Expat Life

7 Books about Expat Life Worth Reading

The other week I did one of those Facebook challenges where you nominate some of your favorite books and then pass on the challenge to friends. As Facebook posts are fleeting, I thought I’d add a few more books and turn it into a blog post. Here’s some of my favorite fiction and non-fiction books about expat life. The also do great for book clubs.

1. The Poisonwood Bible- Barbara Kingsolver

It’s been a while since I read this novel, but The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver took me right back to Africa. In the novel, she describes the life of a missionary family that moves to Congo in 1959. Let’s say the family had no idea what they were getting themselves into. The book is dark and mysterious and plays with perspectives. Let’s say many hardship postings these days do not even come close to this story.

2. Old Filth- Jane Gardam

Old Filth, (short for Failed In London, Tried Hong Kong), made an impression on me because of the understated, beautiful writing about a British man who was born in Malaysia at the end of the British Empire day. Sent to boarding school in the United Kingdom at a young age, he moves to Hong Kong later in life to work as a lawyer. If you liked this one, you’re in luck. It is the first part of a trilogy, part 2 and 3 of the trilogy about the lives of his wife and his arch nemesis.

3. Me Talk Pretty One Day- David Sedaris

Me Talk Pretty One Day is a hilarious account by an American author about his family (first part) and especially about his adventures moving to France with his husband (second part of the book). I vividly remember his attempts about talking in French about Easter to his evil teacher and friendly foreign classmates.

4. Land Below The Wind- Agnes Newton Keith

For someone living in the Brunei expat community, Agnes Newton Keith’s 70 year old book Land Below the Wind is surprisingly accurate about life on Borneo in a small community. She describes her life in Sandakan, North Borneo in the 1930ies. She also documents her adventures in the jungle when she travels with her husband and local tribes men for weeks. That part is definitely more adventurous than a stay in the Mulu Marriott.

5. Oracle Bones- Peter Hessler

Ah yes, the books by Peter Hessler, how I loved reading them in China. His best known book is River Town, where he describes his life as an English teacher in a small town on the Yangtze river. I’ve chosen Oracle Bones though, as he lives in Beijing then, tries to get a Chinese driver’s license and later buys a holiday home near the Great Wall.

6. Fear and Trembling- Amelie Nothomb

This little book is the hilarious and jaw dropping account of a Belgian girl who moves to Japan to work for a Japanese firm. The cultural differences at work, especially as a woman, lead to odd encounters.

7. The White Masai- Corinne Hoffmann

This autobiography is not the best written or most engaging, but it makes the list because it is such an unusual story. A German lady spots a Masai man on a holiday and ends up marrying him and living in a hut in Kenya. There’s a movie made about it as well.

Bonus Book: If you have kids: The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler is lovely. I love it as much as my little globe trotters do. About dreaming big, travelling the world, friendship and helping and inspiring others.

Side note: If you like non-fiction travel stories, I can also recommend the books by Paul Theroux and Robert D. Kaplan. They have written books about various regions in the world. I love how they write about their slow travels, connecting personal stories of people they meet with historical and political events in that region.




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2 Comments. Leave new

  • Miss Footloose
    November 2, 2019 6:23 pm

    Hoi hoi Margot, thanks for the list! I’m always looking for new books to read about expat life as I’ve been an expat since leaving Holland ages ago. I’ve lived in 8 countries, and love the international life. I’ve never been to India, however, and found the book Holy Cow by Australian Sarah Macdonald fascinating and entertaining. Another one that is a favorite is Rules of the Wild, by Francesca Marciano, set in Kenya where my American Peace Corps husband and I were married. I’m a writer and on my blog I write light-hearted tales about my (mis)adventures in foreign countries. (No help or useful advice, but hopefully entertaining.) Groeten uit Frankrijk.

    • HI! Thanks for the tips! I will check these books out- and your blog too! I also haven’t been to India either yet, though I really enjoyed Shantaram (though hoping I wont get into his type of adventures).


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