The Expat Book Club in Saigon

I belong to an expat book club in Vietnam.  We meet the second Monday of each month in a local cafe to talk about books and expat life.  Like other book clubs, we decide in advance, the books we would like to read for the upcoming months. We have a leader who has the daunting task of locating the books. You can find books in English in a few book stores around Saigon and on street corners but the selection is limited.

I tried the street corner bookseller when I first arrived and picked up Graham Greene's The Quiet American outside the Hotel Majestic on Dong Khoi Street for a song. I got what I paid for. The translation was limited, pages were missing and some pages were crooked..but I persevered. I was in Vietnam and experience is everything. I had the experience of reading a classic from a Vietnamese street bookseller...and my Kindle library has since tripled.

You can spot an expat book club reader in Vietnam on planes, trains and cyclos by the cover of their book. The paper cover is light blue, the text is black and they have that "hot off the press" look about them. Such is the life of the expat book reader. If you do not own an electronic reader or are a purist at heart, you have to take what you can get. It's all in the experience, I own a few of those tell tale books and I doubt I will ever part with them.

Our book group is connected with the ILV, International Ladies in Vietnam, an international group that binds the expat community together.  The ILV is the "go to" for expats and is a great source for those who are looking for like minded people. If you are an expat living in Saigon, you have something in common. I say expats but you also find local English speaking Vietnamese in the group as well. You are bound to find a kindred spirit amongst them, it's worth it's weight in gold when that happens.

Our book club meetings vary in size and members come and go according to the duration of their stay in Vietnam. Everyone seems to be coming and going from somewhere. Today, we had a small group, one each from Germany, South Africa, England, America, Australia and India. I tell you, it makes for very interesting conversation and is a great source for book recommendations. I loved the story today of the German woman who is taking French lessons in Saigon. She has been studying for over a year and is impressed with the abilities of her Vietnamese instructors. Our Australian member is leaving Vietnam in July after a one year assignment, I know she leaves with a heavy heart for she has loved her time in Saigon. We rally and support, it is what expats do well.

Some of us meet on other occasions and many of us only meet at the book club. Conversation tends to run off topic frequently and I often wonder if we will ever talk about the book. I have come to accept the course of conversation and just go with it. If we talk about the book great, if not, that's ok too. It's the journey and the experience that matter..the books are a bonus.

If you enjoy travelling, as we do, you will enjoy travelling with these books...

To Spain with

First Paragraph..
A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that will surely outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price.

To Australia with
First Novel

First paragraph...
27th April 1926...On the day of the miracle, Isabel was kneeling at the cliff's edge, tending the small, newly made driftwood cross. A single fat cloud snailed across the late-April sky, which stretched above the island in a mirror of the ocean below. Isabel sprinkled more water and patted down the soil around the rosemary bush she had just planted. '...and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,' she whispered. 

To Cambodia with
First Novel

First paragraph...
War entered my childhood world not with the blasts of rockets and bombs but with my father's footsteps as he walked through the hallway, passing my bedroom toward his. I heard the door open and shut with a soft click, I slid off my bed, careful not to wake Radana in her crib, and snuck out of my room. I pressed my ear to the door and listened.

To South Africa with
First Novel

Book cover ...
There are Ants in my Sugar is the warm hearted, engaging and humorous account of Annica Foxcroft's exile to a pondokkie in the country, when unexpected financial hardship overtook her family during the 1960's. Annica is a sassy young woman to whom the city chic of Johannesburg, and the dire warnings of her decorator friend Harry, still cling like perfume, as she is dumped unceremoniously on a plot in the dark, landing on a pile of blackjacks. She has to adapt and make a home for her baby daughter and aging husband amidst boreholes, long drops and Aga stoves... 

Next month
To Vietnam with

First paragraph...
The first shots came as they were flying northeast toward Danang. Over the terrific noise of the engine and rotors, she could hear a "pinging" sound, something like coins being lobbed against the metal where she was sitting. It wasn't particularly loud, and didn't sound remarkable or worrying. For many minutes she sat stiffly in the nylon seat of the helicopter, the wind rifling across her trouser legs, sending her field jacket back so that she could feel a button pushing against her hence, being aware of many things, but not the pinging sound, the bullets directed at her, at all of them, as they spun above a canopy of jungle. 

I will miss the next the five months of book club meetings but will keep tabs from New Hampshire. I will be back in regular attendance again in October 2014..and when I return, just maybe, I will sign up for French lessons too. I am thinking about it...such is the way of an expat book club in Saigon, you just never know where the conversation will take you.

As always, the books above and many more are listed in The Brown Paper Book Club here

Happy Reading my friends!

Jeanne xx

speaking of New Hampshire,
if you missed  
Stone Rising at Tahilla Farm
you can read all about it 

Tahilla Farm
and via Dan Snow's post
Mending Pasture Fences 


  1. Your book club sounds wonderful Jeanne, what an experience to be part of such a group. I am loving the visual of you ladies hunting down those books!

    Your recommendations sound excellent as always....I loved "The Shadow of the Wind" so am sure this book by the same author will be as good. I read "The Light Between Oceans" last summer & enjoyed it easy read but thought provoking too. Love the sound of "There Are Ants in my Sugar", isn't it funny how appealing a good title can make a book?! I am adding it to my list.

    Thanks for sharing, hope you're having a lovely time having Connor home Xx

    1. Thank you Simone…I will give you the "heads up" on There are Ants on my Sugar…don't be put off by the first page, it gets better and better as you go along. ;)

  2. So many books to choose from. I am being lazy with my reading this year. I hate when that happens but I end up journalling instead of reading. I just wish I had the time to do both.

    1. It can be a fine line Loree…I know it well. ;)

  3. Thank you so much, Jeanne, for the wonderful book recommendations and for sharing about your expat book club! I hope you have a wonderful week! xoxo

  4. wow, the expat's reading list is exciting, what an experience + glad you are going to NH + keep us posted, please.

  5. Thanks, Jeanne. Lovely books. Also, thanks for notating "first novel." I love discovering a new writer.

  6. You take me back to FLORENCE days where we had a PLAY GROUP of EXPATS.Meaning we were all young mother's with little ones!What a group that was!Bound by the USA living in ITALY most of us married to REAL ITALIANS!Mother's keeping the English alive and friendships that were tight just because.We rallied for each other and did the support thing too! I have to say it was one of THE BEST EXPERIENCES of my LIFE those three years abroad!I still get teary when I think of those women I left behind.If you follow my little blog I was in Venice in October and a group of those women surprised me in Venice!They took the train up from Florence for the day to see me!As you can imagine I was overwhelmed upon seeing them!!!!

    1. What a special gift Elizabeth..all the way from Venice, I love it! Happy Memories! xx

  7. I love how you jump in with all feet wherever you live.


    1. Thank you Glenda, that means a lot...coming from you. ;)

  8. Hello Jeanne
    Your book club sounds fascinating. The members must be also very interesting.
    I did belong to a book club when I lived in the country during the summer months. Our leader had obtained her PHD in English literature. She was very serious about the type of books we read. We chose Canadian and American writers. There were times I felt like giving up on a book but persevered and today I am glad I did. Timothy Findlay "The Head Hunters" was one such book and even today when I walk along Queen Street in Toronto memories of this book haunt my mind. All those books have remained with me in much greater details than had I read them alone.

    A very Happy Easter Jeanne to you and your family

    1. I agree clubs do have a way of pushing you into books you might not have read if you were picking them out on your own. I only mind when they haunt me in my dreams…I have to draw the line somewhere. Fortunately, none of these did! xx

  9. Hi Jeanne, I agree that English book collection in Saigon is limited. Therefore I created an online book exchange for readers, totally free. I hope you guys find it useful.


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