A few weeks ago, I blogged about a lovely evening with author Janice YK Lee. At that time, I hadn’t yet read her new, best-selling novel, The Expatriates (Viking, 2016). I figured I would love it because it’s set in modern day Hong Kong and if you’ve read this blog at all, you know how much I love Hong Kong.
I wish I’d read it before her reading, but better late than never. I started and finished it last week over 2-3 days. If I had had more time, I would have read it in one sitting.
The story is told through the perspectives of three expatriate women. Margaret is a refined landscape designer and mother of three. She is a quarter Korean and makes a fateful trip to Seoul with her family that will change their lives forever. Her youngest is kidnapped on a busy Seoul street.
Hilary is married without children, but is desperate to have a baby. She and her husband haven’t tried fertility treatment because Hilary doesn’t want to go there, but throughout the book she explores the possibility of adopting. She even pays for piano lessons for a boy at a local orphanage.
Mercy is the youngest of these women and, unlike Margaret and Hilary, doesn’t live in posh accommodations on Hong Kong Island’s South Side. She lives closer to Sheung Wan and Central in the denser areas of Hong Kong Island. Mercy is Korean American and comes from modest means, which also sets her apart from Hilary and Margaret.
The three women intersect through personal crises, but I won’t give it away because I want you to enjoy it as much as I did–without spoilers.
What I love about this book is that the characters are flawed, but still sympathetic. They are very human. I’ve read other Hong Kong expat novels, like Paul Theroux’s Kowloon Tong, which to me seemed like one cliche after another.
The Expatriates is about a world I knew little about even though I was an expat in Hong Kong. But I still could relate to all of these women, especially Hilary (trying to get pregnant in Hong Kong) and Mercy (making some bad relationship choices in Hong Kong). Lee’s Hong Kong is so vivid, I could clearly picture all areas she writes about. I haven’t been to Seoul in almost 30 years, but that was just as descriptive. As was Thailand, which also features in story.
Do you have a favorite novel about expatriates?