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The Expatriates: A Novel by Janice Y. K. Lee
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The Expatriates: A Novel (2016)

by Janice Y. K. Lee

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I quite enjoyed this look at three expatriate American women in Hong Kong. Margaret, a trailing wife (so called because she's trailed behind Clarke, her husband who is working there) with their three children. Hilary, an independently wealthy trailing wife of David, a corporate attorney. Mercy is the third woman, a single twenty-something Columbia grad who has been aimless and continues to be hapless on the periphery of this group. Their lives were intertwined well and while I often was frustrated with them, I still found them all interesting to read about. I won't give spoilers here because they're worth reading but I do have to say that one character's lack of an actual name did niggle at me and threw me out of the story each time I came across it. There was never any explanation given for this circumstance so I didn't know if the character really had that as a name as no one else did or if the author had done it for a specific reason or if there was some sort of cultural hint I was missing that the reference was done as a nod too.

It was a lot more sad than I'd expected and I have to say that I wholly disagree with a blurb I'd read that mentioned it was funny. The epilogue was totally saccharine but but I really didn't need that for a satisfying end, in fact, it diminished the story a bit for me. Sometimes you need just to skip epilogues. I definitely recommend reading this one. ( )
  anissaannalise | Feb 28, 2018 |
Mixed feelings but terrible ending. Lee's second book revolves around three women. Margaret, a mom with three children and who is rich enough to have a maid and not work. Her youngest child, G, disappears (this isn't really spoilery since it's a key driver of the plot) while on a trip to South Korea. Margaret and her family must cope with the fall-out.
 
Mercy is a young, twenty-something who is lost. Doesn't know what she wants to do with her life, did not find roots after going to Columbia University in New York. So now she is in Hong Kong for...what? To find a new life? To get a job? To find herself?
 
Meanwhile, Hilary is a woman who followed her husband to Hong Kong and has been trying to get pregnant for years. After so many years of trying her marriage is fraying. Hilary finds consolation in looking after an orphan by paying for his piano lessons. As her marriage deteriorates further, Hilary considers adopting the orphan.
 
Lee rotates between these three women as their lives come together in terrible and sad ways. Normally I hate more than one POV but Lee made it work and even did it better than in her previous book 'The Piano Teacher'. Occasionally it devolved into cliffhanger clichés but I mostly felt compelled to read on and thought it worked for the story she was trying to write.
 
That said, overall I was disappointed in this effort. The story is mostly chick-litish with affairs, a woman trying to get pregnant, a woman trying to find herself, and looking at the uber-rich set of Hong Kong. In some ways I thought of Kevin Kwan's 'Crazy Rich Asians' although this is specifically about the expatriate set.
 
At the same time, I also felt that was a bit of a detriment. Other than occasional mentions, I never really felt like I was in Hong Kong. Tweak a few pieces here and there and you could easily be New York or London or some other similar enclave with a bunch of rich people who don't know what to do with themselves and some of the other people they meet. I thought Lee did a great job with the WWII (and the post period) Hong Kong in her last book but I didn't get that same atmosphere here. Maybe it has to do with the modern setting. OR the perhaps lack of distinction was to show that rich people can be the same wherever you go.
 
I also thought the ending was very jarring for the book. In some ways it wasn't a surprise, but given the darkness of the plot (Margaret's young child G goes missing) I didn't think the ending fit at all. (For some reason G's name is never revealed but Margaret's other children are named, which made no sense to me.) If anything G reminded me of Madeleine McCann's story, which currently has no ending. I realize that part of my preferences is not reading bad things happening to children but this ending really doesn't address that part of the story much and I found it very trite and eye-rolling.
 
There are also various plot threads that are also brought up but never go anywhere (Margaret's husband and troubles with their two other children).
 
I remember not liking the ending for Lee's 'Piano' either so maybe it's just a trend with me. I didn't mind reading this but I'm glad I borrowed it from the library. ( )
  acciolibros | Feb 11, 2018 |
The Expatriates follows three American women, Mercy, Margaret, and Hilary, who live in an insulated social circle in Hong Kong. Mercy is a young Korean-American woman who has been trying to make a
new start in Hong Kong for three years. She is having trouble finding a steady job and knows that she's always been “unlucky.” Margaret is a rich housewife whose life revolves around her kids, her husband, and a small number of friends. When we meet Mercy and Margaret we know they are connected by something tragic, but we don't know what it is. In Part Two we meet Hilary. Hilary and her husband, David, have been in Hong Kong for eight years, and she has been trying to become pregnant ever since their arrival. Her relationship with David is mostly indifferent, but she's hoping an adopted child will help.

Their individual and connecting stories are told by all three women in alternating chapters. Even though they are all on different paths and dealing with different crises, they suffer a similar hopelessness and loneliness. One of the best parts of the book is watching the lives of Mercy, Margaret and Hilary converge and change. I thought the characters were imperfect in a realistic way. I didn't like everything about the women but I felt their stories were interesting and the resolution was satisfying. I've never read the author's debut novel, the Piano Teacher, but I've now added it to my TBR.
( )
  Olivermagnus | Aug 9, 2017 |
Yes, well, I’ve been reading some rather heavy books lately, so it was time for a bit of light fiction…

The Expatriates, however, turned out to be not-quite-light, delivering me into a different world and another outlook on life. The child of Korean parents who migrated to Hong Kong, Janice Y.K. Lee was born and brought up there, but finished her education in America. She now lives in New York where her first novel The Piano Teacher reached the bestseller lists. Bestseller status is usually enough to warn me off, but The Expatriates appealed because, yes, it’s about American expats in Hong Kong, and it offers sharp observations about this affluent community living in a bubble within one of the most dynamic cities in the world.

SPOILER ALERT

The plot revolves around three women, all of whom are marooned by the tragedy of loss as well as by their lifestyle in a place where wives are almost superfluous. Mercy Cho, a Columbia graduate without the family background that leads to the job network, is working as a nanny for Margaret Reade when the family is on holiday in Korea and the youngest child disappears into the crowd. Mercy is paralysed by guilt, and Margaret is overwhelmed by her loss. Hilary Starr, stuck in a bad marriage and struggling with infertility in an expat society where the only thing for women to do is to have children, doesn’t know what to do with herself in a place where the wives can’t work and don’t even have the running of a household to do because that’s all done by cheap household staff. All three of them find their former identities subsumed by inertia, drifting in an empty social life where their privilege is an unspoken embarrassment.

Margaret looked around. Everyone was white, and they may have all been American, and even all from the left side of the country. She had thought that Hong Kong would be international and cosmopolitan, but she felt as if she were at a dinner party in any suburb in northern California. (p.30)

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2017/07/20/the-expatriates-by-janice-y-k-lee/ ( )
  anzlitlovers | Jul 20, 2017 |
This novel traces the intertwining stories of three American women living in Hong Kong. Their circumstances differ, but each face struggles of motherhood and purpose. I didn't enjoy this book much - Lee's writing just doesn't do much for me - but I can see how it would likely appeal to those who have lived abroad or who have an interest in China. ( )
  wagner.sarah35 | Jan 29, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0525429476, Hardcover)

From the author of the New York Times bestseller The Piano Teacher, a beautiful, transporting novel about motherhood, marriage, and friendship

Janice Y. K. Lee’s blockbuster hit debut, The Piano Teacher, was called “immensely satisfying” by People, “intensely readable” by O, The Oprah Magazine, and “a rare and exquisite story” by Elizabeth Gilbert. Now, in her long-awaited new novel, Lee explores with devastating poignancy the emotions, identities, and relationships of three very different American women living in the same small expat community in Hong Kong.

Mercy, a young Korean American and recent Columbia graduate, is adrift, undone by a terrible incident in her recent past. Hilary, a wealthy housewife, is haunted by her struggle to have a child, something she believes could save her foundering marriage. Meanwhile, Margaret, once a happily married mother of three, questions her maternal identity in the wake of a shattering loss. As each woman struggles with her own demons, their lives collide in ways that have irreversible consequences for them all. Atmospheric, moving, and utterly compelling, The Expatriates confirms Lee as an exceptional talent and one of our keenest observers of women’s inner lives.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 02 Jul 2015 14:36:22 -0400)

"The New York Times bestselling author of The Piano Teacher returns with a transporting novel about motherhood, marriage, and the elusive nature of happiness, focusing on the lives of three very different American women living in Hong Kong. In her stunning follow-up to her acclaimed first novel, Janice Lee explores the emotions, identities, and relationships of three American women living in the same small expat community in Hong Kong. Mercy, a young Korean-American and a recent Columbia graduate without a safety net, is adrift, undone by a terrible incident in her recent past. Hilary, a lonely housewife, is haunted by her struggle to have a child, something she believes could save her foundering marriage. Meanwhile, Margaret, once a happily married mother of three, takes every opportunity to escape from her life in the wake of a shattering loss. As each woman struggles with her own demons, their lives collide in ways that have irreversible consequences for them all. Atmospheric, moving, and utterly compelling, The Expatriates confirms Lee as an exceptional talent and one of our keenest observers of women's inner lives"--… (more)

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