Janice Y.K. Lee, author of “The Piano Teacher” returns with “The Expatriates,” a searing novel about the mothers, marriages, and fulfillment in the expatriate community of Hong Kong.
“The new expatriates arrive practically on the hour, every day of the week. . . . carrying babies and bottles, carrying exhaustion and excitement and frustration. . .
“The new expatriates are tired. They have arrived, but they are not sure to what. The immediate journey has ended, but the longer one has just begun . . . . The road stretches long before them. They are exhausted. Their eyes close and they dream of what lies ahead.”
Alternate chapters chart the very different – though intersecting – journeys of three women.
Margaret, once a happily married mother of three, has had her life turned upside down by an unimaginable loss. She is going through the motions, hoping that her life will again become normal, waiting for “small mercies.”
Margaret and Hilary knew each other as children. Wealthy Hilary is struggling with a failing marriage and the desire to become a mother.
Mercy is a Korean-American graduate of Columbia who is as much an outsider in Hong Kong as she was in America.
“Hong Kong was supposed to have been a new start – if one could say one needed a new start at the age of twenty-four, which is how old she was when she came, three years ago. It is safe to say life has not turned out the way Mercy thought it was supposed to.”
That is an understatement. Life has not turned out the way it was supposed to for any of the three women.
In the claustrophobic hothouse of expat Hong Kong, it is not surprising that these women will meet. What is surprising is the force with which they collide – and the lasting consequences of the collision. Mercy – whose very name begs for forgiveness – is in many ways the catalyst for irreversible changes in each of the women’s lives.
Lee, who has herself lived in Hong Kong, writes tellingly of the details of the expats’ lives, from the country club memberships to the household helpers, from the cloistered communities that are, at times, more American than the ones they left behind.
“The Expatriates” is an emotionally haunting look at the very different – but entirely universal – inner lives of three women whose lives come together by the coincidence of being expatriates. It is a testament to Lee’s skill as a writer that “The Expatriates” is as life affirming as it is heartbreaking.
“The Expatriates” is available at amazon.com and at your favorite New York bookstores.