I was reading this book by a Russian writer Victoriya Tokareva . The genius of the book like most great works lies in its simplicity. She talks about the men in her life. The ordinary misery, the poverty, the love, the betrayals, the alcohol and many other mundane things that make up human existence.
Whenever I read a book, I usually hear the voice of the author. Like he or she is reading it out loud to me.Sometimes I love the voice. Sometimes I’m intrigued by it. This book was a mixture of both. For the most part, she sounded startled about life and I found myself giggling at the stories she told. There was something naive and conspiratorial about her voice. For example when she was invited to the book fair in Frankfurt for the first time, she was shocked to see her books on display. No one had ever told her that her books were translated into German. She had assumed that her books were only read in Russian. So being a true ninja, she walked to the person at the stall and posed the only question that crossed her mind.
“Where is my money?” And because she didn’t speak any German, she just asked in French.
She didn’t just do it for the sake of it. She followed up and despite having no experience dealing with finances finally managed to negotiate new contracts with a Swiss publisher called Diogenes. This kind of naive tenacity runs through the whole book and turns an otherwise ordinary life into an exhilarating adventure.
The real genius of that book however is the simple truths it tells along the way. On why she never migrated from the Soviet Union despite the hardships, she has a simple answer. She never wanted to be a guest. Migrating to a different country means becoming a guest.
As I read this, I pondered about my own life in a foreign country.
I rarely think of myself as a guest. Maybe that’s what I used to think the first days or months or years when I first moved abroad. Somewhere along the way, I stopped thinking about it. I think it is something that many foreigners go through. The realization that one is no longer a guest. We then wait patiently and hope that we will someday feel truly at home. For many, it never quite happens.
It is this truth that you are neither a guest nor at home that makes living abroad however delightful one of the most unnerving experiences.