celebrating two books published this year: The Romance of Elsewhere and The Last Laugh.
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Lynn Freed's deeply personal essays in The Romance of Elsewhere explore our most quintessential question: What makes a home? From very early on she had imagined for herself an ideal life: a stranger in a strange place: someone just arrived, just about to leave, and always with a home to return to. As a teenager on an exchange program to the U.S., she had made up fantastic reasons to escape high school in the suburbs and spend her time in New York City. Accepting a marriage proposal as a young woman, partly because it promised just such a life--away from South Africa, where she'd grown up, and in New York as a graduate student--she found herself both restless and unmoored. At home neither in the place nor in the marriage.
What she did find, in the end, was a true marriage between writing and travel, travel and identity. Traversing decades and continents and back again, The Romance of Elsewhere captures the dilemma of the expat and does so with Freed's signature honesty and humor. She takes on subjects as disparate as Disneyland, lovers, eco-tourism, shopping, serious illness, and the anomaly of writers who blossom into full power only in old age. Freed has been publishing these pieces for the past three decades, and this new collection further establishes her as a renowned voice in memoir and the exploration of identity.
In The Last Laugh, to escape their griping grown children, husbands and lovers, and an abundance of grandchildren underfoot, three self-proclaimed "old bags," Dania, Ruth, and Bess, head for a quiet island on the Aegean Sea. They'll spend a year by the water--watching the sunset, eating grilled fish and fresh olives, sipping ouzo. They deserve it, they say. After all those years, the three women will finally have some peace.
Except that they can't. For one, Bess, a pampered, once-beautiful inheritress, falls swiftly into an affair with a poetry-writing taxi driver--who has, of course, a territorial wife. And Dania, a therapist, begins to receive an increasing number of cryptically menacing phone calls from a psychotic patient. An ex-lover of Ruth's shows up unexpectedly, right before one of Bess's does--and then the women's children arrive, with their own demanding children in tow. As the island quickly becomes crowded, the women's serene year in Greece devolves perilously, and uproariously, into something much more complicated.
With the wit of Maria Semple's Today Will Be Different and all the adventure of Deborah Moggach's The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Lynn Freed's The Last Laugh is at once wildly funny and deeply perceptive, an exuberant story of friendship and pleasure, family and love.
Lynn Freed grew up in South Africa before moving to New York and receiving her M.A. and Ph.D. in English Literature from Columbia. She has published ten books, and her short stories and essays have been published widely in such places as Harper's, O, The New Yorker, Tin House, and The Atlantic. She is the recipient of two PEN/O. Henry Awards and was awarded the inaugural Katherine Anne Porter Award by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She is currently Professor Emerita of English at the University of California in Davis.