Taking my time to amble through the world in search of slow travel adventures

A Stranger in a Strange Land // 15 Fascinating Expat Memoirs

A Stranger in a Strange Land // 15 Fascinating Expat Memoirs

Every time I visit a new place I ask myself “what would it be like to live here?”  It’s not a question I take particularly seriously – I have no need to leave Vancouver (except when I take a look at real estate prices) – but it’s one that makes you look at the little details of place.  How many parks a city has.  What neighbourhoods look the most appealing.  What kinds of jobs there are.  They are details that help you to understand a place so much better than if you’re only looking for the major tourists sights, even if you never act on them.

But some travellers do act and make the leap to move to their dream destinations.  Here are 15 fascinating memoirs from writers who have left their home countries to live as expats – with all the challenges and joys that entails – around the world.


1. At Least You’re in Tuscany by Jennifer Criswell

A funny, unvarnished and honest memoir about an American woman’s life after she moves to Tuscany.  Criswell’s time in Italy is far from the sun-dappled idyll that so many other books chronicle.  And that is what makes it worth reading.  A nice reality check, reminding us that the Good Life takes some work. (more info)

2. The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson

A unique memoir about Wilson’s experiences moving to Cairo as a young single woman and finding both love and religion. (more info)

3. Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard

A refreshingly honest memoir about how frustrating expat life can be when you’re living in a country where you don’t have a job, aren’t fluent in the language, and certainly don’t understand the social cues.  Bard finds her way through it all by cooking and the book is full of delicious recipes (as is the excellent follow-up, Picnic in Provence). (more info)

4. Diplomatic Baggage by Brigid Keenan

For most of us, the dream of expat living is one we can control.  But career diplomats and their spouses get to spend decades as nomads with little to no say over where they end up.  Keenan, a “trailing spouse”, hilariously recounts her adventures all over the world in this excellent memoir (and it’s companion, Packing Up). (more info)

5. The Only Street in Paris by Elaine Sciolino

The former Paris bureau chief for the New York Times, Sciolino shares her Paris through stories of the goings on in the street where she lives.  A wonderful portrait of everyday Paris – the side every tourist wishes they could see and experience. (more info)


6. Only in Naples by Katherine Wilson

The classic expat set-up of a young American woman who goes to Italy and falls in love – but with a difference.  Here, the focus is on Wilson’s vibrant mother-in-law and all she teaches the younger woman about family, love and, of course, food. (more info)

7. Head Over Heel by Chris Harrison

A humorous memoir about an Australian’s experiences adjusting to life in Southern Italy after falling in love with a beautiful Italian. (more info)

8. My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss

I’m stretching the definition of expat here but I love this book too much to leave it off.  Born in Berlin to an American father and Italian mother, Weiss (author of The Wednesday Chef food blog) moved with her father to America after her parents’ divorce.  In this food memoir, she recounts her homesickness for her multiple homes and her move back to Berlin as an adult. (more info)

9. Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle

An insightful and humorous graphic memoir about Delisle’s time as a trailing spouse (his wife works for Medecins Sans Frontières) in Burma. (more info)


10. From Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik

For me, this is the gold standard of expat memoirs.  Gopnik was based in Paris with his family for a number of years, where he worked as a writer for The New Yorker.  He writes beautifully, warmly and with exquisite detail about the pleasures and frustrations of life in the city of light. (more info)

11. When in French by Lauren Collins

After falling in love with a Frenchman in London, Collins moved with him to Geneva, Switzerland – despite not speaking any French.  Her book recounts her struggles to learn French in an effort both to understand her husband and the Francophone city she lives in. (more info)

12. Where the Peacocks Sing by Alison Singh Gee

A Chinese-American journalist, Gee was working in Hong Kong when she fell in love with a fellow journalist – whose family just happened to have a crumbling castle back home in India.  A fascinating look at how families both hinder and help cross-cultural relationships. (more info)


13. Oleander, Jacaranda by Penelope Lively

A memoir of Lively’s childhood growing up in the British expat community in Egypt in the 1930s and 1940s.  Always interesting to get a glimpse of a long-gone world – one you couldn’t visit now even if you wished to. (more info)

14. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

What child read this book and didn’t want to be young Gerry?  What adult for that matter?  In the 1930s, the Durrells left dreary England for sunny, warm Corfu and remained there in bliss for several years.  It is both the most wonderful and most frustrating book to read in the middle of winter – save it for summer unless you can afford a plane ticket. (more info)

15. Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

How could I leave Bill Bryson off any travel book list?  Before moving back to America from England in the 1990s, Bryson took a farewell tour of his adopted homeland and came out with a typically Bryson-ian list of bizarre and amazing facts. (more info)