The effects of living globally. The importance of international diplomacy. The effect 9/11 has had on expatriate life. These are all themes in Anne Korkeakivi’s debut novel, An Unexpected Guest, which came out in April. Join Writer Abroad for an interview with this Geneva-based American author to find out how living abroad can influence an author.
An Unexpected Guest is set in Paris and revolves around characters that are expats. Many of the book’s themes also revolve around global topics. Can you discuss how living abroad has influenced you as a writer?
In a very general sense, living abroad affects how one sees the world, which in turn affects what one writes. Living abroad can also affect what one reads - even what gets published in the U.K. is different from what gets published in the U.S. - which can be influential. On a specific level, however, I came up with the idea for An Unexpected Guest while living as an expat in France, a few years after 9/11, the winter after the London Underground bombings, and at the height of the Iraq War. The environment for expats in Europe at the time profoundly informed my story.
You’ve currently just completed a 10-day book tour in the U.S. Does living in Geneva, Switzerland, present any challenges to promoting your book?
All I can say is: thank Heavens for the Internet! If only something could be done about time differences now... But Little, Brown has done me the considerable honor of deciding to publish an international edition of the novel too, which means I’ll have the pleasure of giving author events in Europe too. I really enjoy visiting booksellers and book groups, and speaking with readers. I’d love to get invited on a panel at a festival or a workshop.
You’ve published pieces in The Atlantic, the New York Times, Travel & Leisure and more. Can you talk a little about how you’ve built a career as a writer abroad?
I haven’t spent my entire career as a writer abroad – maybe half of it. The mix is not a bad thing. Living abroad can pose important challenges in terms of creating relationships with editors and other writers, but it also can give you interesting things to write about and fresh viewpoints. I try to balance both.
You’ve lived in New York City, France, Finland, and you’re currently living in Switzerland. Have you found any of these locations more or less inspiring as a writer? If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I make a point of never using anyone I know as a model for my fictional characters, partly from respect for others' privacy but also because I would find it restrictive on a creative level. Curiously, I also find it easier to write about places where I am not. For example, although I visited Paris, I began An Unexpected Guest while living in eastern France, wrote a first draft in NYC, and revised it in Switzerland. I don’t feel bound to my immediate surroundings.
Can you discuss a typical writing day for you? Or is there no such thing?
A typical writing day for me, I'm sorry to say, is one with too many interruptions! I do a lot of writing in my head and often come to the keyboard with entire phrases ready – a technique undoubtedly born from necessity.
In An Unexpected Guest, Clare and Edward’s two sons have lived as expats and grown up as dual citizens. Jamie, in particular, has difficulties with his situation. Have you faced similar challenges with raising a family abroad? How do you define a sense of home?
There are places related to my childhood – in western Massachusetts, in New York City – that just catch in my heart. Ultimately, however, home is for me wherever my husband and kids are. Our daughters are really great girls, flexible but grounded; it’s a pleasure to spend time with them. But we aren't diplomats (my husband is a human-rights lawyer), and haven't had to move every three years or so. That is really difficult. I have a lot of respect for those families.
Finally. For those of us who would love to try some of Mathilde’s cooking this spring: Do you have a great asparagus recipe?
Well! Strasbourg, France, where I lived for ten years, is just a few miles from the village of Hoerdt, said to grow the best asparagus in the world. It's something about the quality of the soil. And if you have good white asparagus there is no better way to enjoy it than traditional Alsatian style: Peel the hard exterior from the spears then either steam or boil standing up. Flash with cool water, lightly dry, and serve with vinaigrette blended with cream and/or yoghurt, or a hollandaise sauce. Be sure to sprinkle a bit of parsley or chive on top - it looks pretty!