Friday, January 8, 2010

American Expatriate Memoirs

The evening book group members are reading memoirs by American expatriates for this month's meeting (January 12 at 7:30 p.m.). There have been several waves of Americans who left the U.S. for political or artistic reasons, from British sympathizers after the Revolution to men drafted for the Vietnam War; read an excellent overview here.

I read Off the King's Road: Lost and Found in London, which is Phyllis Raphael's memoir about rediscovering herself in London in the early 70s after her husband of 12 years, a Hollywood producer, leaves her for a teenaged actress just weeks after they arrive in London to shoot a film. Raphael is on the writing faculty at Columbia University now, but at the time she was a theater actress/mother of three who spent a lot of time with her counterculture artist friends in London (her Spanish servants are always willing to babysit). Being in a different country gave her freedom; she couldn't imagine going back to L.A. or New York "without a husband," but in London she felt free to try out anything: acid, counter-psychoanalysis psychoanalysts, and any man she liked.

Here are some questions for the book group; be ready to discuss your choice.

Why did the author you chose leave the U.S.? Was it by choice, by force or by accident?

Why did the author decide to tell their story in a memoir?

How does the foreign country or city the author settles in change his or her life?

Does being "the American" change the author's sense of identity in any way? How?

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