Book review: What Do You Pack? If You Are Never Coming Back, by Roberto Di Marco
by Roberto Di Marco
A retired German widower living a bored and lonely life envies his best friend, 63-year-old bachelor Vincent, who has moved to Thailand, married a 29-year-old woman, and found a new life.
Two years later, the man is stunned to hear Vincent has died in a motorcycle accident in Pattaya, and that his wife has inherited his considerable wealth. But is Vincent's death accident or murder? The widower goes to find out.
This is one of 15 remarkable stories in What Do You Pack? about people who leave their old life behind to start a new one in another country. Some residents of Hong Kong may find echoes of their own history. Italian psychiatrist and author Dr Roberto di Marco, who specialises in relationships, helps us to understand the lives and motivations of the protagonists.
The book was first published in Italian in 2007. The English edition, by Orchid Press, has just appeared.
The widower learns that Vincent's wife is a former bar girl who has used her inheritance to buy property. He also falls in love with her and moves into the house Vincent bought. But he begins to suspect her of ordering the killing of his friend and moves out.
What is best about this book is the wealth of detail. Each chapter is written in the first person, describing his former life, why and how he left it, and the new life he has made, for good or bad. The contrast between old and new makes for fascinating reading.
The writers tell us many things about themselves, including their families and marriages. They leave a familiar, comfortable environment for something unknown and unpredictable; sometimes there's a happy ending, sometimes not. Readers who are thinking of doing the same will find useful tips.
A Swedish electrical engineer, 43, leaves his homeland for a new life in Yemen. There he converts to Islam and adopts an Arab lifestyle. He finds Sweden too controlled, with little personal or financial freedom. In Aden, he forms a deep friendship with a Yemeni.
"Here you seem to step back in time and you forget about the West … Now I live like an Arab; I even have two concubines. It is accepted that you can have a wife even for a short period." He also prefers the distance between men and women in Arab society to the intimacy of the West where everything is analysed.
Another dramatic escapee is a 46-year-old man from Turin who moves to Siberia after his wife and son are killed in a car accident and he discovers she had a long-running affair everyone else knew about. He boards the Trans-Siberian Railway and is befriended by a Pole named Boris who lives in a remote village. It becomes his new home.
He is finally able to free himself from the memories of his old life, thanks to the remoteness, subzero temperatures, and little to do in winter but drink vodka, dance and enjoy the banya, a steam bath created by running water over scorching hot rocks.