JAY Martin is embarking on what appears to be every other Australian woman’s dream: spending three years as a lady of absolute leisure in northern Europe.
Accompanying husband Tom Armstrong on his diplomatic posting to Poland, Martin is at first excited by the promise of free time in which to explore their adoptive city, Warsaw, and its surrounding regions.
The novelty wears thin after only a few weeks, however, and in place of the initial wave of exoticism Martin feels herself quickly drowning under a tsunami of helplessness and rebellion as she struggles to read grocery labels, use public transport and make interpersonal connections in an entirely unfamiliar culture.
Her attempts to master a language of ‘ssshhhhhhes’ leave her mentally exhausted, and the sense of loss brought on by having stalled her own career as a senior political communicator in Canberra in order to travel with her husband leave Martin longing to reclaim the demands of full-time work with its structure and routine. The life of a non-working expatriate wife, it seems, is not the idyllic existence outsiders imagine it to be.
As Armstrong becomes increasingly ground down by his obligations to the embassy, Martin finally starts to regain her characteristic confidence, creating a role for herself as a freelance reporter and establishing a small but meaningful circle of loyal and engaging friends, both local and foreign.
In the process she explores areas of Poland few tourists visit, accepts that vegetarianism is an unfathomable concept to meat-loving pierogi traditionalists and develops a penchant for generous servings of vodka-spiked apple juice.
Yet, as the seasons tick slowly by and the emotional strain on her marriage intensifies, Martin begins to wonder whether she will ever settle comfortably into the apparently endless round of exhibition openings, cocktail parties, black-tie dinners and receptions for Australian government VIPs.