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Janice Y. K. Lee – The Expatriates

Posted in Book reviews, and Fiction

The Expatriates. They and me. As often, I‘ve bought a book perfectly suiting my current position. As someone, who left her homeland behind, trying to live a “new & more exciting life abroad“, I could appreciate Lee‘s book even more. And without any doubt, I loved it for various reasons. It‘s a catchy book full of fragments of lives, so authentic and exact, that I wasn‘t able to put it down. Although main characters find themselves miles away from me, it kind of felt like I know them all.

The novel takes place in fascinating Hong Kong and is describing, mostly upper-class life of three women and their families. Mercy, Margaret and Hilary are having in common a children element. Mercy is childish twenty-something, pitying her life and reflectingon her past decisions. Her life changes drastically due to a tragical event, where Margeret‘s family is involved. Another time, when Mercy recieves fate‘s kick, is Hilary‘s turn to be distantly a part of it.

Lee muses on society topics such as adoption, dysfunctional marriages, the need to belong somewhere, but also superficial friendships, cyber bullying and un/wanted pregnancy.
Interesting are not only lives of the mentioned women, but also realistic illustrated observations of expatriates‘ situations. What are the repeating patterns within a small society, becoming almost stereotypes: who is coming to Hong Kong, from what reason, how expatriates‘ everyday looks like, including predictable evolution of their relationships.
However author turns her attention to those without any sentiment, nor judgement. While reading, it felt like I‘m an observer, same as Margaret: watching people walking on the streets, wondering what‘s in their heads.

The inner dialogues of novel’s characters are so accurate, I had to smile for myself. How often do I think in such way myself? But The Expatriates is not a book which task is to judge; the opposite. It reveals not-so-shiny aspects of living a dream. Gloomy portrayal of having a temporary life, limited by few years somewhere away from our beloved ones, same as different concepts of friendships or lifestyle. We, who have lived abroad can completely identify with Lee‘s introspective observations. Life abroad can be full of exciting experiencies, making new connections and discovering divergent cultures, but also lonely, scary substitution of a life “at home“. It all depends on who we are and how do we decide to grab our opportunities.

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