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10 must-read books for TCKs

Many TCKs have a plethora of stories to tell about different cultural experiences and travel adventures. Many of us have probably discovered a penchant for story telling, just from being asked to recount our own histories so frequently.

Below are 10 books – of varying genres, locations and times – that all touch upon experiences common to the TCK identity. Most of these books were written by fellow TCKs, exploring themes such as travel, blending cultures, the search for understanding and the journey “home.” We think you’ll find a piece of yourself between the pages of these 10 must-read books for TCKs.

1. Around the World in 80 Days (1873)
By Jules Verne (France)

Synopsis: A mysterious Englishman, known only for his mathematical precision, accepts a near-impossible wager to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days and embarks on a whirlwind adventure to win the race against all obstacles and ill fortunes.

How the book speaks to the TCK identity: The protagonist’s matter-of-fact attitude about his journey around the world might baffle non-TCK readers, but TCKs can sympathize with that nomadic itch. After all, when moving becomes part-and-parcel of your life, the idea of travel becomes more of an expected ritual then a romanticized escapade.

Why you’ll love it: The words ‘global circumnavigation’ alone should arouse a stirring in your TCK heart! Add a character whose name, Passepartout, literally translates into “Goes everywhere” and we have a winner.

2. Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (1995)
By Barack Obama (USA – American mother, Kenyan father)

Synopsis: In an autobiographical memoir, current U.S. president Barack Obama (arguably the poster child for TCKs everywhere) tells his personal coming-of-age story.

How the book speaks to the TCK identity: Obama is, in many aspects, a quintessential TCK whose journey to find that elusive cultural identity ends up defining him as a person.

Why you’ll love it: It is simultaneously gratifying and humbling to be able to identify with a Noble Peace Prize laureate.

3. White Teeth (2000)
By Zadie Smith (UK – Jamaican mother, British father)

Synopsis: Two unlikely families – one English-Jamaican and the other Bangladeshi – brought together through a friendship forged during World War II, find their fates more and more inextricably intertwined as they discover what immigrant life is all about in London.

How the book speaks to the TCK identity: Smith’s novel explores the lives of individuals caught in the cross-cultural battlefield as they struggle with the instinctive desire to preserve their old culture while succumbing to the pressures of assimilation. TCKs, with their ultra-hybridized cultural identities, will see their own trials and tribulations mirrored in those faced by the novel’s eclectic cast of characters.

Why you’ll love it: Beyond the brazen humor, creativity and acclaim of the “multicultural story of the century,” the book also serves as a gentle reminder to look past the diversifying elements that separate us and instead, seek the unifying elements that can bring us together.

4. Invisible Cities (1978)
By Italo Calvino (Italian – born in Cuba to Italian parents)

Synopsis: An aging Kublai Khan is enamored with Marco Polo’s fantastical descriptions of the 55 cities he encountered during his travels. Each city seems to be entirely different in composition, but in the end, Khan realizes that all the cities are imaginative constructions of Polo’s native city, Venice.

How the book speaks to the TCK identity: The novel explores how humans aim to shape the cities they live in to fulfill their aspirations, but at the same time acknowledging that cities themselves change the perceptions of the humans who occupy them. It’s a lesson TCKs are all too aware of.

Why you’ll love it: The surrealist nature of the novel leaves much to the interpretation of the reader, something that contemplative TCKs will embrace.

5. The Little Prince (1943)
By Antoine de Saint-Exupery (France)

Synopsis: A pilot whose plane crashes into the Saharan dessert discovers companionship in a young boy who has left his tiny planet in order to see what the rest of the universe is like.

How the book speaks to the TCK identity: On each of the planets that the Little Prince visits, lives an adult who is engaged in a singular task that keeps his or her perspectives narrow-minded. While the Little Prince gains open-mindedness through his explorations, he also feels a growing disparity between himself and the adults he encounters – a sentiment shared by TCKs as they move between different cultures.

Why you’ll love it: Growing up among varied cultural worlds, we inevitably arrive at a crossroad in our lives when we are confused as to where we truly belong. Despite feeling misunderstood by the rest of the world, both the Little Prince and the Pilot ultimately discover their place in the world through their explorations – an inspirational story that instills hope that we too will find ours.

6. Persepolis: The Story of Childhood (2004)
By Marjane Satrapi (Iran – adolescence in Austria)

Synopsis: A graphic novel about Satrapi’s childhood interrupted by the Islamic revolution, where the price to pay for freedom from oppression means moving to an entirely foreign land and culture.

How the book speaks to the TCK identity: Some of us are TCKs because our parents faced circumstances – revolutions, wars or poverty – that forced us into moving away from our native land. Satrapi’s graphic novel unveils the human-side of this unique and tumultuous TCK existence.

Why you’ll love it: Its uncomplicated illustrations speak volumes. At the same time, it’s aesthetically beautiful.

7. The Odyssey (8th century BC)
By Homer (Ancient Greece)

Synopsis: In order to complete his nostos, or journey home, Odysseus will need to elude love-obsessed nymphs, enlist the sympathy of the gods, wander the seas for 10 years and disguise himself upon his return home. Even then, it will take all his wit to reclaim his kingdom and family.

How the book speaks to the TCK identity: Growing up among world’s means that all TCKs have a sense of rootlessness. Not knowing where “home” is, we embark on a lifelong voyage to find a sense of belonging. Although Odysseus has a tangible idea of where “home” is, his journey parallels the “epic” nature of our own search for home.

Why you’ll love it: The fact that Homer’s tale is over 2,800 years old is proof that the “journey home” is a timeless story, relevant to all humanity.

8. Empire of the Sun (1984)
By J.G. Ballard (UK – born in China to English parents)

Synopsis: Ballard recounts his childhood spent in Japanese occupied Shanghai, where the soldiers who once inspired admiration and curiosity in his young ex-pat mind suddenly become the cruel keepers of his fate in an internment camp.

How the book speaks to the TCK identity: Despite the surrealism of war and the atrocities he encountered on a daily basis, Ballard nonetheless describes his childhood memories in Shanghai as magical and close to his heart. Instead, it is the “normalcy” of life upon his return to England that he struggles to cope with – a common TCK experience.

Why you’ll love it: A prominent novelist, Ballard’s expertise with the narrative arts and literary distinctiveness makes this autobiography the most lyrical of the books on this list.

9. Hopscotch (1963)
By Julio Cortázar (Argentina – born in Belgium, TCK in Switzerland, Spain)

Synopsis: A wandering soul, Horacio Oliveria abandons his “worthless bohemian” existence in Paris and returns to his native Argentina. Thus begins an existential quest to ascertain whether all paths potentially chosen would ultimately lead him to the exact same destination in life.

How the book speaks to the TCK identity: Like the protagonist, TCKs often exhibit drifter-syndrome in multiple aspects of our lives: places, careers and relationships. Despite the inability to dismiss our innate restlessness, we are also acutely conscious of our desire for a sense of order in our nomadic lifestyles – a theme that lies at the heart of Hopscotch.

Why you’ll love it: As a literary experiment, Hopscotch comes equipped with a “Table of Instructions” that details the multiple ways in which the reader can choose a chronology in reading the book. One can literally “hopscotch” between the various chapters!

10. What is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng (2006)
By Dave Eggers (US) – based on the life of Valentino Achak Deng (Sudan)

Synopsis: Faced with the atrocities of war-ravaged southern Sudan, Deng is thrust into a precocious existence as one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. As he moves through both Ethiopian and Kenyan refugee camps before arriving in the US, his is a coming-of-age story that proves that tragedy can metamorphose into triumph.

How the book speaks to the TCK identity: Besides giving valuable perspective on the war-resultant TCK existence, What is the What reflects on how important the quest for a “true home” becomes when we are brought up in a world of instability and turmoil.

Why you’ll love it: Proceeds of every copy of What is the What go to the nonprofit “Valentino Achak Deng Foundation,” which helps improve the lives of war-affected Sudanese populations. What better proof that the greatest gift of storytelling is its ability to empower change?

Do you have any other book recommendations for TCKs? Share them below in the comments!

3 Comments

  1. Our book for young TCKs ´The Mission of Detective Mike Moving Abroad´ available on amazon.com can hopeful be another source of info for expat kids, parents and teachers.

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  2. Here are a few written by alumni and a teacher of Tehran American School, which was closed in 1978 because of the Iranian Islamic revolution.

    SONS OF THE GREAT SATAN http://amzn.com/B004MPRCNC When American teenager Joey Andrews and his family arrive in Tehran, Iran in 1976 they find an expatriate paradise within one of the world’s oldest civilizations. It is the twilight of an empire and the last days before a revolution that forces the evacuation of 50,000 Americans and transforms Iran into a radical Islamic state. “SONS OF THE GREAT SATAN” leads the reader through a cataclysmic event as seen through the lives of the Andrews family of Peligrosa, Texas and the Zadehs of Tehran, Iran. Joey Andrews and Farhad Zadeh form a unique friendship amid a naive wonderland of teenage sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, only to see their lives explode into a firestorm of violence that changes their worlds forever.

    FARANGI GIRL http://amzn.com/B00GVFSLBI – Ashley Dartnell’s mother was a glamorous American, her father a dashing Englishman, each trying to slough off their past and upgrade to a more romantic and exotic present in Iran. As the story starts, Ashley is eight years old and living in Tehran in the 1960s: the Shah was in power, life for Westerners was rich and privileged. But somehow it didn’t all add up to a fairytale.

    MY ENEMY, MY FRIEND – http://amzn.com/1425987664 It is 1978. The Shah of Iran is in trouble and Barney Rosen is back in Iran. Barney’s performance during the Shah’s 1970 celebration in Persepolis cost him his wife, his job and his self-respect. His new job brings him back to Iran as an art teacher at the International School of Tehran and face to face with a new love-Sarah Atkinson. Haunted by the ghost of his ex-wife and surrounded by examples of love-gone-bad in marriage, Barney must fight his fears and find a way to show Sarah that he loves her. As a reluctant courier for the American State Department in the Pre-Revolutionary Iran, Barney works undercover delivering messages from an American politician to an Iranian enemy. Barney begins to suspect that elements in his government may be trying to manipulate Iran’s intricate alliances to influence the outcome of the American Presidential election.

    SEARCHING FOR HASSAN – http://amzn.com/1400032237 – Growing up in Tehran in the 1960s, Terence Ward and his brothers were watched over by Hassan, the family’s cook, housekeeper, and cultural guide. After an absence of forty years, Ward embarked on a pilgrimage with his family in search of Hassan. Taking us across the landscape of Iran, he plumbs its unimaginably rich past, explores its deep conflicts with its Arab neighbors, and anticipates the new “Great Game” now being played out in central Asia. Insightful, informative, and moving.

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  3. Hey! I came across your blog when I googled “TCK book.” I’m a co-host for #TCKchat, have you ever heard of it? You should join in! We chat on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of every month at 15:00 and 03:00 (+1) GMT🙂

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