Because I think internationalism is important in a world where Donald Trump is wedded to “America First” (his fourth marriage?), I’ve mentioned various countries in recent blog posts.
For instance, last month I wrote about “Loving Literature from Other Countries.” The month before, I focused on “Authors Who Do and Don’t Set Their Fiction in One Place.”
I’m going internationalist again today with a somewhat different angle: authors who set a novel in a different country from the one in which they live.
The “pros” of that? Writers can look at a culture from an outside perspective, potentially interest readers in that culture, show how people from different nations are similar or different, get themselves and their readers out of their comfort zones, show the ill effects of things like colonialism, etc.
The “cons”? Authors might not know the other country well and thus might depict it inaccurately or superficially, they might consciously or subconsciously depict the nation as inferior to their own, they might make someone from their own country the most important character, etc.
Of course, it helps if authors — whether they end up portraying another country in a positive or negative light — visited that nation, or, better yet, lived there for several months or years.
Some examples of authors who set novels in countries other than their own? Glad you asked! Sir Walter Scott, who usually placed his novels in his native Scotland, put Quentin Durward in France. English author Charlotte Bronte also turned to France for Villette. Another iconic English author, Charles Dickens, set portions of A Tales of Two Cities and Martin Chuzzlewit in France and the U.S., respectively.
U.S. authors Barbara Kingsolver and Harriet Doerr put The Lacuna and Stones for Ibarra, respectively, partly or mostly in Mexico. Kingsolver used what was then called the Belgian Congo as the milieu for the American family in The Poisonwood Bible. American writer Paul Theroux set most of The Mosquito Coast in Honduras.
Mark Twain, one of the most famous U.S. authors of all, turned to England for A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and to France for Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. New Englander Nathaniel Hawthorne used Italy as the backdrop for The Marble Faun after a several-year sojourn in Europe. American writer James Baldwin, who lived in France for a number of years, set Giovanni’s Room in that country.
American author Willa Cather located Shadows on the Rock in Canada, and Canadian author Margaret Atwood set The Handmaid’s Tale in the U.S.
French authors? Stendhal put The Charterhouse of Parma in Italy, Alexandre Dumas set Georges in what is now called Mauritius, and J.M.G. Le Clezio placed much of Desert in Morocco.
North Africa was also the setting for The Sheltering Sky by American writer Paul Bowles.
Erich Maria Remarque, who was forced to flee his native Germany because of the Nazis, placed Arch of Triumph in France and Shadows in Paradise in America.
Australian-born Brit (and later U.S. resident) James Clavell set Shogun in Japan, and Australian author Frank Moorhouse placed Grand Days in Switzerland.
Last but not least, American author James Michener set novels in many non-U.S. places — including the Caribbean, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Spain, and the South Pacific.
What are your favorite novels (either those I mentioned or didn’t mention) set in a different country from where the author lives or lived?
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On April 2, I’ll be writing a blog post about my new book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time: The Book Lover’s Guide to Literary Trivia.
In addition to doing this weekly blog, I also write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column — now with Baristanet.com, which covers Montclair, N.J., and nearby towns. The latest weekly column is here.