Review Blog

Mar 14 2016

The expatriates by Janice Y. K. Lee

cover image

Little, Brown, 2016. ISBN 9781408706862
(Age: Adult - Mature YA readers) Recommended. Dislocation. Relationships. Hong Kong. Identity. Maternal role. Family. Like the central characters in this book, the reader becomes a traveller into another land as the author deftly deposits us in the experience of the contemporary expatriate living in Hong Kong as we eavesdrop on the internal dialogue and emotional state of three women. The main characters have left America and are in Hong Kong - for a time. This dislocation and temporary residence state impacts their relationships and their identity. For the married expat women this means an almost 1950s blissful experience of domestic and social life, with the added bonus of hired help, while their husbands climb the ladder of success. Margaret though suffers from a heart-breaking loss and grief response that impacts both her family and Mercy, a young Korean-American woman who has her own personal identity issues. Another of the women, Hilary, is saddened by the loss of identity and family because of infertility. In the unique social setting of the expatriate woman, this too brings amplified heartache.
The poignant journey of relationships that are put under pressure by isolation and also enriched by the expatriate experience is the basis of this intriguing and captivating narrative. It also highlights the bizarrely unique nature of cross-cultural experience from the perspective of the wealthy expats. The author manages to communicate the sense of loneliness and the false connectedness that occurs as people are enmeshed, for no other reason than that their journeys began from a similar first-world experience.
This book can be recommended for its ability to move the reader, and the gentle and yet profound way it deals with the emotional struggles of the main characters. Lee stirs empathy as we watch these women and get inside their skin to view a different world, forever changed by their expat experience. This is essentially an adult story, but mature Young Adult readers could also connect to the postgraduate world of work far from home. For anyone who has ever felt like they didn't belong, or has had to reimagine themselves in a new context, this story will resonate powerfully.
Carolyn Hull

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