Photograph by Jan-Peter Boening/Zenit/laif/Redux
Book of the Month: The Expats, by Chris Pavone
Luxembourg is one of those Western European nations—like Liechtenstein and Andorra—that orbit beyond most Americans’ geographical and cultural ken. What language do they speak? And where is it exactly? So it is refreshing and edifying that Chris Pavone’s new thriller, The Expats, is set in the diminutive grand duchy, tracing the trail of Kate, a former CIA agent turned housewife, and Dexter, her husband who may be a mild-mannered cyber security expert or a grand-scale cyber-thief, after they move to Luxembourg for Dexter’s business.
Purely as travel textbook, the novel is a triumph. Based on his own experiences living in Luxembourg when his wife was transferred there for her work, Pavone eloquently evokes the nation’s sense of old-meets-new-Europe, as in this passage: “Kate stared out her window, over a cliff, down hundreds of feet into the Alzette gorge, across a quarter-mile of modern steel bridge, and old railroad aqueduct, and medieval fortifications and lush green lawns and dense forests and black-roofed houses and towering church spires and rushing river, across to the slope that fell from the Kirchberg Plateau’s glass-and-steel office buildings and, on top of it all, an immense amount of bright blue sky.”
He captures the cobbled streets, convivial cafés, and fresh-from-the-field markets of the capital—and beyond that, the special rites and rhythms of expat life: the mysteries of shopping in unfamiliar department stores, the catty coffee dates before school pick-up time, the embassy soirees, flings with tennis teachers, weekends in Paris, and the oddly unrooted foreign communities where families suddenly appear, interlock, and then just as suddenly vanish.
On these merits alone, the book is exceptional. But in addition to immersing readers in everyday expat life, Pavone concocts a truly riveting, corkscrewing plot of espionage and intrigue that raises questions of trust, loyalty, destiny, and justice. I devoured this book in one sitting, and finished it bedazzled in the ancient boulevards of modern Europe, wanting more.
New Book Roundups
Set in what is now Western Australia, the novel That Deadman Dance, by the award-winning Kim Scott, explores the historical moment of first contact between the Aboriginal Noongar people and the new European settlers. Journalist Caroline Brothers’s novel, Hinterland, tells the story of two orphaned Afghan brothers—14 and 8 years old—who flee the Taliban in their native country and make the perilous journey across Europe to create a better life for themselves in their promised land, London. Vanessa Gebbie’s first novel, The Coward’s Tale, weaves together the voices of several characters in a small Welsh town that is still haunted by a past mining tragedy.
This American Life
Trip of the Tongue: Cross-Country Travels in Search of America’s Languages is Elizabeth Little’s account of her two-year on-the-road research into linguistic communities, from the Gullah speakers of South Carolina to Basque speakers in Nevada. In Empire of Shadows, George Black tells the epic story of the creation of Yellowstone National Park through the colorful individuals who were instrumental in the park’s creation. Mourning her mother’s death and her own divorce, 26-year-old Cheryl Strayed hikes the Pacific Crest Trail solo and recounts her adventures in Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Howard Frank Mosher sets off in a 20-year-old Chevy on a cross-country road trip/book tour to visit some 150 independent bookstores in The Great Northern Express: A Writer’s Journey Home.
One Last Thing
A Tale of Two Cities
Two cities have long held a special allure for me: Paris and New York. For decades, I figured I would find a way to live in both. These dreams haven’t materialized, but I have been able to savor a soupcon of them vicariously through Amy Thomas’s new memoir, Paris, My Sweet. When a job at Louis Vuitton unexpectedly falls into her lap, Thomas leaves New York to settle in Paris. The ensuing two years of adventures—some sweet and some bittersweet—are layered with memories of New York life in this delicious account. A savvy sweetaholic, Thomas ices this literary gateau with a list of more than 100 bite-worthy bakeries in her two adopted homes.
Don George has won numerous awards for his work as a travel writer and editor. He is the author of Travel Writing and the editor of eight literary travel anthologies, including Lights, Camera…Travel!, A Moveable Feast, and The Kindness of Strangers. E-mail Don at firstname.lastname@example.org.