The English American

The English American

by Alison Larkin
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The English American by Alison Larkin

When Pippa Dunn,adopted as an infant and raised terribly British, discovers that her birth parents are from the American South, she finds that "culture clash" has layers of meaning she'd never imagined. Meet The English American, a fabulously funny, deeply poignant debut novel that sprang from Larkin's autobiographical one-woman show of the same name.

In many ways, Pippa Dunn is very English: she eats Marmite on toast, knows how to make a proper cup of tea, has attended a posh English boarding school, and finds it entirely familiar to discuss the crossword rather than exchange any cross words over dinner with her proper English family. Yet Pippa — creative, disheveled, and impulsive to the core — has always felt different from her perfectly poised, smartly coiffed sister and steady, practical parents, whose pastimes include Scottish dancing, gardening, and watching cricket.

When Pippa learns at age twenty-eight that her birth parents are from the American South, she feels that lifelong questions have been answered. She meets her birth mother, an untidy, artistic, free-spirited redhead, and her birth father, a charismatic (and politically involved) businessman in Washington, D.C.; and she moves to America to be near them. At the same time, she relies on the guidance of a young man with whom she feels a mysterious connection; a man who discovered his own estranged father and who, like her birth parents, seems to understand her in a way that no one in her life has done before. Pippa feels she has found her "self" and everything she thought she wanted. But has she?

Caught between two opposing cultures, two sets of parents, and two completely different men, Pippa is plunged into hilarious, heart-wrenching chaos. The birth father she adores turns out to be involved in neoconservative activities she hates; the mesmerizing mother who once abandoned her now refuses to let her go. And the man of her fantasies may be just that...

With an authentic adopted heroine at its center, Larkin's compulsively readable first novel unearths universal truths about love, identity, and family with wit, warmth, and heart.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781439156537
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 11/17/2009
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Alison Larkin was adopted at birth in Washington, D.C., by British parents and raised in England and Africa. After graduation from the University of London and the Webber-Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, she became a regular on the British stage with appearances on Broadway, a ubiquitous voice-over artist, and a successful stand-up comic. Her internationally acclaimed one-woman show, The English American, was a highlight of the London Comedy Festival. For more information, go to

Read an Excerpt

The English American

  • ITHINK EVERYONE SHOULD BE ADOPTED.That way, you can meet your birth parents when you’re old enough to cope with them. Of course it’s all a bit of a lottery. You never know who you’re going to get as parents. I got lucky. Then again, if I’d been adopted by Mia Farrow, rather than Mum and Dad, today I could be married to Woody Allen.

    As far as the side effects are concerned, I discovered early on that the key to dealing with a fear of abandonment is to date people you don’t like, so if they do leave you, it doesn’t matter. Either that, or guarantee fidelity by dating people no one else wants.

    Which is why, at the age of twenty-eight, while my friends are getting married to men who look like Hugh Grant, I’m still living with my sister.

    Charlotte and I are sharing part of what used to be a Georgian house, before it was turned into flats, in West London, opposite Kew Gardens. The Kew famously referred to by Alexander Pope, on the collar of Prince Frederick’s new puppy:

    I am his Highness dog at Kew;

    Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?

    On the morning of the day everything will change, but I don’t yet know it, I jump out of bed half an hour after the alarm goes off, wolf down a bowl of cornflakes, and scrabble about in the bottom of the broom cupboard for an umbrella. It’s raining, of course.

    “Charlotte, have you seen my brush?”

    “Try your sock drawer,” she says.

    My sister is a buyer for Harrods. She’s looked the part since she was three. She emerges from her room, impeccably dressed, blond bob perfectly in place, handbag over her shoulder, car keys already in hand.

    “Pippa,” Charlotte says, “you’re a gorgeous woman. Positively Titian. I wish I looked like you, but—how can I put this? Today you look like a plumber.”

    I’m wearing overalls, which I enjoy very much. Put a different colored T-shirt under them and it looks like you’re wearing an entirely new outfit.

    “I suppose you want a lift to the tube too?”

    “Thanks,” I say. God knows how I’m going to get to work on time when Charlotte moves in with Rupert.

    We’re almost out of our front door, which has been opened and shut by Londoners for nearly two hundred years, when Charlotte spots a tiny piece of cornflake on my shirt. She takes her hanky out of her pocket and starts jabbing at it with the precision of a woodpecker.

    Ever since I can remember, my sister, friends, parents, and occasionally even complete strangers have taken it upon themselves to wipe spills off my clothes. Without asking. They simply assume I feel the same way as they do about food stains. I don’t. I think it’s absurd that anyone thinks they matter.

    But I also don’t like to hurt anyone’s feelings. So when people start wiping food stains off my clothing, I act surprised that the stain is there and thank them profusely.

    It’s all about what interests you. If I spend a whole day with you, and someone asks me afterward how you are, I’ll know what you’re feeling, i.e., sad, happy, preoccupied, pissed-off—whatever it might be. I’ve always been able to tune in to people in that way. But ask me what you were wearing, and I’ll draw a blank.

    Charlotte will not only be able to report on exactly what you were wearing, down to the color of your socks, she’ll somehow know about the hole on the inside of your shirt, even if you’ve tucked it into your trousers. She’ll know the name of your hairstyle, the brand of your lipstick, and the make of your car.

    Charlotte was born a year after me. I was adopted. She wasn’t. It happens a lot, I gather. People think they can’t have children, adopt one, and then,bam , a few months later, the mother gets pregnant with a child of her own.

    Like Mum, Charlotte thinks before she speaks, makes pros and cons lists, and is content with her life the way it is. She’s practical, grounded, solid, sure.

    I, on the other hand, interrupt people because my thoughts fly out of my mouth. My handbag’s full of rubbish. And I want to do something that matters with my life. Right now I’d like to write plays, sing in musicals, and/or rid the world of poverty, violence, cruelty, and right-wing conservative politics.

    I’ve tried to be happy leading the kind of life that makes Mum and Charlotte happy, really I have. But pretending to be interested in things I am not is becoming more and more difficult. Take Scottish dancing.

    If you’ve ever been to any kind of Scottish dancing evening in the south of England, you’ve probably met my dad. He’s the Scot at the microphone, with the shock of thick white hair, barking out orders. He’s never happier than when he’s marching up and down a drafty church hall in his tartan kilt and sporran, teaching the English a new Scottish dance.

    There are more than three thousand of them. To date he’s checked off two hundred and fifty-two. He keeps his dance list in the right-hand cubbyhole of his desk, next to his spare golf balls and his paper clips.

    “Set to the left!” he shouts. Dad’s lived in England so long his Scottish accent is barely detectable most of the time. Except when he’s trying to teach the English to Scottish dance. Then his Scottish burr becomes much more pronounced.

    “Now set to the right! Turn your partners. Very good, Charlotte. No, Pippa! Wrong way! This isn’t the Dashing White Sergeant!”

    I’ve always felt restricted by Scottish dancing. You can’t do your own thing. If you twirl to the left and jump in the air when everyone else is turning right during the Eightsome Reel, for example, you’ll spoil the dance for everyone else.

    I think it’s one of the saddest things in the world—don’t you?—when people are upset because the direction they’re going in feels all wrong for you—and you know you just have to go the opposite way.

  • Customer Reviews

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    English American 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
    PaulineF More than 1 year ago
    Couldn't drop the book down after reading the first few pages. Very funny and emotional!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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    KatelynLucile More than 1 year ago
    I was attracted to this book because of the title. I like British culture and thought it would be fun! Unfortunately, it was substandard. I was hoping that the heroine would be something to the like of Becky Bloomwood from Confessions of a Shopaholic (funny, witty, strongly written). Again, unfortunately, I found all the characters to be very flat. The story started off fine and then headed into the ridiculous. I'm supposed to believe that in the course of three sentences, Pippa sings at a night club and then becomes a sensation on a cable reality It also bothered me that Pippa is so weak. I don't expect all females to be Joan of Arc but she is higly dramatic (not in a funny way) and lets people bully her all over the place. I kept wanting to tell her to "suck it up!" Don't read if you're looking for something fun and witty with an ounce of substance.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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    makayla_104 More than 1 year ago
    It's funny, sad, real, and over all awesome. The author tells he story that makes us feel as if we are with Pippa. I enjoyed every page! If you haven't gotten your hand on this book, than pick it up now! It's a great read that you won't be able to put down.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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    LynnGrubb More than 1 year ago
    The English American (a review by Karen O¿Keefe and Lynn Grubb)
    As published (in part) in the Union Jack News, June 2008.

    As a reunited adoptee, I could strongly relate to Pippa Dunn--a creative and "appallingly untidy" English girl searching for the missing pieces of her identity. Her discovery at the age of 15 that her birth parents are American, coupled with her lifelong desire to unmask her fantasy birth parents into real humans, is best described by Pippa herself: "There's a natural law with secrets. It's the same law that applies to kettles. If you block the ventilation hole, there will, eventually, be an explosion."

    After breaking up with a boyfriend chosen for the purpose of security, Pippa impulsively contacts the adoption agency in America. A kind social worker, whose hands are tied by the US closed adoption laws, informs Pippa that her birth mother wants to be contacted, but the laws bar her from revealing her birth mother's identity. Refusing to be thwarted, Pippa hires an independent investigator to locate her birth mother--a bigger-than-life lady with southern charm and a talent for manipulation. As Pippa is transplanted from her beloved England to America, she finds herself betwixt and between two worlds where she learns to embrace the monsters under her bed and the shock and elation of self-discovery.

    The author's description of how it feels to be adopted was right-on-the-money. Adoption issues such as abandonment, loyalty, fear of rejection, and deep-seated feelings of being different will strike chords with adoptive families everywhere. I found myself riding up and down the rollercoaster of Pippa's emotions as she took in each piece of her history. I especially applauded the way Pippa's parents were portrayed: as empathetic guides who supported Pippa in her search, without pressing their own feelings and needs to the forefront.

    We Agreed
    This book is a "must read" for adopted and non-adopted people alike¿and it should be required reading for adoptive parents! The English American was published in hardback by Simon and Schuster in March of 2008.

    You can find more information about Alison Larkin at
    candyman More than 1 year ago
    Sometimes in life a good book just comes your way. "The English American," by Alison Larkin struck a beautiful chord. I rarely read airport fiction typically finding it drivel. But I was flying to England and thought it appropriate, based upon a respected recommendation, that I read "The English American." Well, I laughed and cried all the way across the North Atlantic, and read it straight through, cover to cover, (about 300 pages), before I laid my head down to sleep. I don't often cry reading books but this one touched my core and unlocked a good one. Wow, I needed that!
    Benjamin Katzenstein
    Executive Vice President,
    Star Kay White, Inc.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Finally! An uplifting, entertaining, hilarious book about adoption! Larkin takes a serious topic and shines the sunlight on it. Pippa treats everyone in her adoption ¿triangle¿ with fairness and understanding. That¿s one of the reasons why this book is a ¿must-read¿ for every adoptee (especially those who are searching for the ¿parents who gave them birth¿), birth mother, and adoptive parent. But anyone who¿s just wondered what it¿s like to be adopted will learn much from it and enjoy it, too. A perfect combination of ¿bitter¿ and ¿sweet,¿ your heart will break for Pippa one minute, only to be howling over her the next. The English American is the perfect book club selection, since its topic is not only relevant (with many adoptees and birth parents searching) but controversial (open records vs. sealed records laws). And if you¿ve ever wondered how to make a delicious cup of English tea, you¿ll find the recipe in here, too. The English American is charming from beginning to end. But you won¿t want it to end! When you finish it, you¿ll be waiting anxiously for the sequel!
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This is a well-balanced portrait of the 'pseudo-schizophrenia' felt by many of us - adoptees! - as we try to find biological roots to add in to our experiences with adoptive families. Pippa's obvious differences from her very typical British family may or may not have been due to her American parentage - but the knowledge that she was adopted made that a reasonable cause. The wonderful description of Pippa's perpetual 'trying to be proper' is a joy to read. Inevitably, she searches for clues about her natural (birth) parents, but with all the guilt felt by every adoptee who has even entertained the idea. Alison Larkin has taken the premise and filled her palette with great colors to describe the people and places and events as she goes through the voyage from a questioning, naive adoptee to a much wiser, yet unjaded, person who has been able to balance the four major branches of her family tree - instead of the usual two! For those who are adopted - you will recognize yourselves and you will be able to empathize with the joys and pains of Pippa's journey. For those who have always known someone who was adopted.... - read this book - you really will get a much better idea of what it's all about AND have a great read to boot! Hat's off to Pippa, Alison and Jack!
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    'The English American' is both an immensely readable and enjoyable novel, and a story with deep meaning on multiple levels. Likewise, its heroine, Pippa Dunn, embodies the best of both worlds: genteel British upbringing on the one hand, and irrepressible independent American spirit on the other. But there is more the more you read and reflect, the more is revealed, not only about Pippa, but also about oneself. I felt connected to Pippa and enjoyed traveling with her on her journey ¿across the Pond¿ and back again, and also within. It doesn¿t matter whether you have experienced any of the situations presented by 'The English American,' whether you are a man or a woman, young or old. It speaks to the human heart, with both humor and spirit.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    An utterly compelling debut novel 'Alison Larkin's debut novel The English American is dynamite - a funny, moving, utterly compelling story about an adopted British woman who finds her birth parents in the United States, it's also a surprisingly romantic, fast-paced and at times subtly very sexy love story. When the very English Pippa Dunn decides to find the American birth parents she knows nothing about, she is convinced that all her problems will disappear. Solve the great mystery of your life and everything else will fall into place, right? Wrong. Finding her charismatic American birth parents brings Pippa as much confusion as it brings answers. However, as she begins a new life as a cabaret artist in New York, America itself seems to fit her like a glove. Struggling to come to terms with what she has learned about her origins and her self, Pippa's in the grip of an obsession for a man she hardly knows who sends her seductive emails from around the world. Will she opt for the obsessive love that brought her birth parents together and resulted in her existence? Or will the quiet kind of love her adoptive parents have end up being the right choice for her? The men in Pippa's life are as different from each other as her adoptive parents are different from her birth parents and as different as England is from America. The pace starts on page one and doesn't let up until the end. It's a rich, insightful story that is impossible to put down. I laughed, cried and then, when it was over, I cried again, because I knew I was going to miss Pippa, who felt like a friend. It's a wonderful story by a wonderful new writer. And it has short chapters, which I love! Read it.'
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    The book is equally humorous and moving. It touches on the subject of adoption and self acceptance in a unique and thoughtful manner. An easy and delightful read. This woman is funny! Deeply comic.
    harstan More than 1 year ago
    Twenty-eight years old Pippa Dunn is English to her bone marrow she believes DNA would affirm that it is in her gene pool to make a proper cup of tea. So why does she feel like an outsider in the West London home of her adoptive parents, who she loves. She cherishes her sister too, but they are night and day. --- However, Pippa discovers that her biological parents do not have Earl Grey running through her arteries instead her mom is an artsy Georgia peach and her father is a politically astute DC business man. Pippa needs to meet Billie and Walt, whom she fascinates as people who will understand her unlike her adoptive prim and proper English family. When she meets them and gets to know them a bit, Pippa is disappointed as the reality fails to live ---up to her fantasy. --- THE ENGLISH AMERICAN is a terrific insightful ¿biographical' fictionalized account of the author¿s one-woman show. The story line is superb when it focuses on Pippa¿s inner thoughts on identity and belonging as the nature vs. nurture argument is debated inside her head. When the plot turns to a second chance romance between Pippa and Nick, that failed seven years ago because she was not ready it loses some of its discernment because it diverts from the prime theme and besides his hyperbolic drama queen performance seems inane. Still Pippa makes for an insightful character who provides a strong focus between the DNA and the loving home. --- Harriet Klausner