I’ve always wanted to live abroad, so I love reading memoirs about living abroad. I’ve been living in London for the last five years. Although I love this city, I still dream of living somewhere else. So, for me, reading memoirs about living abroad is fascinating, whether it’s a cute, small town in Europe or a grand, busy city in Asia.
I always believe that if a memoir is written beautifully, it is always more appealing than a novel. So in this list of memoirs about living abroad, I chose various continents and cities with very different stories. I hope you’ll find a book to your liking. Enjoy!
Memoirs About Living Abroad
Driving Over Lemons – Chris Stewart
Over two decades ago we set up Sort of Books to help our friend, the some-time Genesis drummer Chris Stewart, bring his sunlit stories of life on a Spanish mountain farm to print. Ever the optimist, Chris hoped to earn enough money to buy a second-hand tractor for his farm. He got his tractor, as the book spent a year on the Sunday Times Top 10 charts and went on to sell a million and a half copies.
His story is a classic. A dreamer and an itinerant sheep shearer, he moves with his wife Ana to a mountain farm in Las Alpujarras, an oddball region in the south of Spain. Misadventures gleefully unfold as Chris discovers that the owner had no intention of leaving. He meets their neighbours, an engaging mix of farmers, shepherds and New Age travellers, and their daughter Chloe¨ is born, linking them irrevocably to their new life.
The hero of the piece, however, is the farm itself – a patch of mountain studded with olive, almond and lemon groves, sited on the wrong side of a river, with no access road, water supply or electricity. Could life offer much better than that? One set in Spain among memoirs about living abroad.
River Town – Peter Hessler
When Peter Hessler went to China in the late 1990s, he expected to spend a couple of peaceful years teaching English in the town of Fuling on the Yangtze River. But what he experienced – the natural beauty, cultural tension, and complex process of understanding that takes place when one is thrust into a radically different society – surpassed anything he could have imagined. Hessler observes firsthand how major events such as the death of Deng Xiaoping, the return of Hong Kong to the mainland, and the controversial construction of the Three Gorges Dam have affected even the people of a remote town like Fuling. One set in China among memoirs about living abroad.
The Corfu Trilogy – Gerald Durrell
For Gerald, the budding zoologist, Corfu was a natural paradise, teeming with strange birds and beasts that he could collect, watch and care for. But life was not without its problems his family often objected to his animal collecting activities, especially when the beasts wound up in the villa or even worse the fridge.
With hilarious yet endearing portraits of his family and their many unusual hangerson, The Corfu Trilogy also captures the beginnings of the authors lifelong love of animals. Recounted with immense humour and charm, this wonderful account of Corfus natural history reveals a rare, magical childhood. For the passionate zoologist, Corfu was a natural paradise, teeming with strange birds and beasts that he could collect, watch and care for. One set in Greece among memoirs about living abroad.
Married to Bhutan – Linda Leaming
Tucked away in the eastern end of the Himalayas lies Bhutan—a tiny, landlocked country bordering China and India. Impossibly remote and nearly inaccessible, Bhutan is rich in natural beauty, exotic plants and animals, and crazy wisdom. It is a place where people are genuinely content with very few material possessions and the government embraces “Gross National Happiness” instead of Gross National Product.
The Bhutanese way of life can seem daunting to most Westerners, whose lives are consumed with time, efficiency, and acquiring things. But Leaming shows us that we don’t necessarily have to travel around the world to appreciate a little Bhutan in our own lives, and that following our dreams is the way to be truly happy. One set in Bhutan among memoirs about living abroad.
A Year in Kronoberg – Geoff Bunn
In the same style as Peter Mayle’s ‘Year in Provence’, two Brits move to Sweden and set up a new home there.
‘A Year in Kronoberg’ is a tale about snow, ice cream, more snow and long hot summer days. It is also a story about a gate, helpful neighbours, blue skies & grey skies, a drunken moose and an angry squirrel… One set in Sweden among memoirs about living abroad.
A House in Fez – Suzanna Clarke
When Suzanna Clarke and her husband bought a dilapidated house in the Moroccan town of Fez, their friends thought they were mad. Located in a maze of donkey-trod alleyways, the house – a traditional riad – was beautiful but in desperate need of repair. Walls were in danger of collapse, the plumbing non-existent.
While neither Suzanna nor her husband spoke Arabic, and had only a smattering of French, they were determined to restore the building to its original splendour, using only traditional craftsmen and handmade materials. But they soon found that trying to do business in Fez was like being transported back several centuries in time and so began the remarkable experience that veered between frustration, hilarity and moments of pure exhilaration. One set in Morocco among memoirs about living abroad.
A Trip to the Beach – Melinda Blanchard
Trip to the Beach is about the maddening, exhausting and exhilarating challenges Melinda and Robert Blanchard faced while trying to live the simple life after moving to Anguilla to start a restaurant – and the incredible joy when they somehow pulled it off. As their cooking begins to draw 4-star reviews, the Blanchards and their kitchen staff – Clinton and Ozzie, the dancing sous-chefs; Shabby, the master lobster-wrangler; Bug, the dish-washing comedian – come together like a crack drill team.
Anyone who’s ever dreamed of running away to start a new life on a sun-drenched island will find the Blanchards’ seductive, funny tale of pandemonium and bliss unforgettable. One set in the Caribbean among memoirs about living abroad.
Paris to the Moon – Adam Gopnik
In 1995, Adam Gopnik, his wife, and their infant son left the familiar comforts and hassles of New York for the urbane glamour of Paris. Charmed by the beauties of the city, Gopnik set out to experience for himself the spirit and romance that has so captivated American writers throughout the twentieth century. In the grand tradition of Stein and Hemingway, Gopnik planned to walk the paths of the Tuilleries, to enjoy philosophical discussion in cafes – in short, to lead the fabled life of an American in Paris. Of course, there was also the matter of raising a child and carrying on with everyday, not-so-fabled life. One set in France among memoirs about living abroad.
So Happiness to Meet You – Karin Esterhammer
After job losses and the housing crash, the author and her family leave L.A. to start over in a most unlikely place: a nine-foot-wide back-alley house in one of Ho Chi Minh City’s poorest districts, where neighbors unabashedly stare into windows, generously share their barbecued rat, keep cockroaches for luck, and ultimately help her find joy without Western trappings. One set in Vietnam among memoirs about living abroad.
The Olive Farm – Carol Drinkwater
When Carol Drinkwater and her partner Michel have the opportunity to buy 10 acres of disused olive farm in Provence, the idea seems absurd. After all, they don’t have a lot of money, and they’ve only been together a little while.
THE OLIVE FARM is the story of the highs and lows of purchasing the farm and life in Provence: the local customs and cuisine; the threats of fire and adoption of a menagerie of animals; the potential financial ruin and the thrill of harvesting their own olives – especially when they are discovered to produce the finest extra-virgin olive oil… One set in France among memoirs about living abroad.
The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell
Given the opportunity of a new life in rural Jutland, Helen Russell discovered a startling statistic: Denmark, land of long dark winters, cured herring, Lego and pastries, was the happiest place on earth.
Keen to know their secrets, Helen gave herself a year to uncover the formula for Danish happiness.
From childcare, education, food and interior design to SAD and taxes, The Year of Living Danishly records a funny, poignant journey, showing us what the Danes get right, what they get wrong, and how we might all live a little more Danishly ourselves. One set in Denmark among memoirs about living abroad.
McCarthy’s Bar – Pete Mccarthy
Pete was born in Warrington to an Irish mother and an English father and spent happy summer holidays in Cork. Years later, reflecting on the many places he has visited as a travel broadcaster, Pete admits that he feels more at home in Ireland than anywhere. To find out whether this is due to rose-coloured spectacles or to a deeper tie with the country of his ancestors, Pete sets off on a trip around Ireland and discovers that it has changed in surprising ways.
Firstly obeying the rule ‘never pass a pub with your name on it’, he encounters McCarthy’s bars up and down the land, and meets English hippies, German musicians, married priests and many others. A funny, affectionate look at one of the most popular countries in the world. One set in Ireland among memoirs about living abroad.
The Caliph’s House – Tahir Shah
Look into the eyes of a jinn and you stare into the depths of your own soul…
An interesting one among memoirs about living abroad. Writer and film-maker Tahir Shah – in his 30s, married, with two small children – was beginning to wilt under brash, cramped, enervating British city life. Flying in the face of friends’ advice, he longed to fulfil his dream of finding a place bursting with life, colour, history and romance – somewhere far removed from London – in which to raise a family.
Childhood memories of holidaying with his parents, and of a grandfather he barely knew, led him to Morocco and to ‘Dar Khalifa’, a sprawling and, with the exception of its jinns, long-abandoned residence on the edge of Casablanca’s shanty town that, rumour had it, once belonged to the city’s Caliph.
The Caliph’s House is a story of home-ownership abroad – full of the attendant dramas, anxieties and frustrations – but it is also much more. Woven into the narrative is the author’s own journey of self-discovery, of learning about a grandfather he hardly knew, and of coming to love the magical, multi-faceted, contradictory country that is Morocco among memoirs about living abroad.
Under The Tuscan Sun – Frances Mayes
A popular one among memoirs about living abroad. When Frances Mayes – poet, gourmet cook and travel writer – buys an abandoned villa in Tuscany, she has no idea of the scale of the project she is embarking on.
In this enchanting memoir she takes the reader on a journey to restore a crumbling villa and build a new life in the Italian countryside, navigating hilarious cultural misunderstandings, legal frustrations and the challenges of renovating a house that seems determined to remain a ruin.
Filled with evocative landscapes, delicious recipes and colourful characters, Under the Tuscan Sun is a book to savour. It’s a love letter to Tuscany, good food, and the joys of starting over. One set in Italy among memoirs about living abroad.
Bombs and Bougainvillea – L. E. Decker
If Linda and her family had foreseen the challenges of relocating to Israel and Palestine, they might have hesitated… They have no idea of the horrors in store. No idea that murders will take place on their doorstep. No idea they’ll be so close to a fatal bombing, or that they’ll adopt a dangerous dog. As they enjoy delicious local food and immerse themselves in different cultures, will the unspoilt countryside and friendships help them overcome the difficulties, or will they flee from an area which at times seems to have one wall, but two prisons? One set in Israel among memoirs about living abroad.
Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools – Victoria Twead
If Joe and Vicky had known what relocating to a tiny mountain village in Andalucía would REALLY be like, they might have hesitated… They have no idea of the culture shock in store. No idea they’ll become reluctant chicken farmers and own the most dangerous cockerel in Spain. No idea they’ll help capture a vulture or be rescued by a mule.
Will they stay, or return to the relative sanity of England? One set in Spain among memoirs about living abroad.
A Year in Marrakesh – Peter Mayne
Having learned to appreciate Muslim life while living in Pakistan, Peter Mayne settled down to live in the back streets of Marrakesh in the 1950s. Rather than watch from the shelter of a hotel terrace, he rented rooms, learned the language, made friends, and became embroiled in conspiratorial picnics, hashish-laced dinners and in the enchantments and misunderstandings of the street, with its festivals, love affairs, potions and gossip. By turns used, abused and cherished by his neighbours, Mayne wrote their letters for them and captured the essence of their lives in this affectionate and hilarious account. One set in Morocco among memoirs about living abroad.
Meander – Jeremy Seal
The Meander is a river so famously winding that its name has long since come to signify digression, an approach author Jeremy Seal makes the most of while traveling the length of the river alone by canoe. A natural storyteller, Seal takes readers from the Meander’s source in the uplands of central Turkey to its mouth on the Aegean Sea, with as many historical, cultural, and personal asides as there are bends in the river.
In the course of his travels, Seal meets any number of people eager to share stories with a stranger. This rich mix creates a portrait of extraordinary insight and sweep at a time when Turkey is busy rediscovering her historic significance. An enchanting blend of past and present, at once epic and intimate, Meander is an atmospheric, incident-rich, and free-flowing portrayal of the essential meeting point between East and West. One set in Turkey among memoirs about living abroad.
The Only Gaijin in the Village – Iain Maloney
In 2016 Scottish writer Iain Maloney and his Japanese wife Minori moved to a village in rural Japan. This is the story of his attempt to fit in, be accepted and fulfil his duties as a member of the community, despite being the only foreigner in the village.
Even after more than a decade living in Japan and learning the language, life in the countryside was a culture shock. Due to increasing numbers of young people moving to the cities in search of work, there are fewer rural residents under the retirement age – and they have two things in abundance: time and curiosity. Iain’s attempts at amateur farming, basic gardening and DIY are conducted under the watchful eye of his neighbours and wife. But curtain twitching is the least of his problems.
The threat of potential missile strikes and earthquakes is nothing compared to the venomous snakes, terrifying centipedes and bees the size of small birds that stalk Iain’s garden. One set in Japan among memoirs about living abroad.
A Year in Provence – Peter Mayle
A popular one among memoirs about living abroad. Peter Mayle and his wife did what most of us only imagine doing when they made their long-cherished dream of a life abroad a reality: throwing caution to the wind, they bought a glorious two hundred-year-old farmhouse in the Lubéron Valley and began a new life.
In a year that begins with a marathon lunch and continues with a host of gastronomic delights, they also survive the unexpected and often hilarious curiosities of rural life. From mastering the local accent and enduring invasion by bumbling builders, to discovering the finer points of boules and goat-racing, all the earthy pleasures of Provençal life are conjured up in this enchanting portrait. One set in France among memoirs about living abroad.
Check out my other lists about books!
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- Spring Books – 20 Lovely Novels
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- Novels Set in Bookshops
- Novels Set in Libraries
- Books Set in the English Countryside
- Books Set in Edinburgh
- Books Set in Oxford
- Books Set in Istanbul
- Books Set in Portugal
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- Novels Under 100 Pages
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- Best Books About Books
- Novels About Vincent Van Gogh
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Are there any memoirs about living abroad you’d like to add to this list? Would you please share in the comments section below?