Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging

Marilyn Gardner

The first thing to say is that this book seems to be misnamed. Between Worlds: Essays on culture and belonging, does not contain long academic papers, as the word 'essay' suggests. Instead it's made up of a series of short reflective posts that have been adapted from the author's blog, and collected into sections entitled Home, Identity, Belonging, Airports, Grief and Loss, Culture Clash and Goodbyes.

Secondly the blogs are not strictly about culture and belonging, but rather are the experiences of culture and belonging from the particular perspective of a Third Culture Kid (TCK). Reading it, as someone living in a second culture (rather than third), and searching for more understanding of belonging and the art of connecting deeply with people across cultural barriers, I was slightly disappointed.

Having said that, there is much of the TCK experience that resonates with anyone living abroad, in a country and culture different to what they grew up in, and within the book I found gems of understanding and a few keys to navigate the difficult experience of living 'between worlds'. But this is definitely understanding that touches the heart, rather than feeds the brain.

The chapters on belonging and grief and loss, I found particularly helpful. The final blog in 'Belonging' gets to the crux of the issue, not the nuts and bolts of how to belong, but why we desire to belong in the first place, (as a way of staking our identity in a particular place or with a particular group of people). The post enables us to recognise that our sense of belonging can only really be satisfied when it's planted in God. The letting go of that desire, and the striving to fulfil it, ironically helps us to find our place and belonging. The author helpfully quotes C.S. Lewis; 'If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.'

I had not expected to be reading about grief, and yet it began to make some sense of many of my own experiences and emotions, although it's difficult to identify the specific losses at first. The author's emphasis on recognising loss and grieving well is key and the chapter includes some profound tips for understanding grief and doing it well, without leaving the light and easy to digest style of the blogposts.

The whole book and especially the chapter 'Home' are beautifully written and evocative of the authors childhood spent in Pakistan and her adulthood in Egypt. It's a light book but with profound themes and it's blogpost style makes it easy to dip in and out of. I would recommend it for anyone who is (or knows) a TCK, as well as those who live between worlds for other reasons.

Reviewed by Suzanne Potter

Suzanne Potter is the Short Term Coordinator for Latin Link in Guatemala, where she helps Short-termers to adapt to the culture and process all that they experience.