This month has been all about communication and language and the impact both have on those settling someplace new. It struck me that the two have a lot to do with one of my favorite pastimes: reading. And since we’re in the middle of summer vacation, I figured – what better time to share some ideas for books to read? After all, books, from whatever genre – fiction, memoir, travelogue, etc. have the power to transport and illuminate, by examining cultures and simply offering different perspectives on life. Sometimes, they remind us of home, and that can be good too.
There are of course several expat-oriented books that explicitly deal with the experience of moving to a new country and adapting to life there. There are guide books and travel books that can be immensely helpful to someone moving abroad, as can any number of expat oriented websites and blogs. This post won’t really talk about those, other than to provide some links at the very end.
What this post will discuss are a few books that deal with transition, moving, and life changes in general. Whether you pick up one of these, or something else, it doesn’t really matter. It’s all about reading something – anything – that fits your needs, tickles your fancy and suits your taste. Here are some that I like:
The Emigrants by Vilhelm Moberg: this series of four books is perhaps the ultimate tale of what it’s like to leave your home and settle in a foreign place. It describes the long and hard journey of a family of emigrants leaving behind their poverty stricken lives in rural Sweden to settle in the United States in the 1850s. Clearly, moving across the globe these days is very different from back then. However, the feelings of loss and wonder are timeless, universal and relatable.
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan: this book describes the lives of four Asian women who had to leave China in the 1940s and the relationship with their four adult, very Americanized daughters. A central question in the story, and one I believe resonates with many global citizens: how do you maintain familial bonds across cultural and generational gaps?
The price of water in Finistère by Bodil Malmsten: beautifully and poetically written about the author’s struggles and joys when settling in a new country and all that that entails: picking up a new language, finding reliable help with fixing up a house, learning how to behave at the grocery store and the post office in order not to offend anyone. It’s funny and touching.
Paris in Love: A Memoir by Eloisa James: author Eloisa James took a year long sabbatical from her job in the US and moved her family to Paris. This memoir describes her day-to-day life, the obstacles and successes and it gives intriguing glimpses of Paris as the author slowly but surely “discovers” the city.
Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss: this may be a children’s book but anyone entering a new phase of life can gain insights from its simple but powerful messages. The fun illustrations and rhymes add to the reading experience.
While on the topic of reading books – joining (or starting) a book club is a wonderful way to meet people and make social connections. “Book clubs are the great leveler in expatriate life. It’s where you can talk to the head of a huge multinational and still discuss things on an equal footing,” says Catherine Gough, a member of a Tokyo book club (from the article “Tips for starting an expatriate book club”, The Telegraph).
By: Felicia Shermis
Expat reading tips:
The Expert Expat: Your Guide to Successful Relocation Abroad by Melissa Brayer Hess and Patricia Linderman
Expat Women: Confessions – 50 Answers to Your Real-Life Questions about Living Abroad by Andrea Martins and Victoria Hepworth
The Expats: A Novel by Chris Pavone
Moving Without Shaking: The guide to expat life success (from women to women) by Yelena Parker
Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds by Davis C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken