Borderline Citizen


Borderline Citizen

Dispatches from the Outskirts of Nationhood

Robin Hemley

American Lives Series

216 pages
3 photographs, 3 maps


March 2020


$21.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

March 2020


$21.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

March 2020


$21.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

In Borderline Citizen Robin Hemley wrestles with what it means to be a citizen of the world, taking readers on a singular journey through the hinterlands of national identity. As a polygamist of place, Hemley celebrates Guy Fawkes Day in the contested Falkland Islands; Canada Day and the Fourth of July in the tiny U.S. exclave of Point Roberts, Washington; Russian Federation Day in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad; Handover Day among protesters in Hong Kong; and India Day along the most complicated border in the world.

Forgoing the exotic descriptions of faraway lands common in traditional travel writing, Borderline Citizen upends the genre with darkly humorous and deeply compassionate glimpses into the lives of exiles, nationalists, refugees, and others. Hemley’s superbly rendered narratives detail these individuals, including a Chinese billionaire who could live anywhere but has chosen to situate his ornate mansion in the middle of his impoverished ancestral village, a black nationalist wanted on thirty-two outstanding FBI warrants exiled in Cuba, and an Afghan refugee whose intentionally altered birth date makes him more easy to deport despite his harrowing past.

Part travelogue, part memoir, part reportage, Borderline Citizen redefines notions of nationhood through an exploration of the arbitrariness of boundaries and what it means to belong.

Author Bio

Robin Hemley is the author of numerous books, including Invented EdenReply All: StoriesA Field Guide for Immersion Writing; Nola; Turning Life into Fiction; and Do-Over! He has won many awards for his writing, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and three Pushcart Prizes, as well as residencies at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center, the Bogliasco Foundation, the Fine Arts Work in Provincetown, the MacDowell Colony, and others.  


"Engaging bits about intriguing lands, all in service of trying to 'understand the complexities of the world.'"—Kirkus Reviews

"A thought-provoking work that troubles the complexities of nationhood."—Wendy Hinman, Foreword Reviews

"Borderline Citizen makes not only for interesting historical reading, but an absorbing vantage on our contemporary crises of belonging."—Justin Tyler Clark, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Robin Hemley explodes the very idea of nationhood and in so doing redefines it, offering a more thoughtful and humane notion of how to be a citizen of our world today. These ‘dispatches’ are travel writing at its best, where the writer delves into the intimacies of foreign places, seeing beyond their exotic surfaces, in search of a global humanity. Brilliantly comic, darkly but poignantly introspective, Borderline Citizen should be required reading for the twenty-first century and beyond.”—Xu Xi, author of This Fish is Fowl: Essays of Being

“Robin Hemley begins Borderline Citizen with the observation that ‘as travelers, we see surfaces first. It’s easy to exoticize, to misinterpret, nearly impossible to see something except through our own lenses.’ He then goes on to show how a thoughtful, perceptive, and open-hearted traveler can overcome all those limitations. In vividly rendered essays, Hemley takes us to some of history’s oddest bits of territory, showing how human lives are shaped (and often distorted) by arbitrary political boundaries. With superb storytelling, he explores the meanings of nationalism, sovereignty, citizenship, and the loyalties of the human heart.”—Corey Flintoff, former NPR foreign correspondent

“In these days of ultranationalism comes a surprising antidote in Robin Hemley’s cabinet of curiosities, Borderline Citizen, his account of his journeys to the ‘bits and bobs’ of national territories stranded by accidents of geography, history, and stubbornness. Hemley is a delightful guide, but there are serious questions for him to explore here as well—and lessons for all the mainlands and mother countries about the meaning and price of national identity. Quite possibly the most original travel book published in years.”—Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family and This Brilliant Darkness

“Robin Hemley has traveled to more countries than just about anyone I know, and along the way he’s collected vital observations on the tragic absurdity of nationalism and the implicit violence of a world crisscrossed with borders. I think of him in the company of Pankaj Mishra, Pico Iyer, Bruce Chatwin, and John Berger—writers whose transnational souls challenge the idea of a single place of origin.”—Jess Row, author of White Flights and Your Face in Mine

“This is a book of daring travel and quiet observation. Borderline Citizen challenges common constructs of national borders, patriotism, and citizenship to shed an urgent light on the exile’s predicament. With a sharp wit guided by empathy, Hemley has written a necessary and entirely unique book about what it really means to belong in a divided world.”—Jennifer Percy, journalist and author of Demon Camp

“Robin Hemley is a born traveler, and in Borderline Citizen he visits exclaves, enclaves, and places in between to explore what loyalty to and love of a country mean. In Havana and Hong Kong, Kaliningrad and the Falkland Islands, he poses questions about identity, a complicated subject for many in the twenty-first century, and what he learns along the way is by turns illuminating and amazing. Thus a journey to an artificial rain forest in Nebraska inspires a meditation on authenticity, which reveals that in these uncertain times there is no better guide to the challenges we face than Robin Hemley.”—Christopher Merrill, author of Self-Portrait with Dogwood

“Few writers have traveled as voraciously as Robin Hemley, and none with his special blend of curiosity, heart, and wit. His latest collection interrogates the idea of nationhood by spotlighting a wide spectrum of citizens—from an Afghan refugee to a Chinese billionaire—to prove that personhood is all that matters in the end. At a time when nationalism is resurging around the globe, Hemley bolsters the spirit with this vibrant read.”—Stephanie Elizondo Griest, author of All the Agents and Saints: Dispatches from the U.S. Borderlands

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Prologue: The Traveler in the Twenty-First Century
Walled Citizens
No One Will See Me Again Forever
The Great Land Swap
Don’t Be Too Difficult
Close Calls with a Potentially Violent Felon in Cuba
They Have Forgotten Many Things
Mr. Chen’s Mountain
To the Rainforest Room
Celebrating Russian Federation Day with Immanuel Kant
Field Notes for the Graveyard Enthusiast
Survivor Stories
Independence Days

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