Authors of One Country Who Set Their Novels in Another Country

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?

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.

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.

Loving Literature From Other Countries

With Trump spouting his “America First” nonsense, I’ve thought about how much I love numerous fictional works written by authors from countries other than the United States.

Many of those books — in addition to being compelling and entertaining — open our minds, teach us about the differences between various cultures, and also teach us how people everywhere share similarities: love of family, the desire to be happy, dealing with life’s difficulties, etc.

So, while I usually avoid lists, I’m going to list some (but by no means all) of my favorite novels and short stories by writers from non-American countries. (Novels in italics, stories in quotes.) Then I’ll ask for some of your favorites. The countries are listed alphabetically, and the writers listed next to them were either born there and/or spent much of their lives there and/or are often associated with that nation.

Argentina: “The Aleph” by Jorge Luis Borges.

Australia: Shogun (James Clavell). On the Beach (Nevil Shute). Grand Days (Frank Moorhouse).

Canada: The Robber Bride, Alias Grace, and The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood). Anne of Green Gables, The Blue Castle, and the Emily trilogy (L.M. Montgomery).

Chile: The House of the Spirits (Isabel Allende).

Colombia: One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez).

England: Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë). Daniel Deronda, Middlemarch, Silas Marner, and The Mill on the Floss (George Eliot). Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen). The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, Great Expectations, and David Copperfield (Charles Dickens). The Woman in White (Wilkie Collins). The Last Man (Mary Shelley). Possession (A.S. Byatt). White Teeth (Zadie Smith). The Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling). The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien). (What can I say — I majored in English.  🙂 )

France: Germinal and The Drinking Den (Emile Zola), Old Goriot and Eugene Grandet (Honoré de Balzac). The Vagabond and Claudine at School (Colette). The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas). The Plague (Albert Camus). Candide (Voltaire). (What can I say — my wife is a French professor.  🙂 )

Germany: The Night in Lisbon, Arch of Triumph, All Quiet on the Western Front, and A Time to Love and a Time to Die (Erich Maria Remarque).

India: The God of Small Things (Arundhati Roy).

Ireland: “The Dead” (James Joyce). “The Canterville Ghost” (Oscar Wilde). Gulliver’s Travels (Jonathan Swift). Dracula (Bram Stoker).

Italy: History (Elsa Morante). The Leopard (Giuseppe di Lampedusa). The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco).

New Zealand: The Luminaries (Eleanor Catton). Yellow Flowers in the Antipodean Room (Janet Frame).

Nigeria: The Interpreters (Wole Soyinka).

Russia: Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoyevsky). The Kreutzer Sonata (Leo Tolstoy). (Heck, Trump adores Russia’s authoritarian leader — wonder if the U.S. prez ever read any lit from that country? Probably not…)

Scotland: The Heart of Midlothian and Old Mortality (Sir Walter Scott). Weir of Hermiston (Robert Louis Stevenson).

Spain: Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes).

Sweden: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and the other two Millennium Trilogy books (Stieg Larsson).

What are some of your favorite fictional works from other countries? (You can of course also name nations I didn’t list.) And if you’re a commenter from outside the U.S., please feel free to include favorite works by American authors among your mentions.

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.

My new book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time: The Book Lover’s Guide to Literary Trivia will be published soon.

But I’m still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

Authors Who Lived in More Than One Country

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 dastor@earthlink.net 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.