Some expatriate reads this week. Two helpful books, two memoirs, and two novels.
The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide: A light-hearted but authoritative manual for anyone accompanying their partner on an overseas assignment. By Clara Wiggins
This book is the most practical book I have read for handling a transition into a life abroad. Clara is a seasoned expatriate and a Third Culture Kid herself but she doesn’t rely on solely her own experiences. The book is peppered with wisdom and insight and tips from (mostly) women across the globe. She includes chapters on moving with pets, same-sex expatriate couples, leaving in a crisis, building friendships and much, much more. Each chapter ends with checklists or bullet-points to remember and extensive lists of further resources. Clara’s voice is down-to-earth throughout and the anecdotes she uses to illustrate her points fit perfectly. This is a book I wish I had when we first moved overseas (especially because I’m the kind of dork who loves checklists!) You can click through here, the ad on the sidebar, or find Clara at Expat Partner Survival. Also I received a complimentary copy of this book but the views are my own.
Raising Global Nomads: Parenting Abroad in an On-Demand World
by Robin Pascoe
I first read this book a couple of years ago and found it a useful addendum to Third Culture Kids. Robin brings the discussion of raising kids abroad into the internet age and addresses things like increasing pressure on families to engage with people everywhere they have lived and left. It brings a freshness and another perspective to the book that so many of us have come to love and rely on.
The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific by J. Marten Troost
There are loads of expatriate memoirs out there and I love many of them. This was simply the one I noticed again first on my bookshelf. Probably because of the title, which honestly has little to do with the content but is sort of the king click-bait of book titles. I really enjoyed this book. Could be his descriptions of the heat and the sleepy, droopy small island life. Or the image burned into my mind of his first swim in the seemingly paradise-like water, only to find himself surrounded by floating baby diapers. And their dark and goopy contents.
For a light-hearted look at a small place (I can appreciate living in this kind of smallness), this book was fun. A good summer read, perhaps.
Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik
A book about Paris by Adam Gopnik? Yes, please! Part memoir and part reflections on Paris as a city, this is a beautiful book. He talks about why French man can’t throw (soccer, ahem, football), Parisian cuisine, French customer service and an unfortunate toaster encounter, his attempts at joining a fitness club, and raising his child abroad, taking him to the carousal in the park on the weekends.
You can finish this book and feel a little more cultured and a little more understood. One of my all-time favorite expat quotes is from this book:
“There is also the odd knowledge, at once comforting and scary, that whatever is going on outside, you are without a predisposed opinion on it, that you have had a kind of operation, removing your instant reflexive sides-taking instinct…And the slightly amused, removed feeling always breaks down as you realize that you really don’t want to be so lofty and Olympian—or rather, that being lofty and Olympian carries within it, by tradition and precedent, the habit of wishing you could be down there in the plain, taking sides. Even the gods, actually looking down from Olympus in amusement, kept hurtling down to get laid or slug somebody.”
Acts of Faith by Philip Caputo
I’ve read this a few times and contrary to what the title might imply, it is not a religious book though one of the characters has a (twisted) faith motivation. The focus is Sudan and it covers a wide variety of characters and situations. The first time it took me a while to get into it but soon I couldn’t put it down and after reading it, I was driven to find out about the real-life characters and the situation in Sudan. One of the most fascinating characters is (I think) loosely based on an actual woman. She comes to Sudan with religious fervor and ideas and winds up married to a local rebel leader and becomes completely absorbed by the culture and the conflict. I still have her final scene ringing in my mind. You’ll have to read it to have the same scene burned into your memory. Well worth it.
Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb
I bought this at the Sheraton in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Sheraton has pretty limited book selection at the little kiosk but I love book shopping in African bookstores. They sell my kinds of books, like this one. Books about the places I’ve been and the people I’ve known. If you can’t find me in Nairobi someday, I’m no doubt buried in the stacks at the Yaya Center. Sweetness in the Belly crosses between Ethiopia and Europe. It is evocative and intense and beautiful and I like that it offers this perspective of living abroad – not just the westerner moving east but the easterner moving west, or the southerner moving north.
What I’m Reading This Week
Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans (listening)
The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough
All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel by Anthony Doerr
Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever by Bill O’Reilly (listening)
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Thanks for all the reviews, I love the variety and richness. I will be interested in what you think about Anthony Doerr’s book. I don’t think I like it as much as everyone else.
Here’s one I am reading that I picked up at a guest cottage in Kigoma, Tanzania a couple of weeks ago. My husband loved it, and now I am chuckling gently through it. We were especially interested because it takes place in Cameroon, where we visited for a couple of weeks some years ago. I think it’s from 1984.
The Innocent Anthropologist: Notes from a Mud Hut (The Innocent Anthropologist #1)
by Nigel Barley
When British anthropologist Nigel Barley set up home among the Dowayo people in northern Cameroon, he knew how fieldwork should be conducted. Unfortunately, nobody had told the Dowayo. His compulsive, witty account of first fieldwork offers a wonderfully inspiring introduction to the real life of a cultural anthropologist doing research in a Third World area. Both touching and hilarious, Barley’s unconventional story—in which he survived boredom, hostility, disaster, and illness—addresses many critical issues in anthropology and in fieldwork.
Thanks Holly. This sounds really good, I’m going to look it up.
Thanks for the review Rachel. I can thoroughly recommend Nigel Barley’s book. I read it when my parents lived in Cameroon and we visited the areas where it’s set. It’s very funny.
The book seems really interesting! I find most of the topics really great! It is also great that there is a topic about moving with pets because I have a dog and he comes with me everywhere! Thank you for the review! 🙂
Lovely review! I am really curious to read the book! Thanks! 🙂