Best books about American Expats?
June 17, 2017 6:37 AM   Subscribe

Looking for book suggestions about the American expat experience.

I'm hoping to read more about the experience and how it affects them personally and not just travel books. I'd prefer fiction, contemporary, and not Europe, but I'm open to anything good. Couple of recent examples I enjoyed were Leaving the Atocha Station and Dreams of Joy, which each meet two out of my three criteria. Didn't really get into Bill Bryson. Thanks.
posted by princeoftheair to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Joseph O'Neill's novel "The Dog", set in Dubai, is a quite a fun and occasionally harrowing read.
posted by Umami Dearest at 6:49 AM on June 17

Not fiction, but I enjoy David Lebovitz's blog. He's from California and now lives in Paris, and does a lot of posts on cultural differences, especially relating to American/French food traditions. I think he does a great job pointing out the frustrating and troublesome parts of moving and living abroad, especially since a lot of other writers tend to over-romanticize Paris/France. He has some print books too.

One that meets your 3 criteria is Tonoharu is a multi-part graphic novel about an American guy who comes to a rural Japanese town to each English. It was a bit slow paced for me.

This list may be of interest to you as well.
posted by wintersonata9 at 7:02 AM on June 17

Check out Peter Hessler's books about his time in China: Oracle Bones and River Town.

Overall they're a bit more oriented around discussing Chinese culture and less about his personal feelings, but they're great reads and revealing about what it's like to be an expat, especially in an area without an established expat ecosystem.
posted by duoshao at 7:24 AM on June 17

I love Adam Gopnik's description of family life of New Yorkers living in Paris, in Paris to the Moon.
posted by janey47 at 9:47 AM on June 17 [3 favorites]

Oops, I conveniently overlooked your not-Europe request, sorry. As a consolation prize, have you heard of Shantaram? It's a love it or hate it book, but there may be no telling which camp you fall into until you try it.

For atmosphere, Louise Doughty's latest, Black Water, might scratch your itch.
posted by janey47 at 10:02 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]

Not fiction, but reads a lot like it: The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific was very, very funny and extremely illuminating.
posted by anderjen at 10:17 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]

A Year in Provence, by Peter Mayle, is a bit of a classic of the genre. I read it last year and found it very good.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:56 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]

On Mexican Time by Tony Cohan is kinda hokey, but it fits your request.
posted by Leontine at 1:03 PM on June 17

I'm an American expat not in Europe. Hands down the story that most resonates with me is The Poisonwood Bible... so many books and stories gloss over the difficulties or focus on funny cultural misunderstandings. This is one of the few books that really follow the long-term effects in a serious way and touches on more serious themes and the ways this manifests for different people.

Lighter reading that I enjoyed (but all nonfiction) would be Names for the Sea (living in Iceland, protagonist may be British, can't remember), Hokkaido Highway Blues (hitchhiking the length of Japan). Slightly more serious is Hearing Birds Fly by Louiss Wraugh about living in rural Mongolia near the Kazakh border.

I haven't read them but on my list are the graphic novels by Grace Buchele Mineta, who lives in Japan with her Japanese husband.

I guess I haven't come across this theme real often in fiction, now that I think about it. You might try State of Wonder by Ann Pratchett - I personally hated it and couldn't finish, but lots of other people like it and YMMV?
posted by jrobin276 at 5:36 PM on June 17 [4 favorites]

Maximum City by Suketu Mehta is an excellent book. Mehta returns to Bombay after becoming a New Yorker.
posted by Gotanda at 9:06 PM on June 17

Janice Y.K. Lee has a novel literally entitled The Expatriates (NYT review), about three American expats (all women) in Hong Kong. It meets all your criteria and I personally enjoyed it.
posted by andrewesque at 12:44 PM on June 28

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