Sunday 20 December 2020

Foreign Correspondence

Finished December 10
Foreign Correspondence: A Pen Pal's Journey from Down Under to All Over by Geraldine Brooks

I just love anything I've read by Geraldine Brooks, fiction or nonfiction. This book goes back to her childhood and looks at her years growing up in Australia, her relationship with her parents and some of their history, and her early pen pals. 
Her first pen pal was just across town, a girl from a slightly higher social bracket than her own, but eager to connect, compare and share some commonalities. Her next addition to her pen pal list was a girl in the United States, the country her father grew up in, and they kept up a correspondence for many years. She then added two pen pals in Israel, the first was an Arab Christian and the second a Jew, both boys, and Geraldine imagined lives for them based on her knowledge and adolescent dreams. Through one of her school teachers, she also got a pen pal in France. She'd been hoping for Paris, but ended up with a girl her age in Languedoc. 
We then see how her life grew and changed as she became a journalist, travelled widely and lived in and reported from many different places. She met an American man, who was Jewish, converted and married him. Having already read her collection of essays from her posting in the Middle East, Nine Parts of Desire, I was aware of some of this. We also see how she settles down in the United States.
We see how her life changed in many ways, and her family members as well.
She decided at some point to follow up with her various pen pals to see where they now were, and what their lives were like. She already knew about Joanie, her American correspondent and her sad end, but she connected with Joanie's family, particularly her mother, and they became quite close. Her two pen pals in the Middle East were vastly different than her imaginings. The Jewish man, named Cohen, had not enjoyed his time in the military, and was happily married and living a quiet life. Her Arab pal, Mishal, lived with his family in Jerusalem and moved between communities in his skilled tradesman work. He was definitely more welcoming and friendly and took the time to show her around the area, and kept in contact following the reconnection. I really liked him and his attitude. 
Her pen pal in France also lived a different life than Geraldine imagined, staying in the town she grew up, although marrying a man who came from elsewhere. She lived a busy life, but a wasn't curious about the world beyond. 
Her reconnection with her Australian pen pal was interesting as Nell has also moved to the States and created a life for herself. She done her own travelling, as many Australians do, and was enjoying her life and thinking about her next personal reinvention. 
I really enjoyed this book, and it made me think about a pen pal I had as a tween, a girl who lived in Norway. I wonder what she's up to now. 


  1. Oh, this is the book for me. From the age of thirteen/fourteen, I had pen pals from all over the world, Romania, the US, France, Sweden, the Philippines, Austria, those were the first, and I'm still in touch with a few of them. Then, I learned Esperanto and my list widened. When the internet started, the possibilities to meet people online were endless and I embraced them all. Such a great way of travelling the world.

    I'll have to read this book, not my first one by Geraldine Brooks, she has written some good ones.

    1. Definitely a book for you then. I love her books, both fiction and nonfiction.

    2. Yes, she's a great author. So thorough.

  2. I had a Japanese pen pal as a teen (maybe this is where my love of Japan comes from ?), I wonder what she's doing now. *big nostagic moment* :)

    1. I love it when a book reminds me of the past in some way.