Back in March when Canadian travellers were urged to come home, I thought of the small community of Canadian writers living abroad. Would they stay or go? As Antony Millen in New Zealand puts it, “It was a very eerie feeling to hear Justin call Canadians home with such urgency. I admit, I did ask myself, “Does he mean us?” and appreciated the notion that my home country cares enough about me. Still, I knew he didn’t mean us.”
On the whole, as I found out when I asked, they would stay. Millen points to job security, children, and permanent resident status. Writing from the United Kingdom, Jane Christmas says, “I am staying in the UK because this is where I live, this is my home right now.” Carla Lamont writes, “Still living on the Isle of Mull, Scotland, in my dream place and job, so won’t be moving anywhere.” Susan Örnbratt in Gothenberg, Sweden, and Eliza Reid in Iceland both replied that they are staying home.
From Israel, Gila Green writes that the COVID-19 lockdown is affecting the launch of her recently published book, No Entry, which is a second setback, as she explains: “No Entry came out in Australia in 2019 and my publisher shortly after burned to the ground in the Australian wildfires. They lost everything.”
Lost as well was Carolyn Gammon’s income: “Here in Berlin I have lost 100% of my paid employment. Although writing is a big part of my career, I have covered my living expenses working as a tour guide in Berlin, Potsdam and Dresden for the past 25 years. Needless to say, there is no tourism happening currently in Berlin and certainly not with elderly people!” In addition, concern for her partner’s health would have restricted her outings. Eventually Carolyn was compensated as a freelancer in part of “the largest financial package ever delivered to the average person in Germany.” This relief has allowed her to proceed with writing her memoir.
Worry about near and distant family members brings the pandemic closer to home. From Greece, Kathryn Lukey-Coutsocostas writes, “Well into the Covid-19 crisis, my mother had a severe medical emergency in Canada. At the time, the doctors thought she wouldn’t pull through, forcing me to seriously think about the possibility of attempting to fly back to Canada in case of a funeral.” With borders closing, she stayed put: “It took one tiny molecule to turn our large, transnational world into a small, confined one — reinforcing that while Canada may be in my heart, Greece is my home.” The outcome was not as happy for Dawn Doig, who writes from Cameroon that they decided to stay put for various reasons (pets, flight costs, quarantine in Canada), and then learned that her father had COVID-19 when he died of pneumonia.
For their own and their families’ health, others have stayed put: Susan Toy in Bequia, Guy Delisle in south of France, Darlene Foster in Spain and Jenna Jarvis in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Jarvis adds, “There are worse places to wait out a pandemic than the southern tip of a tropical island, but, all the same, I had designs on travel this year. I’m biding my time.”
Last word to Magie Dominic, who dreams of a bolthole in Newfoundland: “This unfolding experience in New York City is making me more aware than ever of the importance of community and staying in touch.”
Next up: the two who returned.
- Ayelet Tsabari writes about her life under lockdown in Tel Aviv for Macleans.
- Patrick DeWitt might be in the United States at work on his next book, but filming for his screenplay based on his novel French Exit happened in Montreal in November, according to MTLBlog.
- A sign of the times: a list of postponed talks on Margaret MacMillan’s Upcoming Events, but you can still catch her talks, “The Mark of Cain,” at BBC4’s The Reith Lectures.
- La Presse review of Mauricio Segura’s latest novel, Viral.
- Madeleine Thien talks about her writing process on BBC’s In the Studio, released March 3, 2020.
- Rachel Cusk’s home on the north Norfolk coast appears in The Modern House.
- Antony Millen poem.
[…] In times of crisis, do those who live abroad instinctively return to their native homeland? Debra Martens explores this in ‘Where are they now?’ My own contribution is near the end of the article. https://canadianwritersabroad.com/2020/04/22/where-are-they-now/ […]
Great article. Thanks for including me, Debra.
This was interesting to read and so well presented… and it gives your readers a sense of what some of your writers are going through… entirely Canadian BUT displaced into situations where the rootedness of where they ARE is a stronger force than the pull to “run back home”…
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