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Expat Author Interview -- Checking in with Paola Fornari

I'm honoured to host Paola Fornari this week. What an incredible story she shares with the world.


IMBO: What are you working on?

Paola Fornari: My first book!

Entitled Joyriding in Dhaka, it's an often humorous, often serious account of how this particular expat made the most of her three and a half years in the 'world's second-least livable city' (actually, it has risen to that status this year from 'least livable' last year).

It's a series of about a hundred snapshots of my life here in Bangladesh: my escapades to slums, villages, beauty parlours, student residences, markets, projects, religious and cultural festivals, where I meet fascinating people (for example, a local journalist, a single father handyman struggling with family issues, the daughter of a murdered army general, a man who was separated from his family during the 1971 Liberation War and adopted by a wealthy family in the Netherlands, a Chinese masseuse...).

Women of DhakaSeveral stories touch on important local issues such as early marriage, low wages, oppression of minorities, child labour, and dowry violence. Others are lighter: a fishing trip, a visit to a sari factory, Rest and Recreation breaks in neighbouring countries. These are set against a backdrop of a country in turmoil (factory fires, the Rana Plaza building collapse, violence, general strikes, a hanging, turbulent elections).

At the end of the book, the reader should have a real feel for Bangladesh and its recent history. As my story progresses, I get to know my host country as intimately as an expat can in the limited time I have, exploring every corner, and becoming increasingly aware of the quirkiness and potential disasters surrounding me.

IMBO: How does your work differ from other work of its genre?

Paola Fornari: Hmm, now what genre does 'Joyriding' fall into? A memoir? A travel book?

It is different from the Year in Provence-type book in a) I am a far less experienced writer than Peter Mayle, b) it's more far-reaching in its scope, and c) Bangladesh isn't Provence.

It differs from other books written by 'trailing diplomatic spouses' (Brigid Keenan's Diplomatic Baggage, Cherry Denman's Diplomatic Incidents) in that it doesn't touch on diplomatic life: it's not about my experiences as an ambassador's wife, but about my experiences as a curious individual.

Slum Kids

IMBO: Why do you write what you do?

Paola Fornari: I have learnt so much in my time in Bangladesh. Not many travellers have the opportunity to get to know a country in depth. In fact, I believe that few expats get to see and experience as much as I do.

In my time here I have developed an awareness of the people and issues surrounding me, and I want to share them.

As far as I know, there isn't another book like this about Bangladesh, and it needs to be written.

Tea Garden Workers

IMBO: How does your writing process work?

Paola Fornari: I write my 'Banglablog' as soon as I can after I experience a new 'story', filling it with photos. For example, I am writing the answers to these questions on the return trip from a visit to the tea gardens in the north-east of Bangladesh. I will write the story of the exploitation of tea workers tomorrow. It will be packed with photos. How many people out there are aware of the plight of thousands of tea workers who in practice live the lives of indentured slaves?

The 'Banglablog', which is open only to invitees, is fodder for my book. (By the way, if anyone reading this wants to be invited to view my blog, please let me know!)

I rarely write after 5 p.m. Writingmakes me a little 'high' and I find it hard to settle my mind afterwards. I wake up very early in the morning, around five a.m., and sort through photos, write up a new story, or if I don't have one, I edit.

I have almost finished the second draft of 'Joyriding'...I hope I have aroused your interest enough for you to buy it when it is published!

IMBO: You've captivated me, Paola! I'll be right there when it comes out, and I Must Be Off! will as well.

I Must Be Off!


Christopher Allenis the author ofConversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, Camroc Press Review, Feathertale, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen.

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