Rediscovery, liberation and romance abroad – it might sound formulaic but if it’s handbags, engagement rings and martinis you’re after forget it… THIS IS CHICK LIT WITH BALLS!
It’s great to see the expat book genre growing and “What About Your Saucepans?” is a worthy addition. Lindsay De Feliz, weaves an astonishing tapestry of community, corruption and culture-shock in the Dominican Republic; astonishing in no small part because the life she led before made her the least likely candidate for an existential bungee-jump.
I like my books like my winter wardrobe – full of layers
On the surface ‘What About Your Saucepans’ is the story of an adventurous woman who threw off the shackles of material success and comfort to follow a half-baked idea,
“I left my husband of ten years, my job and my country to become a scuba diving instructor. As you do.”
While long-suffering spouses stand off to one side and glower, she hooks you with her warm, irreverent style and innate ability to make you laugh, cry and most of all, care. It’s not long before you start to suspect the simplicity of her delivery belies the depth of what she’s actually imparting.
She was forty-four when the realization struck that she was living her life for others:
“The more I thought about it the more I realized it was the ‘hairdresser syndrome’ which had stopped me leaving a long time ago. Much nicer if your mother could say to the hairdresser, when asked about her family, “Lindsay’s doing very well. She has a great job and a lovely husband.”
The successful corporate career, upwardly mobile life and ‘perfect’ marriage left her feeling empty so she broke from all three and, despite the misgivings of friends and family, left the UK to become a scuba-diving instructor somewhere with better weather and warmer water.
Describing the mental resilience required to reach that decision and execute it would constitute a book on its own and its contemplation continues to divide this house: I see an act of personal honesty and honoring responsibility for the self, while K has the alternate community-centric view, seeing instead a shirking of responsibility. You have to wonder the extent to which readers will be polarized by their gender and/or nationality, but either way that’s just the start.
Lindsay winds up in the Dominican Republic where her open and honest outlook endears her to expats and locals alike. But it seems the unexpected is in her kismet. No one suspected the happy-go-lucky scuba instructor would become a force for change and a target for assassination.
Dip in a toe and you’re up to your neck
Page by page, she leads you into the jungle of Dominican culture, immersing you in the expat experience with humor (“I come in ten English minutes”), impressions, (“Lindsay, what hatping? Who do this?”) and vivid observation.
She relays incidents without judgment, bears the local expectations of endlessly-benevolent-wealthy-foreigner with stoic good grace (her patience in the face of blatant corruption and shameless greed is jaw-dropping), and explains the convoluted processes of local government in simple and straightforward terms. There’s no doubt that, for all its dirt and discomfort, she’s fallen in love with the country.
In light of her life-changing decision there’s no doubting her strength and self-reliance but you still dig your nails into your palms and hold your breath when she marries a Dominican man, inherits a family, stumbles through the raft of cultural differences and, moved by the plight of Dominican families mired in poverty and corruption, becomes involved in local affairs. When she supports her husband’s campaign for election into public office they incur the wrath of the sinister DR underworld and are forced into hiding.
A voice you can trust
Her forthright manner makes her a reliable guide, her lack of rancor or exaggeration inspires an intuitive trust in the reader. Her description of being shot, surviving the journey to hospital against the odds and a tracheotomy without anesthetic are close to the quick in their rawness, but never become theatrical.
She balances the seriousness of laying bare her authentic experience in its proper context with shots of laugh-out-loud wit. Expats everywhere will understand the potential for hilarity that interactions with a new culture offer, but Lindsay deftly avoids a one-sided caricature by relaying a Dominican’s take on England when she accompanies her new husband on his first trip abroad.
“Being with Danilo in London was like being with a cross between ET and Crocodile Dundee” and later, “It was cold and he could not get over white smoke coming out of his mouth when he breathed out. He insisted on wearing three pairs of underpants each day, as Chi Chi had told him the cold would make his penis shrink. And he was astonished by the size of the carthorses, that horses wore coats and pigs had little houses.”
Rookie author Lindsay has performed the tricky feat of relating a journey of personal discovery that isn’t all about her, and if that wasn’t enough, she’s given this logophile a new favorite word: “dwendy”. If you’re curious what it means you’ll have to read the book.
While I’m still hopeful she gets around to writing a sequel, the best part is that there doesn’t have to be a goodbye. Instead of working through the grief that usually mars the end of an engrossing read you can visit her blog of the same name and continue the journey in real time.
Follow Lindsay’s blog: www.yoursaucepans.blogspot.com
Find her on Twitter: @lindsaydefeliz
Find her on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/WhatAboutYourSaucepans