Books describing men of no nation
December 2, 2007 8:16 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for books, fiction or nonfiction, where the main character claims no country as his/her own

I've never lived in a country long enough to feel like "this is my country, this is where I belong". When I was a kid, we moved around a lot. I lived in various Asian countries before moving to the US when I was 11. Even though I'm a citizen now, I don't feel like the US is my country or homeland. I don't feel that way about my birth country either. I've always felt like an outsider, and as a result, I have a hard time identifying with patriotic people or understanding what it's all all about.

Are there books, fiction or nonfiction, about this phenomenon? Is there a term for it, besides stateless?
posted by reenum to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The term Cosmopolite (Literally "Citizen of the Universe" or "World Citizen") is probably what you're looking for.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 8:36 PM on December 2, 2007

This is probably a pretty weak suggestion, but I'll throw it out there anyway: if you're willing to consider lack of identification with a 'people' rather than a 'country', then Ayla, the protagonist of Jean M Auel's Earth Children series, may fit the bill. Not so much in the first book, but in the later ones, she identifies herself several times as "Ayla of No People", and her lack of a 'home' and the resulting gaps in her self-identity are fairly important issues in the series.
posted by narrativium at 8:58 PM on December 2, 2007

Much of Pico Ayer's work deals with this. Video Night in Kathmandu is the only title I can think of off the top of my head, but there is more on Amazon.
posted by calistasm at 9:16 PM on December 2, 2007

What about The Stranger by Albert Camus?
posted by daviss at 9:17 PM on December 2, 2007

Best answer: I love you. I feel EXACTLY like this.

Look up material on Third-Culture Kids; they may help.
posted by divabat at 9:25 PM on December 2, 2007

I know how you feel as well.

The two books I've read by Ursula K LeGuin are The Left Hand of Darkness, and The Disposessed. They're categorized as sci-fi (whatever that means), but they have a strong anthropological (or xenological) aspect to them, and involve a lone wanderer trying to understand his surrounding world. The books can be the tiniest bit simplistic at times, but LeGuin is still immensely smart and thoughtful, and the mode she evokes is really pitch-perfect. There's a lot of desolate loneliness, detachment from culture, and general estrangement involved.
posted by suedehead at 10:48 PM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

mode mood
posted by suedehead at 10:48 PM on December 2, 2007

One of the works of fiction that shaped the development of US nationalist sentiment was Edward Everett Hale's 1863 short story "The Man Without A Country". Precisely what you are not looking for, but still.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:55 PM on December 2, 2007

Your question immediately made me think of Edward E. Hale's 1863 short story, "The Man Without a Country," which I think read sometime in junior high. Seems like the kind of patriotic propaganda that schoolchildren all over America are fed. You can download a Project Gutenberg copy... it's about a fellow who renounces his citizenship. Ultimately it's quite the opposite of what you're looking for, but may be interesting for just that reason. Wikipedia has things to say about it.
posted by mumkin at 10:56 PM on December 2, 2007

BitterOldPunk FTW. I should never neglect that last-minute preview, just in case.
posted by mumkin at 10:58 PM on December 2, 2007

At Wikipedia for "The Man Without a Country" (which I was forced to read in grade school) it is in the category stateless persons.
posted by cda at 11:21 PM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Check out Ralph Ellison's novel Invisible Man.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 1:46 AM on December 3, 2007

Best answer: This is a feeling I have too, though in my case in stems first from some kind of pre-existing sense of alienation, and only secondarily from being a long-term ex-pat.

I've not read any books specifically about this phenomenon, but a couple of titles which touch on it come to mind:

The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll by Álvaro Mutis, is a book comprising a series of seven novellas in which the titular Maqroll, being an itinerant sailor of uncertain nationality, travels the world while repeatedly entangling himself in illegal, hopeless or tragic schemes.

And there's a brief essay in Jean Améry's book At the Mind's Limits entitled How Much Home Does a Person Need? that you may find interesting.
posted by misteraitch at 3:39 AM on December 3, 2007

Best answer: B. Traven's The Death Ship begins with the enforced exclusion of an individual from any country at all through the appalling machinations of bureaucracy, and goes on to deal with the result of enforced statelessness.
posted by hydatius at 4:14 AM on December 3, 2007

Captain Nemo in "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea".
posted by TheophileEscargot at 4:43 AM on December 3, 2007

In the 1920s many stateless refugees were issued a Nansen Passport. Nabokov was one of these and he mentions this in his novel Pnin.
posted by mattbucher at 10:29 AM on December 3, 2007

It's been a long time since I read him, but I have a vague memory that Jerzy Kozinski's novels involved characters who had a similar sense of rootlessness.

I don't think they came out and explicitly articulated this rootlessness, but his characters are kind of nomadic and unrooted.
posted by jayder at 3:20 PM on December 3, 2007

The Elric series of books by Michael Moorcock. Any plot summation will require spoilers, but he definitely fits the bill.
posted by namewithoutwords at 3:51 PM on December 3, 2007

A lot of Graham Greene's books use rootless characters who don't have much allegiance to any one country.
posted by mediareport at 4:19 PM on December 3, 2007

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