Book Review: “Tropical Affairs” by Robert Raymer

March 22nd 2011

Narrative essays collected into a book are a little like the predecessor to modern blogging. Robert Raymer’s “Tropical Affairs”, a collection of previously published non-fiction narratives about his life and times in Malaysia, almost reads like one (in a good way). Through his years of essays we learn a little about Robert’s life as an American living in Malaysia for more than 20 years, sympathise with his struggles, and cheer in his successes.

tropical-affairs

Tropical Affairs collects essays from Robert’s own life through relationships, work, children, and hobbies and after 20+ years in his adopted country, it’s clear that Robert loves Malaysia and the people who call it home. The book is organized into a series of themed sections with a little something for everyone to relate to. Personally, I found the expatriate, writing, and “being myself” sections the most interesting, but parents and even movie fans will find entertaining and thoughtful morsels as well. Humor and candor play equal parts in Robert’s writing, reflecting the complex and multicultural experience of living abroad.

However, although the essays are interesting, often entertaining, and sometimes even inspiring, I was left wanting a stronger central narrative to carry the book as a whole. I had hoped to learn a little about Malaysia through Robert’s experiences, but without any prior knowledge of the region, the essays didn’t lay the groundwork for me to fully understand his encounters. In addition, I found the way the essays “time traveled” back and forth through is life to be a bit jarring; especially when there were two essays written about the same exact event but not placed side-by-side.

Ultimately I found “Tropical Affairs” to be best read by simply flipping the book open and selecting a story at random. Each on its own is sweet and filled with experiences that anyone can relate to. And I like the slightly provocative title which encourages you to have a short, fun affair with each story, but maybe not a long term relationship.

Robert Raymer is also the author of (the equally provocative) Lovers and Strangers Revisited, a short story collection about Malaysia. He writes for several publications and also blogs and maintains a website at borneoexpatwriter.com.

Comment from the author, Robert Raymer:

Thanks Amanda for the review! Yes, now that I’m blogging (http://borneoexpatwriter.blogspot.com/), the non-fiction narrative style of my blog posts is the same, though I tend to treat each blog as creative non-fiction or as an article, whereby I rewrite them several times before I post, and even revise them later. Old habits die hard – time consuming but improves the quality.

For more about Malaysia, my latest book is Spirit of Malaysia (Editions Didier Millet, 2011), with 160 photographs. Here’s the first review with a link to some of photos: http://borneoexpatwriter.blogspot.com/2011/03/you-are-here-home-book-reviews-book.html

Also Lovers and Strangers Revisited, my award-winning collection of 17 short stories set in Malaysia, taught in several universities, is getting a translated into French. http://borneoexpatwriter.blogspot.com/2011/02/lovers-and-strangers-revisited-is-being.html

Written by Amanda Potter


Categories: Library

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Book Review: “The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition”

March 15th 2011

A must read for all expats and their kids who see the World as their only home. This is one of the latest additions to our reference library. With thanks to Nel Vandekerckhove for writing this book review.

Book Review: “The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition” by Tina L. Quick

In general, guidebooks are not my favorites to review. While often written with the best intentions, to me these books have a tendency to overdo the how-to’s and must-do’s. Often after reading, little advice sticks. In view of the topic of this book, global nomads on their way to university, I was glad to make an exception. Transition of expat kids from high school to university – whether back in their ‘passport country’ or elsewhere once again – is a rockier path than generally presented, and therefore can use some extra attention.

university-transition

The expat youngsters, or Third Culture Kids (TCKs) as they are addressed in this book, experience a double rite of passage when entering university. Not only are they moving from high school to university – leaving their family behind for a longer period of time, they do this in a country that is being referred to by their parents as ‘their home country’. College years might indeed be “the best years of your life”, but people tend to forget that the double shift from high school to university, and the process of repatriation/migration remains a challenge, even for Third Culture Kids who have lived in multiple countries before they reach the age of eighteen.

Tina Quick does an excellent job in addressing this matter and the possible hiccups for TCKs when they decide to repatriate or expatriate to attend university. The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition is a very lucid, well-written work that offers a detailed overview of the different stages of the ‘transition cycle’ of youngsters and their parents from the moment the TCKid decides to leaves and settle in the ‘home country’. In chapter one, the author addresses the Third Culture kid phenomenon and the issue of belonging TCKs might feel when relating to their peers who have not lived abroad. In chapters 2 to 6, each stage of the transition cycle is discussed in detail. Catchy titles such as ‘Itchy feet to dragging feet’ or ‘Fish out of Water’ grab the readers’ attention and straight away make them reflect on these issues. The second part of the book (chapter 7 till chapter 10) is set up as a practical guide on how to cope with mental and physical distress related to this transition process. For instance, how can the TCKs set boundaries with regard to drugs and alcohol, take care of their health and deal with the campus life abroad? In the last chapter (chapter 11), Quick addresses the parents to help them understand the struggle of their TCK offspring and the ways they can provide help and support. Being a mother of three college-aged TCK daughters, the author knows from first hand experience that often TCK parents are only too grateful for some tips and advice on this transition process.

One of the major strengths of this book, are the frequent use of real-life examples. The testimonial of Marie, an American/British TCK who lived most of her childhood in Switzerland, helps bring the matter alive and leads you to make comparisons with your own expat experiences. In that regard, the book is not just appropriate for TCKs and their parents at the eve of making the university transition. It is also insightful for everyone who lives or is thinking about living abroad to frame their own experiences or those of their (future) TCKids. A must read for sure!

Nel Vandekerckhove is a Belgian expat, who moved to Amsterdam a few years ago. She lecturers at the University of Amsterdam, Department of Political Science. At this international hot spot, she deals with Third Culture Kids on an everyday basis. A next move might turn her into a global nomad herself. In her research, she focuses on identity politics, the issue of belonging and the imagining of home amongst Asian migrants.


Categories: Library

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Latest Contribution: Life in Venezuela

March 8th 2011

We were pleased to receive this account from Graham of life in Venezuela during the 1960’s.

Graham Nicholas first went to work in Venezuela in 1965 with his wife and two young sons and his daughter was born there seven months later.

During the four years Graham and his family lived in Cardon they enjoyed many trips around the country in a variety of second-hand vehicles, including being towed by an American taxi in their broken-down Opel Rekord. In those days, reliable cars were hard to come by.

We are looking forward to receiving photos of Venezuela from Graham in the future.

Graham returned to Venezuela in 1995 as a consultant before finally returning to UK in 1997. Graham is now retired and lives in Surrey, UK.

If you have memories of Venezuela please get in touch, or, if you’re there now then how about sending us your experiences and we’ll see how they compare to Graham’s. Graham’s entire collection is now archived here at the EAC and is available for research.


Categories: Donations

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