Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee

Living in Hong Kong as an expatriate is living a charmed life.  The husbands (and it's mostly husbands who work) are given lots of enticements to uproot their families and move abroad for a stint away from the mainland.  Travel allowances for the family to go back to America in business class twice a year, a housing allowance that means no housing costs, a membership to the country club, schooling allowances for the children.  Everyone has servants, a driver, a nanny, a maid.  The wives don't usually work but live a life of shopping, visiting with friends and going to the club.  It is an artificial life at times, with your friends the other people you see and the endless round of socializing.  It is reminiscent of a summer camp or college days, times when one is surrounded only by those in the same general life situation.  You share intimate things with them, but once their time is over and they disappear, they also disappear from your life.

Three women's lives are twisted together in the latest round of expatriates.  Margaret had it all, a loving husband, three beautiful children until the family went abroad for a family vacation and met a horrific family tragedy.  Hiliary and her husband are trying for a child but it isn't going well and they are looking into adoption.  At least until her husband leaves her, alone and adrift.  Mercy is the youngest, a graduate from Columbia University who can't quite seem to make a go of it after college.  Everyone knows everyone in Hong Kong, at least in the expatriate community, so all three woman know, or at least are aware of, each other.  How their lives entwine in the disasters and reincarnation of each life is the life exploration Lee displays.

Lee knows what she is writing about.  She and her husband spent ten years in Hong Kong in the expatriate community.  She was born and raised in Hong Kong so is very familiar with the area as well as the expatriate community.  Her ability to deftly dig into the lives of these women and show how they adjust to an unfamiliar world is stellar.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in exploring how people's lives mesh and how one moves on from life tragedies.

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