Janice Y. K. Lee
Published: Little Brown
Date: 12th January 2016
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Thank you to Hachette NZ
Set in present-day Hong Kong, The Expatriates follows the lives of three women. An unspeakable tragedy leaves twenty-something Mercy with a crippling personal inertia, and Margaret, a mother of three, numb and unable to heal. In the same small expatriate community, Hilary tries to distract herself from a marriage gone stale by providing piano lessons for a local orphan, only to find her actions openly criticized on an anonymous online forum.
In The Expatriates, Janice Y. K. Lee takes us to the world of the American expats community in Hong Kong. In this community while surrounded by a buzzing city they gather together in their pampered world - being served by servers and generally taken care of. They make their home away from home, they stick together, living in a fish bowl of sorts, where everyones lives are fodder for gossip.
The story follows that of three women, who eventually become linked in a variety of ways. When we meet Mercy she is living in a small apartment, making a meal of lettuce leaves. She has no job and seems to be aimless and irresponsible. We eventually learn she has been involved in an incident that has put her life on hold and filled with guilt. She has no job and just gets work when she can, at odds with the top education that she has had. She seems to be a kind of self made victim.
Margaret is first and foremost a mother. She is a landscape architect but no longer really works. She is planning her husband Clarke's 50th birthday, or that would be Priscilla the party planner doing that! Margaret seems incapable of making any decisions. She seems only to find any solace in a small room she has, where she flees to escape a hugely significant moment in her life that has totally rocked her world.
Hillary is childless and thirty eight years of age. She longs for a child, yet seems unable to have one. Her marriage seems to have lost any significance and she and David have drifted apart. She is very rich in her own right, and so money is not an issue. She dreams about adopting a young boy in a home who is about seven years - Julian.
This is a slow paced, detail rich story. It is filled with the ordinary details of daily life. Yet the mundane everydayness hides and contrasts with the deeper tragedies, loss, longings and aspirations of these three women. You cannot help but become involved with them as their lives intertwine in unusual ways.
By the time the story closes each woman has been on a journey and is ready to start a new phase in her life. How they get there, how they end up being in a room together at the close - to find out you will need to read the book! I think it finished appropriately, although as a reader you know this is where the book pauses in their story, but it is not the finish for them. They must journey on into where life will take them next.