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Expat Books: 7 Fictions You Should Read

Since I first learned to read, I’ve loved how books allow me to experience adventures beyond my wildest imagination. Through books I’ve been able to travel to distant lands, go into space and even witness history in the making. However, I also love books because they help me make sense of the life I’m actually living. When my family moved to America, I fell in love with the Little House on the Prairie series. Okay, so my life in the United States didn’t involve blizzards and coyotes (thankfully!) but I felt an instant connection with the young heroine, Laura: we were both having to adapt to new surroundings and make new friends. This series helped me turn what could have been a challenging time in my life into an exciting adventure. After all, I told myself, if she could do it, then so could I!

Living abroad is a wonderful experience but it does come with its own, unique challenges. It isn’t always easy to adapt to a new language, new people and a new culture, while somehow maintaining those precious bonds with friends and family in your home country. There are some wonderful non-fiction books and websites (like this one!) out there about the expat life and making a life abroad but I think fiction can also offer us some valuable lessons too. With that in mind, I’ve chosen some of my favourite books that explore what it means to be an ‘outsider’. Some of these books explore the expat experience, others the sensation of feeling isolated from the rest of the community. So whether you’re an experienced expat or you’re just getting settled in a new country for the first time, these books will reassure you that however you’re feeling, you’re not alone!

The Map of Love by Adhaf Soueif

This memorable novel follows a Victorian widow, Anna Winterbourne as she tours Egypt, which was, at that time, under British control. When she falls in love with an Egyptian, Anna faces not only ostracism from British society but also the realisation that she’ll never fully integrate into Egyptian society either. This wonderful book explores the important and topical subjects of colonialism and extremist politics but also contains a beautiful and romantic love story.

The Expats by Chris Pavone

The heroine of this exciting thriller is Kate Moore, who has given up her career as a CIA agent to become a stay-at-home mother and ‘trailing spouse’. However she begins to suspect that her new friends are not all they seem: is she just bored with her new expat life or have enemies from her past finally tracked her down? As a trailing spouse, I’m relieved to report that my life isn’t anywhere near as exciting-or dangerous!

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

This delightful book may have been written for young adults but when I read this aloud with my kids, my husband and I loved it just as much as they did! Exploring important topics such as friendship, loneliness and social exclusion, this book is sure to strike a chord with expats of all ages!

The Banker’s Wife by Crigmstina Alger

I really enjoyed this financial thriller (and not just because it is set in Switzerland)! Wealthy expat Annabel is devastated to learn that her husband has died in a plane crash. But when Annabel begins to suspect that her husband’s death wasn’t an accident, she is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, even if it puts her own life in danger. Although we’re unlikely to find ourselves in Annabel’s situation, it's easy to empathise with how isolated she feels as she comes to term with her grief.

Small Island by Andrea Levy

I remember reading this as a teenager and being utterly captivated by Levy’s realistic and memorable characters. The story is set in a London boarding-house in the years following the Second World War and examines the prejudice faced by Jamaican immigrants. This moving story might be set in 1948 but the themes of racial inequality and prejudice are, sadly, just as relevant today.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

The ultimate expat experience gone wrong! This famous story has spawned countless films and books but nothing can compare to the original gothic novel. When a young solicitor, Jonathan Harker, goes to Transylvania, he finds himself held prisoner by a ruthless vampire. This chilling story never fails to give me goosebumps!

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

This award-winning 2000 coming-of-age novel was also turned into a highly-acclaimed film in 2015. The story follows Eilis, a young Irish immigrant who arrives in Brooklyn, New York in the 1950s. Expats from every corner of the globe will empathise with Eilis’s feelings as she tries to make a new life for herself despite the ever-present longing to go ‘home’. I certainly understand Eilis’s feeling of being torn between two different places and cultures.

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