Friday, July 22, 2011

Book Review - Expat: Women's True Tales of Life Abroad

I've decided that I'll very occasionally review books that I feel would be of use to women living abroad or traveling long-term, even if the books themselves are not directly related to Taiwan. I do believe this aids my goal of writing not just about Taiwan and women's issues here but female expat issues generally. All unasked-for and unpaid, simply because I feel the books I write about will be useful to female expats in Taiwan and worldwide.

Expat: Women's True Tales of Life Abroad is a collection of short nonfiction by - you guessed it - female expats in a panoply of countries, there for a variety of situations and experiencing life abroad in myriad ways. I do strongly recommend it for any woman about to move abroad or who has already made the move - there isn't a lot of "advice" in this book as there was in my last review (Expat Women: Confessions) but there are a lot of different experiences and perspectives to draw on. It makes for a good coffeeshop read, especially if you are feeling a little lonely or homesick or just want to feel connected to women who have traveled the expat road as you have, because as we all know, it can sometimes be hard to meet female expats in person.

Some stories that resonated with me: Emmeline Chang's Beautiful New World, Leza Lowitz's Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackboard, Angeli Primlani's When The Skinheads Start to Grow Hair, It's Time to Leave Town, Deryn P. Verity's The Long Conversation and Sadie Ackerman's Growing Season. I single these stories out, but really all of them were well-written and interesting, thoughtful and worth reading.

I especially recommend Beautiful New World to any female expats in Taiwan, as it is written from the perspective of an American-born Taiwanese (Emmeline) who returns to Taipei and wrangles with dueling cultural loyalties as she figures out her life here. Growing Season is a good one to read for anyone who has experienced or is experiencing reverse culture shock - captured beautifully in this post on Kath's blog, and When Skinheads Start to Grow Hair... for anyone who is not white, but who is Western, and living abroad (Angeli describes how she was harassed and often mistaken for a gypsy in Prague, despite her being an American of South Asian origin).

All in all a fine book. Not a handbook, but very much a worthwhile read and a book that I feel, in mnay of the stories and in many respects, captures my own feelings about life abroad. It might help another female traveler or expat out there who is feeling down about life rediscover her sense of adventure or get in touch with her own feelings about being abroad, choosing a life of travel, dealing with life as a woman in a country that doesn't necessarily accord women the respect she's accustomed to at home, or who is just plain sick of the cringeworthy, mostly male expat scene that - despite all I say about not buying into stereotypes, is sometimes too packed with stereotypes for its own good.

Which, unrelated but it reminds me. I was joking with a student about those stereotypes and said "you know, people say that when a white guy gets off the plane in Asia he's basically handed a government-issued Asian Girlfriend at the airport.

Student (a Taiwanese man): "WOW! So cool." Me: "Really?" (laughing, because I know he's a good guy and doesn't seriously agree with chauvinist attitudes and it's just joking around). Him: "Yeah! You can imagine it. You get off the plane - 'oh, here is your girlfriend. You don't like her? Here, we give you another one!' I wish I could do like that!"

I think that's a fine place to end my post, so enjoy!

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