on my bookshelf

In the past year since I’ve started blogging, I’ve posted about my favorite books that will take you places and provided book suggestions to discover Paris expat life of the 1920s. The latter is one of my most widely read posts, thanks to the 2011 published “The Paris Wife” that has brought Hemingway renewed popularity (well deserved, in my opinion) and what appears by my blog statistics to be a mob of readers with an intense interest in his first “Paris Wife” Hadley.

As I take a breath from my fixation on the Lost Generation, and I reluctantly return to the library the completed biographies  “Hemingway’s Boat” , and several on Gerald and Sara Murphy, I  turn my eyes up to the bookshelf to ponder what will next fancy an expat, ex-expat or version of.

My top three picks are:

The Expats by Chris Pavone

The first time this title appeared in The NY Times Book Review, I thought it was an espionage thriller, which really isn’t my thing and I passed.  But then the title reappeared by email from my sister (“read it!” she wrote).  I noticed it was set in curious Luxembourg ( a place our dear friends lived, so I know it without actually having been there) and is much more about the experience of expat life than I originally thought. In this first novel by Pavone, a husband and wife have the opportunity to move to Luxembourg when husband gets a new job. She, a burned out ex-CIA operative who has left her job, finds herself disoriented, embracing a new identity in a community of expat wives and mothers organizing domestic chores and finding ways to entertain themselves.  The plot turns, when wife becomes suspicious of husband and his new hush-hush job and she begins to investigate him. Expat experiences, a fantastic setting and sprinkles of espionage fiction. And with a name like that, what’s there not to love?

Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman

Being a mother and having had my first child abroad in Europe, this book about an expat American mom raising her kids in France finds its way easily onto my reading list. I posted recently about this book which outlines differences in parenting she sees between France and the States – particularly those areas she believes parents excel with in France. She’s predictably gotten loads of criticism from all sides, but I’m interested in reading the book because of the cultural differences I, too, experienced when abroad,  not necessarily to find the secret french formula to teach my kids manners or sit at the table through dinner (though I imagine many young mothers will be doing the latter as witnessed by the length of the wait list at the library for this book).

I doubt this author will meet the standard set by Adam  Gopnik’s “Paris to the Moon” about parenting in Paris that shines with his intellect and New Yorker-style wit as he manages to wrap together brilliantly multiple subjects and observations of life and food and kids in Paris. But I look forward to another opportunity to slip in  – unseen –  to a family room in Paris through this book.

Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner

Another first book for this author and reviewed as “very funny” by the New Yorker, today’s essay in The NY Times Book Review by Gary Sernovitz somewhat convincingly draws comparisons and contrasts between this book and Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.” While the book apparently makes no mention of this, the essay explores the differences between the inner struggles of the lost generation during the 1920s and the generation of today (you see, I couldn’t stay away from Hemingway for too long.)

In what The NY Times Book Review describes  “a precise, reflective and darkly comic voice” and “a revealing study of what it’s like to be a young American abroad”, the main character, an aimless but intelligent and earnest poet, has bluffed his way to Spain and struggles with the idea to live authentically and capture and represent life truthfully (in foreign and native tongue)  “beyond snapshots of localized events”.  “A book soaked in references to art and literature”, it features the American far from home, alienated, in search of meaning…..while making it clear that “a gulf separates their (referring to Hemingway’s characters in “Sun” and the character in this book) experiences and point of view.” I’m looking forward to reading about a lost generation of today, which could be more lost than ever before.

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9 responses to “on my bookshelf

  1. Great recommendations! I’ll make sure to come back to this post when it’s time to update my Kindle.
    Right after you wrote the post about “Bringing up Bébé”, I found a great article about it in The WSJ and shared it on FB. One of my friends, a nutritionist who had lived abroad in Lyon, commented that even “as adults, we could learn from [French people’s] structured mealtimes”, referring to the book “French Women Don’t Get Fat”. Another friend, who is German-French, told me: “…you should know that “n’importe quoi” is also quite often used for “bullshit”, referring to what the interviewees told the author when she asked them what their outlook was on American parents’ attitudes towards “discipline/education”.
    Like I said before, I’m not even a parent yet, but the book also sounds like an interesting read from a sociological aspect.

    • agree. while there are all kinds of parenting, no matter what nationality, it’s hard to ignore that generally, there are some pretty distinct differences I’ve noticed living and parenting in difft countries (ie: “old school” manners like greeting adults here hard to come by – and why is that? – while in germany the old eye contact and handshake even with kids is expected. The importance is in what this small act represents). I’m also curious how she will address the context/country work and social structure in which the parenting takes place and how that is connected to parenting style.

      • How the author addresses the context and country’s social structure is what I’m curious about, too. In many European countries, parents actually get financial help upon having a child, and/or the mother is allowed up to a year of paid maternity leave. Even fathers are allowed paid paternity leave, and depending on the kind of job they have, can also have up to a year of leave. In addition, medical costs are paid by the government, which is a huge relief compared to countries where privatized health insurance is more common. In Norway, for example, it is actually encouraged that both parents take a year of leave together after having a child.

        I was lucky growing up to have been able to spend a lot of time with my mom (though she juggled some part-time work, she was a stay-at-home mom for the most part). As an adult, I’ve looked back and really appreciate that time I had with her before she went back to work full-time. Unfortunately, being able to stay home and raise your own children has now become a luxury a lot of parents can’t afford. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to be a full-time working mom, but it would be nice for it to still be an option instead of a common obligation necessary to make ends meet.

  2. Thanks for that, I am always up for reading a good book 😀

  3. I also love books about expats. I enjoy their “outsider” perspective on the people they encounter and the place in which they reside. Diane Johnson has written some good books on this topic. Also Paul Bowles wrote books on expats and travelers, though they can be dark. I loved “Everybody Was So Young” about the Murphys. Thanks for the tips on these three books, I will look into them now.

    • Yes, I’m most interested in Leaving the Atocha Station at the moment, based on the New Yorker and NY Times essay reviews. Thanks for the tips. I loved Everybody was so Young, and so glad you recommended it to me.

  4. This post comes right on time! I was desperately looking for some new writers with inspirational stories, thanks!

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