I first learned of Brittani Sonnenberg‘s novel Home Leave (Grand Central, 2014) while reading the stellar lineup of the upcoming Hong Kong Lit Fest. And when I was in Hong Kong a couple weeks ago, I met Brittani Sonnenberg at a book event! I just read Home Leave this weekend and loved it.
The story centers around the Kriegstein family, perpetual expats who live in Europe and Asia, with periodic stints in the American South and Midwest.
Chris and Elise first move abroad as a couple early in their marriage. Elise needs to get away from her dysfunctional family and Chris yearns for some excitement after his illustrious high school sports career fizzles in college.
But the real focus of the book is the couple’s daughters, Leah and Sophie. The sisters are at first upset when their father announces they’re moving to Shanghai in the early 1990s (when it was just starting to revive). But they soon learn to love it there. Same with Elise. Shanghai offers the Kriegstein females opportunities to reinvent themselves and come into their own.
And just like most serial expats, as soon as the family becomes comfortable in Shanghai, it’s time to move again. Few would protest leaving Shanghai for Singapore in the mid-90s, but Elise and the girls do just that.
After they settle into Singapore, tragedy strikes and nothing is ever be the same again.
Sonnenberg’s writing is beautiful and to the point. I love her style and the way she structures the book. I’ve read other reviews that mention the word ‘humor’, but I found the book to be a somber look at expat life and family loss.
I would recommend this book if you have an interest in life abroad, both for children and adults, and if you enjoy stories about families across the generations.