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Part of the joy of books like ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ is learning about another country, another culture. Not as a tourist, who sees only a snapshot, but as a resident. You get a peek at life year round, and an insight into how people conduct both their business and their leisure. Told well, these tales can let you drift into another style of life, if only for a few hours. I hope you enjoy them.
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When you are fed up with being a drummer in a band (Genesis, to be precise), you could do worse than sell up and move to Spain (Andalucia, to be even more precise). Buying a house in a state of disrepair is obviously going to entail some construction work, but that’s all part of the charm isn’t it?
Navigating his way round local tradesmen, Chris Stewart is permanently optimistic which could get a bit wearing, but is tempered by the down to earth realism of his wife Ada.
This follows the fairly predictable pattern of settling down, finding things difficult but eventually forming friendships and finding you fit it after all, but it is well written and is a lovely insight into life in Andalucia.
Image Source: Goodreads
My first book like ‘Under The Tuscan Sun’ is subtitled “Mayfair to Mallorca in one easy move”. Anna’s sister hires an au pair, who convinces Anna that there is so much more to this island than 18-30 holidays and drunk Brits abroad. During a visit to see this side of the island for herself, Anna makes an impulse buy… a dilapidated farmhouse (well, we’ve all done it!).
Thus begins a somewhat fraught existence of commuting between London and her PR job, to Mallorca, where she learns to appreciate and savour the somewhat slower pace of life.
This is both a lovely evocation of Mallorca at its best, and a rather tongue in cheek look at the glamorous life of central London. Well written with some very funny passages, this is a good place to begin life outside the U.K.
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I like Tony Hawkes as a comedian so I was relieved to find his writing lives up to his radio persona.
Tony Hawkes wants to master playing the piano, and on a whim (it’s always on a whim – does no-one think things through?) he buys a little house in the Pyrenees and settles back, dreaming of the creative inspiration it will bring him as he writes, and develops as a pianist.
Obviously, it doesn’t quite pan out like that. For a start, moving the piano turns out to be more troublesome than he supposed, and trying to build your own swimming pool is never going to be easy. But he does eventually start to find his feet among his new neighbours.
Stories of British ex-pats moving overseas to find themselves a new life (or find themselves and find a new life) are quite common, due in no small part to the success of Peter Mayle’s ‘Provence’ series.
These books similar to ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ are the same sort of thing but rather than Europe, where we have a basic understanding and affection for the customs, they are set in Africa, so the gap between cultures is even wider.
Moving out of Europe, how about trying to rebuild a dilapidated house in Morocco? Especially if you don’t speak Arabic, barely speak French but are determined to use local craftsmen and traditional materials to restore the house to it’s full glory.
That was the task that Brisbane journalist Suzanna Clarke and her husband set themselves. But as with most of these books, this is about more than how to restore your house. It is about Moroccan culture, customs, beliefs, and how they welcome a stranger into their midst.
Clarke has written an entertaining novel, although part of me does think that if you can’t cope with the frustrations of life in another country, maybe you shouldn’t buy a place there, but despite this it’s a decent read.
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Penhaligon grew up near Lake Victoria in the 1950s. His father died young as a result of injuries from World War 2 and James is brought up speaking Swahili before English.
Growing up isn’t easy though, as the values of his European (and white South African) parents and the white community generally clash with those of the local African community with whom he spends so much of his time.
It’s a well-written book with lots of humour but also its fair share of tragedy. If you want to learn about life in another country, this is a great choice. The political side of things isn’t really covered – Penhaligon was a child so the politics meant little to him, but for an insight into day to day life it’s brilliant.
I’m never sure when I finish books like ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ whether I too want to up sticks and rebuild a villa in some sunny clime, or whether I just want to be grateful for my own four sturdy walls and stay exactly where I am. The joy of reading is that to a degree, I can do both (without the frustration or expense!).
Did you enjoy the books I’ve recommended, and if not, which ones would you recommend instead?
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