Here’s two modern classics and two contemporary books from people who found temporary homes in Europe. Each book gives a flavour of the local language, illuminates the culture and history, and lets you imagine how it would be if you started over in a new land…
George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London
This was one of my favourite books as a teenager – the section set in London was less interesting to me, but the first half of the book brings the energy and squalor of 1920s Paris to life.
Christopher Isherwood, Goodbye to Berlin
Isherwood lived in Berlin from 1930 to 1933, just before Hitler was appointed Chancellor and demolished the Weimar Republic. This 1939 book, similar to Down and Out, reveals a lot of poverty of the era.
Sarah Turnbull, Almost French
An Australian journalist details her long struggle to feel at home in Paris with her French husband. They have moved to Australia since this book came out back in 2002 – I guess Paris is one thing but beaches are another!
Anthony Doerr, Four Seasons in Rome
US novelist Doerr had the surprise opportunity, back in 2004, to spend one year in Rome. The American Academy of Arts and Letters would pay him to work on his writing while supporting his family. The catch is, his family includes 6 month old twins. I loved Doerr’s WWII novel All the Light We Cannot See (2014), and it was during this stay that he started work on the book. Of this list, Four Seasons in Rome is most like an envy-inducing travel guide (twin-care excluded). The sprinkling of Italian phrases, the description of food and light and traffic and history, is the stuff of day dreams.