I recently finished Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, and, after musing about how clever that novel is, I read a Wikipedia biography of the author.
It turned out that Nabokov wrote his first nine novels in Russian before switching to English — after which he authored his two most famous books: the controversial Lolita and the aforementioned Pale Fire, which consists of a poem followed by an extended, often-hilarious analysis that’s less about the poem than about the weird analyzer (who may or may not be a king who escaped to the U.S.).
Nabokov’s life got me thinking about other authors who lived in more than one country, and what effect that had on their work. Obviously, writers with multinational backgrounds might be compassionate or bitter about leaving one’s place of origin, more cosmopolitan, more knowledgeable about the world, more attuned to the pros and cons of various countries and political systems, more aware that human emotions anywhere tend to be alike rather than different, and so on.
The brilliant Nabokov was born in Russia and then lived in Germany before emigrating to America. Ending up in the U.S. is the template for many authors, and I’ll mention some of them first. But there are also a number of U.S.-born writers who went abroad, as well as serial-country authors who never lived in the fifty states. I’ll discuss some of those authors second and third. Meanwhile, I’ll mention here that Nabokov later left the U.S. for Switzerland.
German novelist Erich Maria Remarque also ended up in Switzerland, but lived a number of years in America after getting on the hate list of the vile Nazi regime. His last novel — Shadows in Paradise — is set in the U.S., but doesn’t measure up to his masterpieces such as the antiwar All Quiet on the Western Front, Arch of Triumph, and The Night in Lisbon.
There’s also Khaled Hosseini, whose riveting novel The Kite Runner was obviously inspired in part by his move from Afghanistan to America (with an in-between stay in France). English writer Aldous Huxley of Brave New World fame spent much of his life living in “The New World” (California, to be exact). Nigerian author Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart) resided a number of years in the U.S., too.
American-born authors living overseas for long periods? Two prime examples are Henry James (England) and Edith Wharton (France). Then there’s James Fenimore Cooper (in Europe from 1826 to 1833) and Nathaniel Hawthorne (in Europe from 1853 to 1860, when he strayed from his fiction’s usual New England settings to place The Marble Faun in Italy). Also, authors Richard Wright and James Baldwin went to France, partly to escape America’s virulent racism. Willa Cather lived in the U.S., but spent many summers at the only house she ever owned — in Canada (the setting of her little known but superb historical novel Shadows on the Rock). Another American author, Mary McCarthy, spent a lot of time in a second home in Paris.
Multinational authors with little or no time in the U.S. include, among others, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Colombia, Venezuela, Spain, Mexico); Fanny Burney (England, France, England); Polish writer Joseph Conrad (who ended up in England); Kazuo Ishiguro (whose family moved from Japan to England when he was five); Russian writer Ivan Turgenev (who spent significant time in Germany and France); and Emile Zola (who left France for England to avoid jail after his brave role in debunking the anti-Semitic framing of Capt. Alfred Dreyfus).
Who are some of your favorite authors with lives lived in two or more countries? Why is this an advantage to a writer? Any disadvantages? (The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else’s comment.)
A note: After today, I will not post a new piece for perhaps three weeks or so for the usual summer reasons, but will pick up the pace starting in mid-August!
For three years of my Huffington Post literature blog, click here.
I’ve also written more than 50% of a literature-related book. But I’m still selling my part-funny Comic (and Column) Confessional memoir that recalls 25 years of covering/meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, and various authors. The memoir also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in New York City and Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. I can be contacted at email@example.com to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which has a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson, among others.