Thursday, December 1, 2011

Five Great Books About Life Abroad

There are a lot of books about life abroad out there.

But many of them romanticize the experience rather than tell the truth: life abroad is hard. Contrary to popular belief, the world is not just a place for Westerners to eat, pray, or fix up a holiday home. It can also be a place where a person with a Master’s degree doesn’t even know the word for beef.

Below are five books that paint a more accurate portrait of life abroad when you’re really, really living it for the long haul. If you're looking for a Christmas gift, I recommend any of these. And if you order them by clicking on the links included in this blog, you’ll help support Writer Abroad as well.

Me Talk Pretty One Day

By David Sedaris

Ruthless French teachers. Fears of speaking a new language so strong you wish meat were sold in vending machines. Trying to explain a holiday such as Easter in another language (Jesus shaves, anyone?). In these stories and more, Sedaris pretty much sums up the difficulties (and surprising rewards) that come from trying to make a life in another country. C'est bon.

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven

By Susan Jane Gilman

A recent college graduate, Susan Jane Gilman was ready to conquer the world. She had romantic visions of backpacking abroad. But then she went to China, which in the 80s, had been open to tourists for about ten minutes. Between ant infested hotel rooms, broken down vehicles, and Chinese men who don’t know a word of English but can recite John Denver songs by heart, Gilman proves that “real travel” doesn’t get much more real than this.

Tales from the Expat Harem

Edited by Anastasia M. Ashman and Jennifer Eaton Goekmen

Before I traveled to Turkey last year, I read this collection of 32 essays about women who live there. One of my favorite essays was about a Christian evangelist from Iowa who was rescued by the very Turkish souls she hoped to save. Gotta love the theme: An American goes out to save the world and the world saves her instead.

Moonlight in Odessa

By Janet Skeslien Charles

What happens when a woman from the Ukraine becomes so tempted by the American dream that she becomes a mail order bride in order to attain it? This novel, written by an American expat living in Paris, has the answers. See the United States through the eyes of a Ukrainian as the main character, Daria, goes from being wide-eyed over things like garage door openers to finally becoming skeptical of the very materialism she dreamed of obtaining.

Kabul Beauty School

By Deborah Rodriguez

This is the true story of an American woman who goes to Afghanistan to teach women how to open their own beauty parlors. But teaching becomes interwoven with living as her students share their stories with her. From the woman who faked her virginity on her wedding night to the 12-year-old bride who was sold to repay family debts, this is an interesting look into the lives of Afghan women and also the affect they have on the American woman who came to empower them.

What are your favorite books about life or travel abroad?


  1. I love Susan Jane Gilman's writing, so I've read Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, but I haven't read these other books. Thanks for the recommendations!

  2. Yes, all of Susan Jane Gilman's books are entertaining. I would recommend all of them.

  3. There's always Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island or Frances Mayes' Under the Tuscan Sun (film and book have wildly discrepant plots though I've enjoyed both).

    Looking forward to giving Gilman's a glance through and perhaps purchase. Thanks for the post.


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