Holiday reading for expats: ten great books about living abroad

Book open, looking at sunset - Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The summer season is in full swing, which means two things. First, it’s prime moving time so a number of expats are preparing for the experience of living and working overseas, many for the first time. Second, it’s the time of year when you might equally be taking a break and preparing your holiday reading list. So why not let FIDI suggest a few of our favourite titles?

These are not “how to” books: there are many such guides available, and most are excellent. Instead, we wanted to recommend some entertaining and absorbing tales of normal people trying to make their way in countries where the language, laws and cultures are unfamiliar. Even if you’re not shortly off on expat travels yourself, we hope you’ll enjoy whiling away a few hours on holiday with one of these excellent books...

1 - The Shipping News, Annie Proulx

A Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Shipping News follows Quoyle, a New York newspaper journalist, as he relocates to his ancestral home in Newfoundland, Canada. While this is not the usual tale of culture clash and language barriers, expats will identify with Quoyle as he overcomes personal struggles and finds solace in the quirky community, discovering the power of resilience amid the harsh maritime landscape.

Cover image - The Shipping News, Annie Proulx

2 - Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds: Living the Dream in Rural Ireland, Nick and Lesley Albert


A charming memoir that follows a journey from suburban England to a rustic Irish cottage, where the author and his wife embrace a simpler, humorous, and occasionally challenging life amidst the idyllic Irish countryside, with vivid anecdotes and endearing characters.

Cover Image - Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds
Photo by Zeynep Sümer on Unsplash
Photo by Zeynep Sümer on Unsplash

3 - A Year of Living Danishly, Helen Russel

When her husband was offered an opportunity to work in Denmark, British journalist Russel was intrigued to hear that Danes are consistently ranked among the world's happiest people. During her two-year stay, she decided to explore what they did differently to achieve such levels of contentment. Through witty observations and determined research, she unveils the Danish lifestyle secrets that promote happiness and well-being. If you’re planning an assignment to Denmark, this is a must-read!

Cover Image - A Year of Living Danishly, Helen Russel

4 - Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert

This memoir chronicles the author's transformative journey through Italy, India, and Indonesia. Seeking self-discovery and healing after a difficult divorce, Gilbert's travels take her on a quest for pleasure, spirituality, and love. Through delicious cuisine, deep meditation, and new friendships, she finds renewal and meaning in different cultures.

Cover Image - Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert

5 - Desertion, Abdulrazak Gurnah

This captivating story, which helped to win Gurnah a Nobel Prize for Literature, centres on two brothers growing up in post-colonial Zanzibar: Rashid, a political radical who leaves to study in England and his quieter brother Amin, who stays to take care of the family home. As the novel unfolds, the brothers' stories interweave with those of other characters, revealing the impact of historical events on people’s lives and highlighting the intricate nature of relationships.

Cover Image - Desertion, Abdulrazak Gurnah

6 - The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

Set in the aftermath of World War I, The Sun Also Rises follows a group of expatriates living in Europe. Their lives are marked by disillusionment and aimlessness, reflecting the broader sense of dislocation experienced by a generation grappling with the war's aftermath.

Cover Image - The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
Photo by Jean Willemssens on Unsplash
Photo by Jean Willemssens on Unsplash

7 - A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle

British author Peter Mayle recounts his experiences as he and his wife relocate to the idyllic countryside of Southern France in a vivid and enchanting tale, told against a backdrop of lavender fields and vineyards. Through humorous anecdotes, he navigates cultural differences, renovates an old farmhouse, and discovers the quirks of Provençal life.

Cover Image - A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle

8 - Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts

An Australian fugitive flees to India, where he finds a new life in the bustling city of Mumbai. This novel delves into his experiences navigating the vibrant and chaotic landscape of India, exploring themes of love, friendship, and personal redemption. While most expat experiences of India are unlikely to be this colourful, it is a compelling and evocative tale.

Cover Image - Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts

9 - Lost in Translation, Eva Hoffman

In this poignant memoir, Hoffman recounts her experiences as a Polish immigrant adapting to life in America. She reflects on the challenges of cultural displacement, the loss of her mother tongue, and the complex process of shaping her identity in a new land.

Cover Image - Lost in Translation, Eva Hoffman

10 - A Waiter in Paris, Edward Chisholm

A compelling story about a young Englishman who sets out to reinvent himself as a ‘genuine’ Parisian waiter, A Waiter In Paris stands out in this list for expats because it is about working abroad, rather than just living. it contrasts the superficial romance and glamour of the Parisian restaurant scene with the real-life struggle, cut-throat competition and prejudice that staff have to deal with behind closed doors. Think about that next time you leave a tip. 

Cover Image - A Waiter in Paris, Edward Chisholm


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