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Other People's Countries: A Journey into Memory

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  106 ratings  ·  19 reviews
Let me take you down the thin cobblestoned streets of the Belgian border town of Bouillon. Let me take you down the alleys that lead into its past. To a town peopled with eccentrics, full of charm, menace and wonder. To the days before television, to Marie Bodard’s sweetshop, to the Nazi occupation and unexpected collaborators. To a place where one neighbour murders ...more
Published March 20th 2014 by Vintage Digital (first published February 6th 2014)
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May 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: belles-lettres
Events owe their existence to memories more than memories owe their existence to events. Most of my childhhood feels more real to me now than it did then.

This is uneven, but overall a very atmospheric and moody evocation of the Belgian half of the author’s heritage.

Having just read about how Belgium suffered in WWI, it was dismaying to read about more adversity in WWII. But since that came before McGuinness was born, the war events had an extra layer of the kind of film that gathers on old,
Dec 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
To my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. McGuinness takes you on a journey through Bouillon's history intertwined beautifully with his own family history. A touching mixture of memoire and couleure locale.
Jul 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Why oh why did I read this on day 2 of a 10 day holiday?

Nothing else I've brought is going to live up to it. Folly, thy name is impatience.

A wonderful memoir of times and places now changed or gone, and an exploration of memory itself - why do we feel the need to pin down the mundane, the inconsequential figures and details of our lives? McGuinness was reared, sort of, in Bouillon, in the Ardennes; his mother Belgian, his father a Geordie, his father's father Irish. As a Newcastle-born daughter
Vincent Eaton
Mar 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Along with "The Complete Smoking Diaries" and "This Book Can Save Your Life", one of the best books read this year. About memory, though based on his Southern Belgium upbringing, universal in trying to figure out what memory is true, which remembered a certain way many times, has become the reality. Loads of quotable, thoughful stuff, but here four:

(About old shops in a village being converted into homes) “They’ve kept their huge windows but these are blocked off with thick lace curtains,
Feb 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Beryl Bainbridge, said “What we remember is probably fiction anyway, ” can the same be said of Patrick McGuinness’ memoir, Other People’s Countries; A Journey into Memory?

McGuinness takes the reader, and according to the preface, his two sons, for a wander through, what he wants us to believe, are his own childhood memories.

The book opens Tolkien like, with a map of the village of Bouillon, a small town on the border of Belgium and France. One can posit that if the use of such a map is not only
Nicholas Whyte
Apr 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2014, 1404, xz[return][return]McGuinness's mother comes from Bouillon in southern Belgium, and it is basically his second home despite his British upbringng (Irish grandparents, childhood in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Welsh-speaking children). It's a lovely exploration of the historic town and its people, and the author's own background, through very short snippets of narrative, occasional poetry, and the auithor's own photographs. you don't have to be Belgian or even like ...more
Simon Thirsk
Jun 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
A beautifully written book, with many insights. It is in the form of recollections with the feel of short stories, often ending in a twist, though these are, in fact, the author's recollections of childhood and contemporary visits to the town where he grew up.
Aug 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
It wasn’t long ago that my childhood home was sold. The surprising longing to go back to it, and emotional upheaval I get when I think about the fact that I no longer can, makes me relate strongly to McGuinness’ nostalgia.

“When I’m asked about events in my childhood, about my childhood at all, I think mostly of rooms. I think of times as places, with walls and windows and doors. To remake that childhood (to remake myself) I’d need to build a house made of all the rooms in which the things and
Kirsty Noah-whitlock
Review for 'Other people's Countries' by Patrick McGuinness
I always say I will write honest reviews and unfortunately I was not a fan of this book. It started off OK and some of the chapters were quite interesting but after that I completely lost interest. I found myself reading pages and not taking any of it in at all. Some parts of the book had French in it from where the author was remembering things and whereas he translated, some not all of it was translated. I gave it 2/5 on Goodreads.
An interesting and unusual approach to memoir. McGuinness took us in and out of a certain section of his family history, weaving together anecdotes, memories and research. His relatives came to life like characters from a well-written novel. I also liked the way he was unafraid to stake his own place within the story.
Sep 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A journey into melancholy that rewards patience. This short-form, mixed-genre place memoir should be on all such lists.
Julia Forster
Nov 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
My favourite read of 2016.
May 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Beautifully written
Lovely stories
Paul Taylor
Feb 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Superb. What a way to leave your story to your children and descendants.
Mar 16, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"First there is memory, its sleights of mind;
"then comes forgetting: the traitor betrayed."

You never fully leave the Old Country, just as you never fully integrate the New one, no matter how much you love either.
The Old Country however does leave you, she evolves and changes, and because you don't spend much time there, you don't change and evolve with her: pretty soon you're a foreigner.
This short book is a bittersweet treat, a little gem of enchanting nostalgia.
Apr 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful reading experience. Hard to classify: a memoir? Too short. A travelogue: not really, it's about just one town, the author's grandparents'. Rememberences of things past? Kinda. It's like, W.G. Sebald light. Mxiture of apparent facts with memories, alive with feeling and sincerity. Could not put it down.
Eric Randolph
Oct 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
The author feels like he's trying just a little too hard at times, but there are great insights particularly about how we construct and retain memories of ourselves and our cultures, while writers of fiction would kill for a cast of characters as absurd and varied as those in his little Belgian town.
Tom Bennett
Jun 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is really quite lovely. I feel as though I know intimately a town I've never visited, a strange place brought alive through memories of people long-dead. I can't wait to visit and feel those places and their people for myself.
Alan Twiddy
Jul 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
Interesting,poetic account of growing up in Boullion.
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Born in Tunisia in 1968 to a Belgian French-speaking mother and an English father of Irish descent, he grew up in Belgium and also lived for periods in Venezuela, Iran, Romania and the UK. He currently lives in Oxford and in Wales teaching French and Comparative Literature at St Anne's College, Oxford.