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Foreign Correspondence: A Pen Pal's Journey from Down Under to All Over Paperback


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Foreign Correspondence: A Pen Pal's Journey from Down Under to All Over + Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women + Caleb's Crossing: A Novel
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 217 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1st Anchor Books Trade Pbk. Ed edition (January 19, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385483732
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385483735
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #468,188 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The leap between dreamy child living in a provincial Australian neighborhood and journalist hopscotching through war zones is massive. In Foreign Correspondence, Geraldine Brooks (Nine Parts of Desire) unravels the rope that pulled and tugged her toward adventure and away from "a very small world" where her family had no car and had never boarded a plane or placed an international phone call. "I'd never imagined myself as someone whose packing list would include a chador, much less a bulletproof vest," she says. Preserved in the cellar of her parents' home in Sydney were letters Brooks had received as a teenager from several international pen pals, around whom she spun a romantic view of the world. Wondering about the reality of their lives and the progression of her own, she tracks them down in France, Japan, the Middle East, and New York. En route, Brooks delivers a wonderful meditation on childhood and adolescence lashed with rich details and quirky humor. Speaking of a current pen pal, she notes: "Raed, from the West Bank, stoned my car in 1987; now he writes to tell me how he's faring in college." --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal

YA-Bored with her insular life in a suburb of Sydney, Australia, 11-year-old Geraldine Brooks turned to pen pals as an antidote. Her correspondence began across town with the daughter of a favorite journalist whose cosmopolitan life was a striking contrast to that of her own working-class family. Other pen pals included Joanie from New Jersey; Mishal, an Israeli Christian Arab; Cohen, an Israeli Jew; and Janine, a farmer's daughter who wrote from a tiny French village. Geraldine's global correspondence is enlightening, entertaining, myth shattering, and heartbreaking. In Joanie, she found a true and rare soulmate; however, the girl suffered a hidden anguish, hints of which were dismissed by her Australian friend. When Joanie died from anorexia, Geraldine's grief and regret moved her to greater knowledge and deeper compassion. The author grew up to become a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, living the life she sought vicariously from her pen pals. Her return home upon her father's death and the rediscovery of the letters prompted her to find out what happened to those individuals. Her efforts were met with enthusiasm by all except Mishal, and the subsequent meetings with the reluctant Israeli as well as with Joanie's mother provided satisfying closure. The last pages of the memoir find the mature adventurer coming full circle to an appreciation for the small-town life she had once so derided. The desire to explore the lives of others and to express one's individuality is strong in most young adults, who will readily identify with this intriguing memoir.
Jackie Gropman, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Geraldine Brooks is the author of the novels Caleb's Crossing, People of the Book, March (which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2006) and Year of Wonders. She has also written two works of non-fiction: Nine Parts of Desire, based on her experiences among Muslim women in the mideast, and Foreign Correspondence, a quirky memoir about an Australian childhood enriched by penpals around the world and her adult quest to find them. Brooks started out as a reporter in her hometown, Sydney, and went on to cover conflicts as a Wall Street Journal correspondent in Bosnia, Somalia, and the Middle East. She now lives on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts with her husband Tony Horwitz, two sons, a horse named Butter and a dog named Milo.

Customer Reviews

I shared her sense of wonder and enthusiasm as she looked forward to each letter.
Linda Linguvic
I highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to learn more about Australia and what makes its people tick - this book is a wonderful read.
TexasGirl
I've read and enjoyed, albeit to differing degrees, all of Geraldine Brooks' novels and enjoyed this book for the insight it gave to the author.
Cindy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Linda Linguvic HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 16, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Australian born Geraldine Brooks spent many years as a foreign correspondent covering the Middle East. I loved her book, "Nine Parts of Desire" which was about Muslim women, and I have followed her life somewhat as she is often mentioned by her husband, Tony Horwitz, in his books "Confederates in the Attic", "Baghdad Without a Map," and "One for the Road." I find her an excellent reporter and in this memoir, "Foreign Correspondence," she turns the spotlight on herself.
As a child growing up in a lower middle class neighborhood on a street actually called "Bland Street", she yearned for a larger world. And so she developed pen pals. There was a girl from New Jersey, another one from France, and even one from an upper class neighborhood just a few towns away. And then there were two Israeli boys, one an Arab and one a Jew. As an adult, she found these old letters in her father's basement and, now more than twenty years later, she decided to look up each of these people. What follows is the result of her quest and some wonderful insights into world events from a personal one-on-one perspective. It was fascinating.
As a teenager in the early seventies she was aware of the new consciousness developing, even reaching her in her protective Catholic school. She had an active imagination and the gift of using words well. It's not surprising that she developed pen pals and that they influenced her life so much. Her gift of words certainly reached me too. I shared her sense of wonder and enthusiasm as she looked forward to each letter. I felt her straining to break the bonds of her loving but restrictive world. I felt her hopes and dreams and frustrations.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By TexasGirl on May 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
I, too, am an Australian now living in the USA. I found many parallels between the author and myself. As a child growing up in Sydney, I had many, many penpals from the USA and Europe - I still remember the excitement of receiving letters from places far away (In fact, two of my penpals were at my American wedding and we are still in contact 2 decades later.) The book perfectly captures the essence of growing up in Australia and the sense of isolation one feels being so far from other countries. The author made me truly miss my homeland. I highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to learn more about Australia and what makes its people tick - this book is a wonderful read.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By B. Bauer on August 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
I bought this as an "airplane read" but couldn't put it down. Geraldine Brooks has done us a great favor by not only illuminating the process of finding one's long lost penpals, but also by educating many folks about Australia in the process. It's fascinating to see her perceptions of the world, and particularly America, based on the letters that come in her mailbox each month.
While I read this one on my own, I have since leant this book to several friends and we've engaged in some interesting discussions about our own penpal experiences, so I recommend it for book clubs.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By book lover on August 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I read this book in one day - it is beautifully, intelligently written with well developed characters and a true story that reads like fiction. It is a rare gem of literature that provides insight into the dreams of a young girl that many people can identify with - male or female. I have read a lot of books lately, but this was one of the finest books I've come across in a while.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
I bought this book over a year ago and recently, when I saw it in paperback at my local store, I decided it was time I read it! I don't know why I demurred, because I found this book to be delightful! It is a slight volume that contains more information and humanity than you would think could be printed in these sparse pages. By that I mean we get a memoir spanning the author's family's lives (as well as her own) along with humanizing stories of her global pen pals, including updates. I thought it was quite interesting as a "prologue" to histories of the Middle East and Europe as well as the United States and Down Under. Geraldine Brooks is a good writer who says in a few words what many writers have written chapters about. For instance, "Scientists have discovered that all human beings have a "happiness set point" . . . Thus, the mood-altering effects of winning a Pulitzer or losing a spouse will rarely endure. Within a year, most people are again either the happy or morose persons they always were." And, "I wondered aloud whether our generation really did mark the end of the era when people thought they had to go away to prove themselves." Not to mention a complete description of the anorexia nervosa suffered by one of her pen pals, before anorexia was understood in any way by professionals or lay persons. Highly recommended to all who love an honest and thought-provoking memoir.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 18, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I too grew up in Sydney and had many penpals, so I connected with the basic premise (by the way, one of the initial blurbs calls it 'provincial Australia - hardly! - suburban might be a better description).
Although purchasing the "Australian" edition, I found the most irritating aspect was that it obviously hadn't been re-edited for an Australian audience. The book is chock-a-block full of Americanisms, which clang and grate.
Page 1 - Australian houses don't have basements. Page 5 - we fly in aeroplanes, not airplanes Page 10 - we would never be born or live 'on' a street, it's 'in' Bland Street, and the suburban 'lots' are 'blocks' Page 17 - no Aussie would organise a 'closetful' of paperwork, more like a cypboard or wardrobe.
It goes on and on.
Cheap production and marketing, especially seeing as the Australian edition doesn't have the photos. A good reason to buy from Amazon!
Overall, I liked it. I thought her exploration was sensitive and moving! . It could have been an excrutiatingly linear account, but as in the best autobiographical work there is an examination of wider themes and connections.
Obviously written for a North American audience, so it is a bit dislocated from its puported setting by the jarring use of language.(I don't have a problem with American English per se,just that it doesn't ever sound as if its written in an Australian voice)
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