she lost her way for some time after her son dropped dead unexpectedly when he was only 17. She abandoned her career in teaching (she couldn’t bear being around kids his age) to become a management trainer.

Soon, though, it was time to don her pilgrim’s boots again, this time for a journey into southern Spain. When her husband took early retirement, the couple set off just before the start of the new millennium for their new home in Benajarafe, a coastal village that is a few miles east of Málaga, in Andalusia.

This journey, which brings us to where we find Joan now, led her to the goal she was seeking all along: an opportunity to try out the life of full-time writer. As she put it in a recent interview:

It is something that I had been waiting all my life to do.

Joan completed an Open University course in creative writing, but it wasn’t until she’d spent six years taking journeys within Spain, learning the language and talking to people, that she would embrace her destiny fully. (She was also settling in, finding out how to cope with Spanish bureaucracy and generally dealing with the numerous everyday things that we take for granted in our home country or don’t need: obtaining an identity card, a social security card, becoming a tax resident, registering at the town hall, changing to Spanish number plates, making friends, finding a hairdresser that you like, a new dentist, a new doctor, a vet, a plumber…)

Eventually, her immersion in the Spanish language and local culture paid off. Always interested in social history, Joan decided to interview a number of older Spanish women about how their lives had changed since Franco had died in 1975. She translated the interviews into English, which led to her first published book, Daughters of Spain.

The research for this book also produced two novels:

Joan Fallon's writing career has flowered in Benajarafe, initially with books set in the Franco era

Joan Fallon’s writing career has flowered in Benajarafe, initially with books set in the Franco era. Photo credits: Joan Fallon’s author photo and book covers (supplied); Benajarafe, by Tony Bowden (CC BY-SA 2.0).

One of Joan’s subsequent novels grew out of her experiences of mixing with both Spanish and foreign nationals: Loving Harry, a story about two women in love with the same man, set in expat Spain.

Joan’s frequent visits to other parts of Spain have also inspired books. It was a trip to Galicia that gave her the idea of writing Santiago Talesabout a woman whose life is in tatters and who decides to walk the Camino de Santiago seeking solutions.

Likewise a visit to the Moorish ruins at Madinat al Zahra near Córdoba inspired her to research and write The Shining City, a novel set in Moorish Spain during 10th century.

All of Joan’s novels feature strong women as their heroineswomen who face some kind of difficulty and have to overcome it.

* * *

Welcome, Joan, to Location, Locution. Spain clearly has had a powerful effect on your writing, but which comes first, story or location?

Thank you for inviting me, Lorraine. It depends on the book I am writing whether location or story is the most important. Santiago Tales, as you’ve explained, was set on the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain—location was essential to the story. Spanish Lavender is a love story set in the Spanish Civil War, but it takes place specifically in Málaga, a city I know very well—and therefore I started with the location. In another of my books, The Only Blue Door, which you didn’t mention, I wrote about three children sent to Australia during wartime. Never having been to Australia, I found it hard to write about a place I did not know personally so had to rely on my research. In this case, it was the story that was predominant, not the location.

It sounds as though you like to know the place very well before using it as a setting?

Yes, I prefer to write about places I know. If I don’t know the location well, then I will visit it a number of times noting the layout, the atmosphere and anything else I can put into my writing. Sometimes I will interview someone about a place when I know that they have a greater knowledge of the location than I do. This is what I did with Santiago Tales. I knew the area well but not from the point of view of a pilgrim, so I interviewed a woman who had walked the 800 km of the Camino and was delighted to tell me of her exploits. This gave me the little details that I needed to make my story credible.

Photo credits: Puente rústico, by José Antonio Gil Martínez via Flickr (CC BY 2.0) .

Photo credits: Puente rústico, by José Antonio Gil Martínez via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); book cover art (supplied).

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

I try to remember as many details as I can, imagining that I am there again and then imagining the character in the location as I knew it. If my story is set somewhere that I have only visited on a few occasions, then it needs more effort to conjure up the required atmosphere, and I will read about the location and look at photographs. Sometimes it is something as simple as knowing if there are hills in the area that the character has to climb or rivers that he has to cross or when he sits down what he can see. All this helps to transport the reader to the location that you have chosen. For me it is a mixture of combining what I know the place is like with the atmosphere I am trying to convey for the story.

Which of your works provides the best illustration of place, and can you give us a brief example?

Place is an especially important factor in The Shining City, which I wrote after visiting the ruins of a city near Córdoba called Madinat al Zahra. I was fascinated by the place and the fact that, although it was once a very prosperous and cultured city, it was abandoned and fell into complete disrepair after only 70 years. It seemed the ideal place to set a historical novel about the Moors in Spain.

Here is a passage from my book, depicting a character from England’s West Country who is following the French Way of the Way of St. James:

The Galician countryside is distinctive. It reminds her a little of her own West Country, with its small fields and dry-stone walls. The change was obvious as soon as she reached O’Cebreiro, set in the green, rolling hills across the border from León, and saw the round stone houses of the area, with their straw roofs and Iron Age design. She has even passed Celtic crosses at the roadside, so like the ones in Cornwall, and fields of fat, contented brown and white cattle. Just like the west coast of Britain and Ireland, Galicia receives its fair share of Atlantic wind and rain and this is evident in the verdure of its countryside. No, she is no longer walking through the dry Meseta; this part of Spain is very different and, to her, feels more like home.

Photo credits: Book cover art (supplied); Medina Azahara - Cordoba, by Roberto Venturini via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Photo credits: Book cover art (supplied); Medina Azahara – Cordoba, by Roberto Venturini via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Is landscape the only feature you look at to create a sense of location? What about culture, or even food?

All of those and more, depending on the location. Returning to the example of The Shining City, about a place that I had visited when it was a ruin, I had to do a lot of research into what it would have been like when it was a thriving city. I needed to know what food was available at the time, what they grew and what they imported, what type of housing people lived in, how they dressed and what the climate was like. Although this is a historical novel, set in 10th-century Spain, the fact that I live in Spain and know the area well made it so much easier to create the right atmosphere; I knew from experience what the weather was like at different times of the year, which flowers were in bloom and when; and I could imagine easily what the roads to the city were like then from what I could see today.

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

I read a book by John Lanchester called Capital, which was the story of a street in London told through the lives of the people who lived there. He used location very well and made it the central pivot for his novel. Donna Tartt also uses location very well and creates a rich and detailed background to her novels. Another writer that gives great importance to location in her novels is Barbara Kingsolver, and Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels about two girls growing up in Naples recreate the atmosphere of that wild-child city beautifully.

Fallon Faves

Joan’s picks for writers who have mastered the art of writing about place

Thanks so much, Joan!

* * *

Readers, any questions for Spain-obsessed Joan Fallon? Please leave them in the comments below.

And if you’d like to discover more about Joan, why not visit her author site +/or her site dedicated to her books that are set in Spain, A Spanish Notebook. You can also follow her on twitter at @joan_fallon and @notesonspain +/or like her Facebook page.

Until next month!

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

STAY TUNED for the next fab post!

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

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