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(for expat+HAREM’s hybrid life reading list available at Amazon click here)

By ANASTASIA ASHMAN

Expatriate literature may often be stocked in the travel section, but does it deserve a shelf of its own?

I asked that question during a week of live #litchat on Twitter when I guest hosted in May 2009. (Transcripts here and here and here.)

Living for extended periods in foreign locales, expatriates and global citizens struggle to reestablish themselves and find meaningful access to their new home. Travelers passing through often have the luxury to avoid the very issues of assimilation and identity that dominate the expat psyche.

Over the course of three days 40 readers, writers, travelers, expats, Third Culture Kids and emigrees tweeted about the unique depths of the expat lit combination: outsider-view-from-the-inside and journey of self-realization.

Below are highlights. Unattributed comments are my own.


WHAT’S EXPAT LIT?

The interpretation of another culture by someone of our own. — M. Dominique Benoit

An expat writer draws on a collective cultural consciousness to talk about a different locale. An outsider’s view from the inside: when it’s good, it’s the best of both worlds.

A thoughtful expat will question and analyze his own cultural biases. The reader can do this vicariously. — Deborah Davidson


EXPAT LIT COMES OF AGE

So many globetrotters, so many identity issues when home keeps changing. — Jennifer Eaton Gokmen


EXPAT LIT VS. TRAVELOGUE

Travel may open your eyes but does not change your identity. Expatriation sure does! — Emmanuelle Archer

Expat lit is not travel literature since writing about life from outside a homeland does not mean writing from a state of travel. We’re coping with extended life in a foreign culture, navigating subtleties, adapting to find harmony. Personal assimilation/identity issues dominate expat writing, and filter their world. If travel writing is a chance to travel vicariously, expat lit is a chance to live abroad vicariously.


FEMALE VS. MALE PERSPECTIVE

Female expat writers do more with identity and assimilation, I find. — Nassim Assefi


EMIGREE/IMMIGRANT VS. EXPAT

If the subject is primarily your homeland and you live abroad as an emigree, that’s emigree lit. If you’re living outside your home culture writing about where you are, and even the rest of the world, that’s expat lit.


THIRD CULTURE KID VS. EXPAT

Third Culture Kid lit has more multi-faceted identity issues versus the writer who becomes an expat as an adult. The adult expat writer already has an established identity that gets challenged as adult. TCK has been challenged with identity all his life. — J. Gokmen

TCK often means not knowing where home is. Citizenship or nationality become irrelevant. TCK lit can be the epitome of expat lit, a “twice-removed” look at the culture. — E. Archer

Does expat lit deserve its own genre? Which writers and titles do you consider expat lit, or why not? As a global citizen and intentional traveler, what are you looking for in a read and where do you best find it?


TITLES + AUTHORS REFERENCED IN THE CHAT
(travel, expat, TCK, emigree literature, historical and contemporary)

Adam Gopnik – Paris to the Moon//Anthony Burgess – Malay Trilogy//Bill Bryson//Carla Grissman – Dinner of Herbs//Chris Stewart – Driving Over Lemons//Christopher Isherwood//David Sedaris – Nuit of the Living Dead//Ernest Hemingway – Death in the Afternoon//Firoozeh Dumas – Funny in Farsi//Freya Stark//Gertrude Stein and the Lost Generation//Henry Miller//Isabella Bird//Jamie Zeppa – Beyond the Sky and Earth: A Journey into Bhutan//Karen Blixen//Lawrence Durrell – Alexandria Quartet//A. J. Leibling – Between Meals: An Appetite For Paris//Malcolm Lowry//Marlena De Blasi – A Thousand Days in Tuscany//Mary Blume – A French Affair//Mary Lee Settle – Turkish Reflections//Milan Kundera//Peter Mayles – French Lessons//Pico Iyer//Sarah McDonald – Holy Cow//Sarah Turnbull – Almost French//Somerset Maugham – Far Eastern Tales//Stanley Karnow – Paris in the Fifties//Tahir Shah – The Caliph’s House//Tales from the Expat Harem//Three Cups of Tea//Vladimir Nabokov//William Dalrymple


Other sources on expat lit:

figuring out the French//Morocco’s literary transgressor//a literary review for writers abroad//a course in American expatriate literature//expat lit from Japan//expat lit vs. national lit//Paul Auster on the art of exile and return//Pico Iyer on Somerset Maugham//mysteries and memoirs//expat vs. immigrant//blogging and expatriate identity by Lauren Elkin//World Radio Switzerland’s bonding with expat tales//cultural wisdom pooling at intersection of women and travel//The Accidental Anthologist

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Question for the expat+HAREM community: who are your favorite hybrid life writers, and how do you see the divisions between travel writing and the work of people who have left home — perhaps forever?

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Subscribe to my occasional woman-of-the-world producer newsletter for a behind-the-scenes look at my various cultural productions. Another good place to explore: my producer page at Facebook.

  • Anonymous

    I think the term “hybrid” is appropriate for expats who have embraced their life as global citizens. Expats often become foreigners in their own country or have a tendency to see more easily the negative parts of  their home culture. On the contrary expats have often a more positive and  idealistic view of their host country. It is a kind of “the other side is  greener” survival mode that I also call living the “expat bubble” syndrome. 

    However,  this is even too simplistic to explain why expat literature is different from travel literature. There are subtle, not obvious traits specific to your host culture that you can only discover if you live there long enough,  work there, get married,  have babies, been sick etc.. in short live not visit ! One example I have is about Japan: I saw the movie by Coppola: “Lost in Translation” but it is not really the Japan I know after spending almost 10 years there. It is clearly an outsider’s view, a superficial conversation between two visitors  who meet in a hotel  without understanding the world around them. I would have put this story in the travel section. On the other hand, the book “Fear and Trembling” by author Amelie Nothomb  who was born  in Japan,  is very close to what I have experienced while working with Japanese. Many people think she is exaggerating but I think not that much. This book should be in the expatriate literature.

    • http://about.me/anastasia.ashman Anastasia

      Exactly Anne! What’s being invested — and what’s at risk — is very different for someone immersed in a place rather than simply passing through. 

      Thanks for bringing up the Belgian (?)  Amelie Nothomb. I am not familiar with her so I looked her up. Here’s a review of TOKYO FIANCEE, a novel that apparently overlaps with FEAR AND TREMBLING but presents a very different version of events. “A love letter to Japanese culture”, it’s being called. So maybe hybrid writers can be both idealistic about a location and their place in it, *and* dark? In this case, not in the same book though. :-)

      • Anonymous

        Thanks for bringing the “other side of the coin” with Amelie Nothomb’s book “Tokyo Fiancee”. She is a true TCK: born in Kobe  from a Belgian diplomat, she lived in many countries.  She has also a very passionate and eccentric personality.  As expatriates we often alternate radical, extremist views and opposite feelings, we can love or hate the same place but we are rarely neutral. It is well known that the normal life emotional roller coaster is exacerbated when you live abroad. It is hard to be in the middle, not really a problem for Tourists.

  • http://about.me/anastasia.ashman Anastasia

    Here’s a nice roundup of expat/emigre/TCK lit from around the world by Patrick Smith: Edwidge Danticat, John Burdett, Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith, Alexandra Fuller, Monica Ali, Adam Gopnik, Peter Hessler, Janet Flanner, VS Naipaul, David Sedaris, Richard Wright, Bill Bryson, Peter Mayle, Paul Theroux, Gertrude Stein…

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  • Billie

    Hybridity is an exciting 21st Century adaptation to changes in the way we think, express ourselves and share our writing with others. And yet, while I see it as an obvious adaptation in the media and academic arena, I have met some resistance to the concept that you can be a hybrid writer, in my case a screenwriter and a fiction writer, and an academic all at the same time.

    • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

      You’re right Billie, hybridity is the trend as we cross traditional boundaries and synthesize (and epitomize!) information from multiple realms…thanks for the point about hybrid writing as a way to bring your worldview and thinking to different types of writing projects.

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  • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

    In this post about Ernest Hemingway and Karen Blixen — larger-than-life expat writer personalities seeming in tune with far-flung surroundings, able to produce their best work from foreign atmospheres — I ask which expat icons do you admire and when have you found authority overseas?In response to this post crossposted at SheWrites.com, Catherine Bayar replied with the reason expat writing has the potential to be so very powerful. We have both the need to translate our experience for the reader, but also a chance to see ourselves in a new way. Catherine writes: “The gift of writing my expat years have given me is where I’ve found my authority. Being able to translate my experiences into words that others can understand has in turn clarified what I’ve lived through to myself. Perhaps that’s why Blixen and Hemingway were able to write such personal books that we can relate as well. Being ‘alone’ in a foreign environment brings out our best, and our worst, forces us to confront our own self-image in ways that staying in a ‘safe’ environment never can.”

    • Bethe Moulton

      The quotation from Catherine really rings true to me as I complete the final editing of my first novel inspired by the events that transformed me. The notion of wanting others to understand is a very powerful motivation. I want my family and friends from my “root” country to journey with me, but, of course, have learned after 25 years that thier abiltiy to do so is limited. Thus, I want to reach out to others who have the potential to grasp the richness of the hybrid experience.

      • http://about.me/anastasia.ashman Anastasia

        I wonder if having that interchange with people who identify with our hybrid experience, we also learn new ways to express it to those “root” people in our lives?

        Great to hear about your novel, Beth! Please tell us more…(expat+HAREM will take a guest post about it, for sure).

        • Bethe Moulton

          Anastasia, thank you for inviting me to share my novel with this community. At the moment, the copywriter is perfecting its presentation, but here is a preview. The story recounts the journey of a business consultant from Boston who goes to Brazil looking for a promotion. Navigating the perils of crafting a corporate strategy in a turbulent foreign environment, she experiences an equally turbulent personal transformation. I will definitely keep you all tuned in to availability in ebook and pbook.

      • http://www.bazaarbayar.blogspot.com Catherine Bayar

        Thanks for your comments Bethe – I’d love to read your book. As Anastasia suggests, I think that when we find others in a community like expat+HAREM who understand what our hybrid life is like, it gives us the “roots” to expand, clarify and express our life to others who would never dare to live it, other than perhaps vicariously through us.

        • Bethe Moulton

          Catherine, I do hope our writings can inspire others to venture into the growth that a global/hybrid life brings. In fact, having just found this community, I have been writing with the hope of reaching those who are not already global. It is exciting to thing that there is also a group with whom I can share who will say, “Oh yes, I’ve been there!” You’re expressing interest in my book means a great deal, as I push toward my publication date of September 1! (Maybe I will be able to get the ebook out sooner — that will be accessible to my global sisters!)

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    • http://anastasiaashman.wordpress.com/about Anastasia

      In this post about Ernest Hemingway and Karen Blixen — larger-than-life expat writer personalities seeming in tune with far-flung surroundings, able to produce their best work from foreign atmospheres — I ask which expat icons do you admire and when have you found authority overseas?

      In response to this post crossposted at SheWrites.com, Catherine Bayar replied with the reason expat writing has the potential to be so very powerful. We have both the need to translate our experience for the reader, but also a chance to see ourselves in a new way.

      Catherine writes: “The gift of writing my expat years have given me is where I’ve found my authority. Being able to translate my experiences into words that others can understand has in turn clarified what I’ve lived through to myself. Perhaps that’s why Blixen and Hemingway were able to write such personal books that we can relate as well. Being ‘alone’ in a foreign environment brings out our best, and our worst, forces us to confront our own self-image in ways that staying in a ‘safe’ environment never can.”

  • http://hopefilledjars.blogspot.com/ Judith van Praag

    Anastasia, This page is a wonderful resource to visit and revisit, to recognize and realize where one’s coming from. Each time I land on this site I’m surprised by the complexity of content and subject.

    Before dialogue2010 your statement about “emigree/immigrant versus expat literature would have addressed, but not lessened my confusion about my status, today I accept that I’m an immigrant writer on the one hand, and an expat writer on the other.

    • http://anastasiaashman.wordpress.com/about/ Anastasia

      Thanks Judith, it’s great to hear that participating in Dialogue2010 has helped clarify for you your fields of operation as a writer writing outside her original homeland!

      I agree the distinctions between different types of hybrid life writing is a rich vein and we’ll be tapping it again soon here at expat+HAREM…

  • Anonymous

    Anastasia, This page is a wonderful resource to visit and revisit, to recognize and realize where one’s coming from. Each time I land on this site I’m surprised by the complexity of content and subject.

    Before dialogue2010 your statement about “emigree/immigrant versus expat literature would have addressed, but not lessened my confusion about my status, today I accept that I’m an immigrant writer on the one hand, and an expat writer on the other.

    • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

      Thanks Judith, it’s great to hear that participating in Dialogue2010 has helped clarify for you your fields of operation as a writer writing outside her original homeland!

      I agree the distinctions between different types of hybrid life writing is a rich vein and we’ll be tapping it again soon here at expat+HAREM…

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