I trust you are familiar with the famous books by Peter Mayle about restoring a ruin of a house and living in the Provence, and the ones set in Tuscany by Frances Mayes. The romance of it! The food! The wine!
However, I’m not sure we all actually dream of doing that, because no matter how romantic it seems, the God of Stress and Disaster has lots of fun playing games as we toil away. Anyway, it is entertaining to read about it, don’t you think?
I’m always looking for books about living in foreign countries, and I thought I’d offer you a list of books I’ve read in the last few years. The following titles are all contemporary expat life tales, not travelogues or historical adventures. No, not all are about restoring derelict farm houses and growing your own olives. They’re listed in no particular order, with the titles linked to author web sites or other informational sites. When nothing else was available, I linked them to Amazon. I have updated this post and added a few more books. Make sure to read the comments for more great titles offered up by other readers.
Almost French by Sarah Turnbull – France (Paris)
I enjoyed this one for the culture shock elements: Casual, informal Aussie girl falls in love with Frenchman, moves to Paris and learns about how things are (not) done in the City of Light. Like, you know, you don’t run out to the corner boulangerie to buy a baguette while wearing your sweats. It’s not nice for the baker! (PS: I live in France now, in the more relaxed far south, and its not Paris here, trust me.)
Stealing Fatima’s Hand by Carolyn Theriault – Morocco
Not all is charm and romance when you have a working life in Morocco. I found this non-touristy, irreverent view of Morocco very interesting. Canadian Carolyn and her husband are teachers and worked in Turkey and Iraq as well. No, they’re not restoring old houses.
Rules of the Wild, by Francesca Marciano – Kenya
I loved this book (although it’s not how I experienced my rustic expat life when I lived in Kenya ages ago with my Peace Corps husband!) The setting is wonderful, the writing excellent. This is what it says on Amazon: “Romantic, often resonantly ironic, moving and wise, Rules of the Wild transports us to a landscape of unsurpassed beauty even as it gives us a sharp-eyed portrait of a closely knit tribe of cultural outsiders: the expatriates living in Kenya today. Challenged by race, by class, and by a longing for home, here are “safari boys” and Samaritans, reporters bent on their own fame, travelers who care deeply about elephants but not at all about the people of Africa. They all know each other. They meet at dinner parties, they sleep with each other, they argue about politics and the best way to negotiate their existence in a place where they don’t really belong.”
The Caliph’s House by Tahir Shah – Morocco
Okay, this is one about restoring an old house, but not any old house. It’s an empty, derelict mansion inhabited by jinns (spirits) and full of mysteries. Restoring it is an adventure involving exorcism rituals and creepy people. Great story. Here a 5 minute video of the author speaking about his experiences.
The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost – Vanuatu (Island nation in S. Pacific)
Interesting title, but rather misleading. But hey, it made me buy the book, and I wasn’t sorry.
“The Sex Lives of Cannibals tells the hilarious story of what happens when Troost discovers that Tarawa is not the island paradise he dreamed of. Falling into one amusing misadventure after another, Troost struggles through relentless, stifling heat, a variety of deadly bacteria, polluted seas, toxic fish…” Warning: The author has a lively way of describing smelly stuff, so you may want to keep an air-freshener handy.
The Expats, by Chris Pavone – Europe
This is a novel, very interesting and exciting. An American couple moves to Luxembourg. The wife has a dangerous secret that she finds she cannot escape by moving overseas. It’s a story full of intrigue, and danger. This one kept me reading. Check it out.
Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure, by Sarah Macdonald – India
I’ve been a lot of places, but have never visited India. Australian Sarah gives up her job and moves reluctantly to New Delhi when her partner is transferred. I have all kinds of respect for how she takes on her new life, dives right in and trying to understand the local culture. From Amazon: “Holy Cow is Macdonald’s often hilarious chronicle of her adventures in a land of chaos and contradiction, of encounters with Hinduism, Islam and Jainism, Sufis, Sikhs, Parsis and Christians and a kaleidoscope of yogis, swamis and Bollywood stars. From spiritual retreats and crumbling nirvanas to war zones and New Delhi nightclubs.” This book is fun, fascinating and scary. She really made me feel I was there with her, including feeling hot and sweaty.
Freeways to Flip-Flops by Sonia Marsh – Beliz
Have you ever thought of just packing up the spoiled teenagers and getting out of America to live a simpler, less materialistic life on a tropical island? Here’s the story of a suburban family doing just that. It’s a gutsy thing to do, and not without risks.
The Reluctant Tuscan by Phil Doran – Italy
To get them away from their stressful Hollywood life, the author’s wife buys (without his knowing) a broken-down three-hundred-year-old farmhouse in Italy. He is not at all happy. But what do you know! He finds his Inner Italian and gets converted! The author is a writer/producer of various sitcoms, and you can tell in the writing. I could visualize this book straight into a sitcom.
Chickens, Mules, and Two Old Fools by Victoria Twead – Spain
British couple buys an old house in a tiny village in Spain, fix up the place, make friends, love their Spanish life.
The Mother-in-Law Cure by Katherine Wilson – Italy (Naples)
I loved this book for its warmth. American girl falls in love with Italian man and his family. Full of humor and love and food, and the real deal southern Italian family life in Naples.
Dancing in the Fountain by Karen McCann – Spain
Expat life in the city of Seville: Karen and her husband decide moving to Spain and living an interesting expat life is more stimulating to the gray cells than sitting comfortably at home in America and snoozing through retirement waiting for the Grim Reaper. I so agree with her. Although she enjoys her siesta’s, Karen is wide awake as she revels in the fun of life in Spain. (Seville is a fairy tale town, one of my most favorite ‘visit’ places.)
Miss Expatria by Christine Cantera – Italy (Rome)
American Christine wants to live and work in Europe, gets on a plane to Rome and falls in love with Italian life. I enjoyed her enthusiasm in taking on all things Italian. Here’s an interview with Christine.
Perking the Pansies by Jack Scott – Turkey
Wanting a change from the rat race in clammy old England, two openly gay married guys take on the expat life in Turkey. A fun read.
On Mexican Time by Tony Cohan – Mexico
This one has been around for a while. Tony Cohan is a novelist, his wife an artist. Escaping Los Angeles, they buy a house in San Miguel and discover the many pleasures of life in Mexico. Excellent writing. I wanted to move there.
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Now, dear readers, please help me out here and add some of your fun reads in the comments. I would especially love to find expat books set in other parts of the world, say Africa, or Asia. Do you know any?