The English American

The English American

by Alison Larkin


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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.

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 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
    PaulineF More than 1 year ago
    Couldn't drop the book down after reading the first few pages. Very funny and emotional!
    Anonymous 29 days ago
    A great story so full of human emotion and honest feelings. People are not always who you think they are. This book addresses human frailty and the people whose actions are motivated from selfishness. I truly enjoyed watching Pippa navigate life and grow into who she becomes.
    bridget3420 on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    When Pippa is born, she is adopted by an English couple. She struggles with feeling like an outcast. She isn't quite sure where she belongs. She has friends and she knows that her adoptive family loves her, but she can't help feeling like something is missing.Pippa finally decides that she must venture out and make the journey to America and meet with the woman who gave birth to her, Billie. Pippa soon discovers that nothing is simple and dreams are hardly ever reality.I loved following along and sharing Pippa's life. She is hilarious and real, definitely someone I would love to be friends with.
    kateiyzie on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    American baby adopted by Brits reunites with birth mom. Funny, and good observations.
    TerriBooks on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    Pippa decides it's time to figure out who she really is -- knowing she's adopted, she notices all the ways she's different from her English family. So she hunts down her American birth parents and actually moves to New York to work for her birth mother. While the initial impressions are favorable (her birth father is hilarious in some ways) eventually truth overcomes idealism. For a good part of a year, Pippa lets just about everyone she meets in America take advantage of her, but a series of crises opens her eyes, and she finds out where she really belongs. I liked Pippa, she is funny and warm. Her interior conversations, largely focused on the differences between life in England and America, show her intelligence and humor. I found the book suffered from a slow pace (until the last 20 pages when all of a sudden everything is resolved). Easy read.
    Cariola on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    I've had this book in my audio library for at least five years. I'm not sure why I put off listening to it for so long . . . maybe because it sounded a bit chick lit-ish, or maybe because of the rather squeaky chick lit-ish voice of the reader, the author, Alison Larkin. So was it chick lit? Yes--and no. Pippa Dunn=e is a 28-year old single woman looking for love and looking for herself. It's her inability ot commit that leads Pippa, an adoptee, in search of her birth parents: she has abandoned a series of good relationships when she fears that her partner will reject her. Pippa has know since she was 10 that she was adopted but knows nothing about her birth parents. The novel takes us through her journey: the complicated communications with the adoption agency, which is bound by law to withhold information; the arrival of a letter from her birth mother, written as she was being given up for adoption; the negotiations of an attorney who finally puts her in touch with her birth mother--an American! Eventually, Pippa moves to America to learn more about herself and her parents--and she gets more than she ever expected. In the course of her journey, she begins to question her own identity but ultimately finds herself.This isn't the type of book I would normally read, but I did enjoy it. It's nice to take a break from more serious books every now and then.
    drbubbles on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    I read this on the assumption that it was a fluffy romance. It is not. It is an easy read, to be sure, but it is also a very rich one. The CiP data make it sound like it's about adoption, and while that's certainly the organizing premise of the story, there's far more to it than that. It touches on topics such as identity, nationality, nature vs. nurture, self / other, public / private, and probably a couple of other things. To me it seemed often to be threatening some disastrous turn of events; and if the ending was a bit trite, well, that's not uncommon. I thought it read noticeably more literarily than the things I've been reading lately. Its tone reminded me of Isak Dinesen's short stories.
    gardentoad on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    Pippa Dunn, in The English American by Alison Larkin, has always known she was adopted by her very British parents, but when she discovers that she was born American, her life begins to make more sense. Her parents were loving and kind, but never quite understood her ambition, creativity, expressiveness, or messiness. As an adult she embarks on a journey to find her birth parents and hopefully find out more about herself. This is a heartwarming and hilarious book about finding the truth.
    coolmama on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    Meh, it was OK.fiction?Nonfiction? Based heavily on her own life as judging from the author's notes.Lightweight, breezy, not to deep story of Pippa Dunn who searches for her birth parents. Flights to America, love and loss, finding out "who she is" (and that is who she always was) entail.
    pdebolt on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    This is a lightweight read about an interesting subject. The characters were fairly predictable, as was the ending. Given the premise, I had hoped for a novel with more substance.
    elleseven on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    Written by an English woman who was adopted from an American, this book is an fictional account of the emotional ups and downs of finding birth parents as an adult and the mixture of joy and disappointment at discovering that your birth parents' foibles won't fix your life. An excellent read.
    bachaney on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    As someone who loves British culture, and also has a crazy southern family, I loved the English American. The book captures life in both America and in Britain from the perspective of both an outsider and an insider, with a delightfully funny heroine, Pippa, at the center. When I first started the book I wasn't sure what to expect--a stand up comedian writing a book based on her stage act?--how is that going to work? But Larkin does a great job getting inside Pippa's head and using her voice to take the reader along on her journey. Pippa's honesty throughout her journey is enjoyable to read and funny, and is the thing that makes her so lovable. And while this book is a little chick lit-ish, I really think its more of a coming of age story than the traditional chick lit, which is much more focused on chasing guys and dishing to friends. The book is really about Pippa finding herself, she just happens to find a guy or two along the way too. I would recommend this book for anyone who wants a fun, makes you smile as you drink your earl grey, read.
    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.
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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.