Top 10 books about Americans abroad
(From The Guardian. Link to the complete article given below)
My second novel, Feast Days, is narrated by a young American woman whose husband is relocated from New York to São Paulo. “We were Americans abroad,” she says. The novel of Americans far from home has a long history, and is perhaps distinct from its cousin, the novel of Britons overseas. Both get into a fair bit of bother away from native soil, but Americans tend to be viewed as the more innocent – citizens of a country that was once a colony, and which even now can’t quite see itself as an empire. This division is best embodied in the jaded Fowler and bright-eyed Pyle of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. That book’s lesson is clear: you can be innocent and still cause a lot of trouble.
Innocence, in the classic novel of Americans abroad, tends to take the form of a lot of drinking and a lot of watching Spaniards being gored in the ring by bulls. But you don’t need me to tell you to read The Sun Also Rises. The same goes for The Sheltering Sky, The Names, Leaving the Atocha Station, A Sport and a Pastime and Tropic of Cancer.
And there are others, a long list of books written by American white men about American white men doing American white man things in foreign countries. Many of them are great. But in the 21st century, the subject takes in so many other voices, other stories: the experiences of American women; the experiences of Americans born elsewhere, returning to the country of their parents and grandparents or travelling as Americans for the first time; the experiences of LGBT Americans navigating new and uncertain terrain.
These are 10 of my favourite books that both handle and complicate a venerable theme.
1. Questions of Travel by Elizabeth Bishop
Bishop’s finest volume of poetry, which she wrote while she was living in Brazil after winning the Pulitzer prize for her previous collection, gives a portrait of a singular American abroad. There was never a writer better equipped to treat the expatriate experience with the richness, irony, self-deprecation, and dry wit it deserves. “Oh, tourist, / is this how the country is going to answer you / and your immodest demands for a different world?”