Les écrivains français qui ont choisi de vivre à l'étranger.
Copyright © 2003 The International Herald Tribune | www.iht.com For expatriate writers, Hemingway's feast has long moved on Brad Spurgeon IHT Saturday, November 22, 2003
PARIS The romantic archetype of the poor, isolated writer living abroad was perhaps best immortalized by Ernest Hemingway in "A Moveable Feast," his memoir of life in Paris as a young writer in the 1920s. Yet little remains of the kind of café life he described, while electronic communications, cheap travel and modern economics have virtually wiped out much of the expatriate writer ethos.
Paradoxically, those same developments have made life more practical for the many writers who still seek distant shores to escape the conventions and restrictions of their home countries. Nevertheless, it's not quite what it used to be, as a few expatriate writers attest.
Just this week, Norman Spinrad, an American science fiction writer who has lived in Paris for 15 years, suddenly had to repatriate to New York after his landlord decided to sell his Latin Quarter apartment.
"I'm being squeezed out of France," said Spinrad. "Because I'm a writer I don't have a regular job. So in order to get an apartment they demand a year's deposit to be tied up - 20 grand or so - and I am not rich enough to be able to lose 20 grand and then be able to continue to pay the rent.
"Even if you've got the money, they'd rather rent it to somebody with a salary," added Spinrad, 63. "The paradox is that the French encourage creative artists on every other level, and I've been treated very well."
Spinrad first came to France to write a novel set in Paris, but ended up staying because he liked the lifestyle. He said he intends to return if he can.
Jerome Charyn, another American writer from New York who lives in Paris, says he loves the "softness" of European culture. "I feel there's a kind of brutality in America," he said. "It's part of its virtues because as a creator you probably need that brutality. But as someone who's just sort of bouncing around day-to-day, you don't need it." Like many of today's nomadic writers, Charyn maintains a home in his native country to fuel his fiction. "I feel like Jekyll and Hyde, I'm constantly split," he says.
He teaches film at the American University of Paris and said that having a regular job helps the writer abroad in more ways than fighting bureaucracy. "It sort of puts you into the system, makes it easier for you to exist within the culture," he said. "You're no longer that isolated because you're seeing students, you're seeing other faculty members, you have a very different kind of context." If Charyn, 66, does not want to lose touch with his novels' setting, Jake Lamar, a black American, decided after 10 years in France to set his latest novel, "Rendezvous Eighteenth," in Paris.
He said the book, published this month, is "a real stew" of African Americans, French African immigrants, locals and other Europeans and the dynamic of their relationships abroad.
Although Lamar, 42, a third New York transplant, came to Paris in the footsteps of role models like Richard Wright and James Baldwin, he stayed simply because he likes Paris. "Unlike them I have never felt in exile," Lamar said, "I've never felt alienated from the United States or that I needed to protect myself from the racism of America. I just love Paris." He quotes Archie Dukes, a character in "Rendezvous Eighteenth," as summing up the expatriate experience today: "When I decided to settle in Paris back in the 1950s, as a lawyer, it was seen as a form of protest, a rebellion against the racism of the United States," Dukes says. "Back then expatriation was seen as a radical act. I sense that, today, it's seen as a sort of . . . fickleness." Lamar said his agent tells him he should be living in the midst of the publishing action, in New York. "It's because it's the center of the publishing industry that I don't want to live in New York," Lamar said. "I think it makes me feel more free not being around people talking about who got how big a contract all the time, which is all writers in New York talk about."
Charyn is attracted to what he said is a more important role of the writer within the culture in France than elsewhere.
"The culture's very deep, it touches everything, when you see taxi drivers reading Sartre, or whatever," he said. "The writer exists in a legitimate way in France where he or she doesn't really almost in the rest of the world, particularly not in the United States."
Writers abroad say they do not feel cut off from what is happening in the United States. "I feel I know more about what's going on in the States being here than being there," Spinrad said, "because the news there is just pitiful and pressured by the government, if not controlled."
Cable television in France, he said, gives him both American news programs and international stations.
Indeed, Herbert Lottman, a publishing business expert, long-time Paris resident and the author of books about Man Ray and Albert Camus, said that technology has made it almost impossible for writers to isolate themselves. "The world has changed and the medium has changed so there is no longer an expatriate hidden in a hole in a garret in Paris," he said. "Everything he thinks and says is e-mailed immediately to everybody he knows in the United States."
If Paris is inadvertently discouraging impoverished writers, Ireland encourages them by exempting writers from income taxes.
Anne McCaffrey, a fantasy and science fiction writer, has lived in Ireland for more than 30 years, although she said she moved there partly to get away from an increasingly violent America when her children were young. She said that Ireland was also conducive to writers because, "the Irish leave you to get on with your own business."
The French writer Michel Houellebecq also lived for several years in Ireland, but recently moved to Spain, according to Michelle Levy, who runs Houellebecq's fan club.
Maurice G. Dantec, a French novelist, chose Canada to raise his family away from the growing violence of the Paris suburbs, where he grew up. But he considers his choice a self-imposed exile, as his political views were too painfully un-French to allow him to stay. "I didn't leave France for America with a literary project in mind," Dantec said in a telephone interview from Montreal, where he has lived for six years. "I left France for America with a project for survival."
While Dantec, 44, said that he tended to live on American values while growing up in France, exile helped him rediscover his roots.
"Or rather, I refabricated my roots in relation to an environment that I found hostile," he said. "For although the Quebecois like French people just fine, they like them when they are not bothersome."
As a writer in the spotlight, he said his values - which are not the Quebec ones of tolerance, multiculturalism and pacifism - make his life more difficult even in his land of exile.
"I always tell people my values, I'm very sorry, are those of Louis XIII," he said. "Evidently, that creates problems."
José Latour, left his native Cuba for Gíjon, Spain, last year partly because he foresaw crackdowns like the one in March when nearly 80 journalists, writers and dissidents were imprisoned in Cuba. Yet he also left in order to join the modern writers' world: The Cuban government would not issue him the permit needed to obtain a computer, a fax, a printer or an Internet connection. Although Latour, 63, has found writer's nirvana in Spain - and an Internet connection - there is a downside. "I had an apartment of my own in Havana, I didn't have to pay any rent, now I have to rent," he said. "Abroad I have to pay health insurance, social security and many other different expenses which in Cuba I don't have to pay."
Brad Spurgeon is on the staff of the International Herald Tribune.
Copyright © 2003 The International Herald Tribune
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