Review: The Expatriates

Since retreating from social media, I’m finally getting around to reading my extensive to-read list on Goodreads.


My first pick was Janice Y.K. Lee’s The Expatriates for no reason other than perusing the Los Angeles Review of Books and stumbling on Susan Blumberg-Kason recommending Lee’s book.

She writes a wonderful tale of expatriate life that any expat residing in Asia or elsewhere can relate and connect with on various levels. I connected with the novel on many levels, though I never lived, visited Hong Kong during my four-year stint in Xi’an.

Lee really nails it when she describes the repatriating experience:

That’s the shock, and the surprise, to a lot of repatriates: No one back home cares. There’s an initial, shallow interest in what life is like abroad, but most Americans aren’t actually interested, at all.

The novel centers around three American women living in Hong Kong: Mercy, Margaret, and Hilary. These women are of various ages, backgrounds and stages in their lives. Mercy epitomizes the millennial graduate of a well-recognized university who finds herself job-hopping or jobless. Margaret, a mother of three and trailing spouse, is dealt quite a blow but no spoilers about what unfolds for her. Finally, there’s Hilary, also a trailing spouse who ends up a mother (again, won’t give details). Their paths slowly intertwine as the novel progresses, keeping you on the edge of your seat.

My only complaint is that Margaret’s situation doesn’t entirely resolve itself and I would like a sequel to see how all three women’s lives conclude: Do they all remain in Hong Kong, repatriate, start over as an expat in another place? Although Lee ends on a high note and does give us some sense of the women’s trajectory, I’d like to know more.

The book’s pacing worked well for me as my first foray back into daily reading after stalling and not completing several books toward the end of 2016. If you’re looking for something you can pick up and get through with ease, The Expatriates will do. Disclaimer: Be prepared to become invested in these characters’ lives, regardless if you are/were an expat, as there is so much universality running rampant throughout the novel.

Have you read The Expatriates? Reading something worth sharing? Comment away! 

4 thoughts on “Review: The Expatriates

  1. Susan Blumberg-Kason says:

    I’m so glad you liked it! It’s not a happy story, but I think it’s accurate. Another one I just finished that’s similar is Stephanie Han’s new collection of short stories titled “Swimming in Hong Kong.” It takes place there, in Seoul, and the US. The overarching theme is invisibility, but not when it’s desired.

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