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life lessons, published, travel

Why ‘Tender is the Night’ is an essential expat read

F. Scott Fiitgerald and his wife Zelda

While everyone these days seems to be scanning over the last 300 tweets of the hour to find some meaning to it all, I found a kindred sort of disposition in Tender is the Night, the last novel F. Scott Fitzgerald saw published before his death at 44. After cross-referencing the events of the book with some hard history, the parallel between the fiction and Fitzgerald’s actual experiences abroad in Europe are evident. He is Dick Diver, the golden boy gone down the drain and Nicole is identical in every way to his real life golden girl Zelda. A lot of the detached attitude the book’s protagonist Dick Diver feels toward the foreign and American people he comes into contact with are a direct reflection as to how I tend to feel at times. I don’t want to come off as a snob (which I have zero right to be), but I think when one lives abroad (Europe in this case), they tend to develop a desire to disassociate with individuals who hail from their former side of the pond. Obviously I can’t generalize, but all too often, I come face to face with tourists that are just too oblivious and inflexible to all things French, Italian, British, etc., that I just can’t seem to find a sympathetic bone in my body for them.

Tobey Macguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Carrie Mulligan and Joel Edgerton in Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of  The Great Gatsby

What I really loved about the book was Fitzgerald’s literary decision to leave foreign dialogue without a translation. This literary device, conceived in a pre-Google Translate era, spoke to my inner-expat, as the book quite literally makes a point of rejecting the closed-minded western crowd, demanding that its readership be well-versed and travelled enough so as to appreciate and comprehend the meaning of a phrase written in French, Italian, Spanish,German or a mix of them all. The characters’ precise codes of conduct in the places they visit, demonstrate not only their wealth, but a repeated exposure and acquired expertise to foreign habitats, making them very adaptable creatures. While I don’t own a villa by Juan-les-Pins or make a habit of frequenting the Ritz Paris’ bar (which FYI is currently closed for a two year renovation), the novel definitely spoke to my personal situation as an expat who feels neither here nor there anymore, in the sense that I don’t 100% belong in Italy, but I also feel that I cannot relate with those back home who haven’t lived and travelled as I and my expat acquaintances have. I’m sure this feeling of inferior superiority was one Fitzgerald grappled with when he was back in Baltimore, writing about the Riviera and Switzerland. While I’m glad to see his relevance live on in Baz Luhrmann’s new version of The Great Gastby, I think the real tribute would be to bring Tender is the Night to the screen.

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