Book Reviews

What Do You Pack? If You’re Never Coming Back…

15 True Stories of Those Who Left Their Past Behind

compiled by
Roberto Di Marco

2014, 268 pp., 21.6 x 14 cm., softcover.

ISBN-13: 978-974-524-152-7 $25.00




In Search of Greener Pastures – For Good

Jonathan Copeland reads about people who uprooted and resettled – or tried to.

(The Jakarta Globe - June 24th, 2014)


Once seen, who can forget the opening sequence of The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin, the anarchic, BBC comedy program of the 1970s? Reginald Perrin, played by the wonderful Leonard Rossiter, is completely and utterly fed up with his totally predictable, humdrum, suburban life, with a mother-in-law who resembles a hippopotamus, and his grinding management role in the office, which makes tired ice-cream. He joyfully runs along the beach, strips off and madly swims out into the unknown. Who has not had similar thoughts of wanting to change their life for something better and imagining what it would be like?
   Reginald Perrin was a fictional character, but What Do You Pack If You’re Never Coming Back? by Dr Roberto Di Marco tells the stories of fifteen real life people who have actually done it and left their pasts behind, and at the end of each story he gives a short psychological description of the motives behind their escape. It is perhaps noteworthy that the escapes are from Europe and America to somewhere else, usually Asia and usually to an undeveloped country. Apart from Alexandra, a country girl from Romania, and a 31 year old woman from Vladivostok, they are all men, who have rejected the Western lifestyle.
   Six are from Italy, maybe not surprising because the author is Italian. Jo, 38, travels from Italy to Bali, another goes to Cambodia, Piero to India, Enrico to South Africa, Giancarlo to Laos and perhaps the most harrowing the 46 year old man who settles in Siberia and dices with death on a daily basis.
   The others are from diverse countries: Spain to the Philippines, France to Brazil, Romania to America, America to Japan, Denmark to Thailand, Sweden to Yemen, Germany to Thailand, England to Ethiopia, and Russia to China and Switzerland.
   For some the decision came from within; for others, it was from the outside.
   Jo, who ended up in Bali, got involved with the mafia and his life was in danger. There was an attempt on his life and he deserted his wife and daughter, taking with him a large amount of cash. Michel from France, also on the run from criminals, absconded with a fistful of dollars, and found refuge in Brazil, only to be confronted by his deserted wife years later. The man from Rome, who escaped to Cambodia, was a tax dodger, and although Cambodian life is hard, he has decided to stay there, even after having been granted a tax amnesty.
   The Spanish man, who went to the Philippines, felt inadequate and despised at home and at work and escaped to build a new life and become a new person. He cashed in his savings, set up a flying business and seems to have been largely successful. Then there’s the sheltered, depressed, successful antique dealer from London, who needed to change his life radically and made the move to Ethiopia and found contentment, keeping in touch all the time with his shrink by satellite phone. He teamed up with another escapee, a 71 year-old Norwegian paleontologist called Alf. The Englishman has now decided to live permanently in Ethiopia and has stopped calling his psychologist.
   None of them have actually gone back (although Jo planned to), but it is not a bed of roses or a dream vacation. They suddenly have unlimited amounts of time on their hands but no friends or roots. They strike up new romantic relationships, but they are usually not very fulfilling. They escape their old circumstances but they cannot escape from themselves. They constantly dream about their old life, and for some, it becomes an obsession.
   The exiles usually meet up pretty quickly with other exiles. They often have strange encounters, for example, the country girl from Romania strikes up a relationship with Robert, an American. They live in a castle together. He encourages her to go to America and when she gets there she discovers that he is wanted for several murders. Another example is Piero from Rome, the hippy, now living in Goa, who had an affair with his rich friend’s mother—she was also trying to escape from her life, the stifling way of life of the Italian upper class.
   The accounts in the book are full of local color and bizarre experiences, such as the man from Copenhagen whose Thai girlfriend, Nom, eats live shrimps, which jump around in her mouth. He married her and was able to negotiate a discount on the money required by her parents because she had spent time in prison. Or the man from Wupperthal, Germany, who goes to Pattaya, Thailand to discover the truth of his friend’s suspicious death on a motorbike and falls in love with his friend’s wife, a bar girl he suspects of arranging the death.
   This is a book certainly worth reading whether or not you plan to chuck it all in and start afresh. It just may change your life.

Jonathan Copeland is a writer and photographer, who left England and now lives mainly in Bali and Thailand.

[Read a review from The South China Morning Post] [Read a review from the Pattaya Mail] [Read a review from the Phuket News] [More Orchid Press Reviews]