Living in Spain, warts and all

Posts tagged ‘expat’

‘Sunshine Soup’ by Jo Parfitt

Jo Parfitt is mistress of the pen and of the word. With 27 non-fiction books to her name, including cookbooks, guides for career management, coaching for creative writers, even computer handbooks, she has inspired many budding authors by “sharing what I know to help others grow” and with her ‘brainwave to bookshelf’ tutorials.

Sunshine Soup is her first novel. It is, by her own admission, the book that has scared her the most to write. God! There’s no hope for the rest of us mere mortals, then!

The book is most definitely an expat book, though the narrative flows around fictional characters rather than the more usual memoirs. So rumour has it, anyway – it is very hard not to suspect that there is a large piece of Jo in Maya, the main character, with her in-depth knowledge of Dubai, her abiding love of her therapeutic kitchen and her propensity to encourage people around her to flourish.

I started the book knowing nothing of Dubai. The visuals drummed up by Jo’s compelling descriptions brought it to life for me, and give a very solid background setting for the very real characters that are splashed across the canvas.

The issues of being an expat wife, trailing spouse, or whatever label is currently fashionable, are very clearly stated. With Maya, it is the wrench of leaving behind a business partnership into which she had poured energy and devotion, and the subsequent realisation that she will not be allowed to work in her new life. The coming to terms with the lack of direction, even in her own home, where she feels guilty about the undertaking of any task to which the housemaid lays prior claim. The loneliness of being a freshly arrived alien, whose kids go off to school to sink or swim without her assistance.

With Barb, it is the self-created trap of the furious filling to the brim of  her time, just to avoid her own company and empty moments that would give room for reflection on sad events and on her fulfilling partner-role. Her heavy-handed involvement in and organisation of just about all things available for input makes her the dependable one, the one who is always there, always strong – quite a formidable character, but everyone has secrets, and their own Achilles heel, and she is no exception.

With other characters, Jo delivers further insights into the various and myriad difficulties that come hand-in-hand with the life of the expat wife.

There were  two aspects of the book that I especially liked. The first is its ability to encompass the viewpoint of the working spouse, too – Maya’s husband, Rich, as the shaker and mover in the expatriation, also has a tale to tell of his own problems in his new environment.

The second is the glimpse we are allowed into a couple of Arab relationships, as their unfolding stories intertwine with the expat narratives.

All in all, a colourful, honest, and sensitive while informative book that I enjoyed thoroughly.

Oh,  and by the way – as a bonus, Jo generously shares with us the mouth-watering recipes served up through the narrative. Love it!


‘Expat Life Slice by Slice’ by Apple Gidley

Apple Gidley has written a book that made my jaw drop.

I thought that our move to Spain, the cultural differences we encountered, the struggles we’ve had with legal issues, the problems of living lives as part-time partners – well, I thought them momentous, and I have probably been more than a little self-congratulatory in our ability to come through it all.

Apple puts me to such shame that I might never be able to write again!

Born in 1958, the same year as myself, to an english father and an australian mother, her expat wanderings began at the tender age of one month. Pretty good, huh, for someone who couldn’t even crawl yet? (Well, I assume not, but I could be persuaded otherwise, having read of all her other amazing achievements).

Apple has gone on to move 26 times  and has lived in 12 different countries (from Africa to Australasia and Melanesia, Europe to the Caribbean and America). She talks from a wealth of experience about being an expat child, an expat wife, an expat mother and now an expat grandmother.

The depth of subjects covered has left me astounded, awed, maybe jealous and certainly full of admiration. Apple speaks of the joy and heartache of loving and leaving (or losing) pets, including her pet monkey, Munnings. Of the problems faced by a nomadic child who must constantly make new friends in different places, different manners, with different religions, different languages. Of finding a constant in her boarding school but then encountering difficulties in going home to ever-changing locations for school holidays. Of living a single life, even within a partnership, and then frequently being a single mother. Of the need to maintain familial relationships, to fulfil familial obligations, deal with familial problems, over great distances. Of change, change and more change.

Apple’s book is written with deep insight and some immensely evocative descriptions, but still remains light enough to feel that it is not an instructional piece, which in reality it is, very much. My interest was retained excellently by clever movements back and forward through time as each slice of wisdom demanded, and the whole picture became filled like a colour-by-numbers scene, with all hues, painted individually, finally melding together to make one gloriously colourful masterpiece.

Highly recommended.

Apple, I salute you!



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