Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

Major Pettigrew's Last StandMajor Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. It follows all the themes I love – how convention blinds us, how our cultural assumptions make us unconsciously snobbish and leads us to hideous behavior, it is very cultural and also very cross-cultural. Major Pettrigrew is widowed, and his grief has made him old. At the beginning of the book, his life seems very dull and grey. It lightens as his friendship sparks with Mrs. Ali, a widow who runs a small convenience market in his small English village. They both love reading (of course I love that part!) and they talk books, and sparks of warmth kindle.

This book is also very uncomfortable for me, as Roger has a grown son who bullies his father. The book isn’t just cross-cultural, it’s cross-generational, and I see glimpses of myself in the boorish behavior of his son toward his father.

There are some amusing scenes, some wickedly insightful village-interaction scenes, some painfully introspective moments, and some truly grand moments when everything becomes clear and a person acts. For me, there was an added bonus in that as I read Mrs. Ali’s words, I could hear them so clearly, and she spoke in the voice of a dear friend. I could picture her, because I could see the sweet smiling face of a dear friend. It was like having a great visit.

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August 25, 2011 Posted by | Books, Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Fiction, Friends & Friendship, Living Conditions, Marriage, Mating Behavior, Relationships, Values | | Leave a comment

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I don’t know why I didn’t read this book sooner! First, I saw people like me reading it in airports, and it certainly has a memorable title. The people reading looked totally engrossed. I’m not one to strike up conversations in airports, but on occasion, when I see people reading a book I don’t know about and it is the size of the books that book groups usually read, I will ask, and write it down, and bother the person no further.


I had ordered it on when my son’s wife’s father’s wife (and you thought Gulf relationships were complicated!) mentioned to me in an e-mail that she was reading it and that she could barely tear herself away. She and I often pass really good books and/or recommendations back and forth, so that bumped it up a few notches in priority. When it got here, I had just finished Rutherfurd’s London (oops, I thought I had reviewed it, and I haven’t, so I will,) and I thought it was a southern book, like The Ya-Ya Sisterhood or Sweet Potato Queens, no, you are right, I hadn’t read anything about it, just trusted from all the people I saw reading it that it was good, but because of the name, I thought it would be light.


It isn’t depressingly heavy, like The Little Prisoner was heavy, and it had some totally wonderful laugh-out-loud moments, but the subject matter was the German occupation of the island of Guernsey, in the English Channel, and an author in search of a book topic in post-war London, and a little girl born outside of marriage and cared for by a village of caring people. It is spiced up by a dashing romance, and the process of relationship building that happens in the novel, unlikely relationships, aren’t those the very best kind for spice? 😉

The entire story is told in letters. The primary voice, that of Juliet, a thirty-something author, ties all the letters together, but not all letters are to her or from her. It is a great technique for allowing many different voices and many different perspectives. From the first page, you are captivated. Right now, Guernsey is more real to me than the boxes I need to unpack, and there is a part of me that yearns to flee to Guernsey and find a house near a cliff where I can watch the sun set in the west and the clouds turn colors . . .

Here is one sample of the kind of letters you will find when you read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Don’t wait! This is an unforgettable book!

1st May 1946

Dear Mark,

I didn’t refuse, you know. I said I wanted to think about it. You were so busy ranting about Sidney and Guernsey that perhaps you didn’t notice – I only said I wanted time. I’ve known you two months. It’s not long enough for me to be certain that we should spend the rest of our lives together, even if you are. I once made a terrible mistake and almost married a man I hardly knew (perhaps you read about it in the papers) – and at least in that case, the war was an extenuating circumstance. I won’t be such a fool again.

Think of it: I’ve never seen you home – I don’t even know where it is, really. New York, but which street? What does it look like? What color are your walls? Your sofa? Do you arrange books alphabetically? (I hope not.) Are your drawers tidy or messy? Do you ever hum, and if so, what? Do you prefer cats or dogs? Or fish? What on earth do you eat for breakfast – or do you have a cook?

You see? I don’t know you well enough to marry you.

I have one other piece of news that may interest you: Sidney is not your rival. I am not now nor have I ever been in love with Sidney, nor he with me. Nor will I ever marry him. Is that decisive enough for you?

Are you absolutely certain you wouldn’t rather be married to someone more tractable than I?


Written by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, the book will challenge your ideas, will inform you of an obscure episode in World War II, will make your heart sorrow at the inhumanity of which we human beings are capable towards one another, and make your heart sing at the goodness in the human soul. That’s pretty amazing for one book.

July 6, 2009 Posted by | Books, Community, Cultural, France, Friends & Friendship, Generational, Germany, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Mating Behavior, Social Issues | , | 2 Comments

Maitland and The Company of Liars: A novel of the plague

I had just finished The Swallows of Kabul and still had a long flight to go. Fortunately, I was in the Johannisburg airport, with it’s truly wonderful bookstore, and came across The Company of Liars: a novel of the plague. Well, it isn’t exactly a novel of the plague. The story opens in 1348, a year in which le morte bleu hit the British Isles, only later to be called the plague. The author captures the times, the filth, the lack of bathing, the superstitions, the ways of life.

The plot centers around a group who wanders through the island, just trying to stay alive. The spreading plague impacts on their wandering, but to call this a novel of the plague is just not accurate. The plague is the reason for the journey, but the journey is the center of the novel, not the plague.

Before I started reading the book, I read the Historical Notes in the back, and that is where I came across the most interesting information in the entire book:

The 1348 plague was only the latest in a series of disasters to hit Britain. The period between 1290 and 1348 had seen a rapid and drastic climate change which was so noticeable that the Pope ordered special prayers to be said daily in every church. Eyewitness accounts claimed that 1348 was a particularly bad year, for it rained every day from Midsummer’s Day to Christmas Day. Climate change brought about crop failure, liver fluke in sheep and murrain in cattle, as well as causing widespread flooding which virtually wiped out the salt industry on the east coast. This, combined with a population explosion, meant that as many people died from starvation as from the plague itself.

Interestingly, the book will not be released in the US until September 2008. The cover shown is nothing like the cover of the book I bought.

American issue cover:

Cover on book bought in Johannisburg:


I like the cover of mine better.

Some reviewers call this book “enthralling” or “gripping.” I wans’t all that enthralled or gripped, but it did make good airplane reading. I learned a lot about the grim brutality of life in 1348, but as I told AdventureMan, this is more a book about a slice of time than a book with a great plot. The plot isn’t that great, it is the historical detail that is interesting, and fiction just makes it more easily absorbed. (my opinion)

July 4, 2008 Posted by | Adventure, Books, Cultural, Family Issues, Fiction, Food, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Relationships, Social Issues | , | 3 Comments