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The Expatriates: A Novel Paperback – October 11, 2016
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This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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“Irresistible . . . Lee’s wizardry is her ability to whip drama, pathos and humor into a scrumptious page-turning blend. Raise a glass: The first great book-club novel of 2016 has arrived.”
—USA Today, 4/4 stars
“A female, funny Henry James in Asia, Janice Y. K. Lee is vividly good on the subject of Americans abroad. . . . [The Expatriates is] vibrant social satire: Inside these dark materials lies the sharpness of a comic novelist, and Lee’s eye for the nuance and clash of culture, class, race and sex is subtle and shrewd.”
—New York Times Book Review
“Gorgeously wrought . . . The first must-read of 2016.”
“Powerful [and] nuanced . . . poignant and compelling . . . The Expatriates moves with urgency, but also takes time to slowly reveal a complex story. Lee’s storytelling is intricate, precise and rich enough to keep the reader seduced until the end.”
“We found ourselves racing through this exotic, sexy, heartbreaking book. . . . We couldn’t wait to find out what happens to each of the women.”
“At turns illuminating, entertaining, cringe-inducing, piercing . . . With meticulous details and nuanced observations, Lee creates an exquisite novel of everyday lives in extraordinary circumstances. . . . How Lee’s triumvirate reacts, copes, and ventures forth (or not) proves to be a stupendous feat of magnetic, transporting storytelling. . . . Mark my words: The Expatriates will appear repeatedly on year-end award nominations and all the 'best of' compilations.”
—Christian Science Monitor
“An emotionally gripping page-turner.”
“Devastating and heartwarming, and exquisite in every way, this is a book you’ll fall deeply in love with and never want to put down.”
—Kevin Kwan, author of Crazy Rich Asians
“A nuanced reminder of how shockingly easy it can be to lose everything in a moment and of how to reinvent one’s life after a fall.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“One chief pleasure of The Expatriates is watching how the lives of Hilary, Mercy and Margaret converge and are changed by that convergence, and how they each metabolize grief. A more subtle yet lingering benefit is getting to know Lee's acutely observed Hong Kong, a city on the cusp of change that must eventually affect the lives of expatriates and locals alike.”
—Los Angeles Times
“Janice Y.K. Lee’s absorbing, poignant novel . . . [is a] nuanced story of the ordinary heroism needed to move past some of life’s worst experiences. It’s a great read and a testament to the strength and resilience we all have.”
“Combines a page-turning plot with intimate perceptions about Americans in Hong Kong.”
"We imagine we know these [expatriate] women, who are distanced from their work, friends, and family, but we don’t. Janice Y. K. Lee does. Set in Hong Kong, The Expatriates looks inside the lives of three women . . . all in crisis, all needing one another in ways they, and we, can’t imagine.”
“A novel about displacement and belonging . . . A thoughtful portrait of motherhood trade-offs, the book also offers sharp insights into the tensions between moneyed expats and the impoverished locals who serve them.”
—People, “The Best New Books”
“Janice Y. K. Lee nails family drama and gentrified Hong Kong.”
—New York Magazine
“[Lee] gently conveys her sad characters' loneliness, suffering and anguish.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“One of the novel’s strengths is Lee’s exploration of the sometimes subtle interplay between different layers and types of privilege; another is her empathy for the loneliness that her characters must endure. The result is a shrewd and moving study of how race, gender and education constrain the options that life gives you.”
—The Financial Times
“Everyone’s buzzing about The Expatriates. . . . These women and their stories will pull at every string in your heart.”
"Sex and the City meets Lost in Translation."
“Like Jodi Picoult and Kristin Hannah, Lee is a perceptive observer of her compelling characters and brings them vividly to life in this moving novel.”
“Captivating . . . Lee’s women are complex and often flawed, which makes the stories of their strength all the more compelling in this tale of family, motherhood, and attempts at moving on.”
“A richly detailed novel that rubs away at the luster of expat life and examines how the bonds of motherhood or, really, womanhood, can call back even those who are furthest adrift.”
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Janice Y. K. Lee was born and raised in Hong Kong. She received a BA in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard College. A former editor at Elle magazine, Lee lives in New York with her husband and four children.
From the Hardcover edition.
Top customer reviews
The Expatriates hit a couple of my “what makes a book work for me” buttons: a good balance between plot and style, dark undertones, and social commentary.
Maintaining your identity through motherhood, expat life, Hong Kong culture, appearance vs. reality, getting beneath the surface of people
What I Liked:
- When I picked up The Expatriates, I was expecting a light novel about wealthy, successful expats living it up in Hong Kong and I was delighted to find the story also had surprising depth. Yes, many of the characters’ lives sparkle on the surface, but darkness lurks just underneath as it becomes apparent that reality is quite different from appearances.
- While I can’t say if Lee’s social commentary on Hong Kong culture and expat life is spot-on (having never been to Hong Kong and never been an expat), it was one of my favorite parts of the novel and truly made the setting and context come alive.
"This is the Hong Kong curse that expat housewives talk about in hushed voices: the man who takes to Hong Kong the wrong way. He moves from egalitarian society, where he’s supposed to take out the trash every day and help with the dinner dishes, to a place where women cater to his every desire – a secretary who anticipates his needs before he does, a servant in the house who brings him his espresso just the way he likes it and irons his boxers and socks – and the local population is not as sassy with the comebacks as where he came from, so, of course, he then looks for that in every corner of his life."
- I love when a book contains a mystery or crime, but it’s more of a catalyst to explore relationships and emotions than the center of the story. And, that dynamic gave The Expatriates the kind of balance between style and plot that makes books work for me.
- The level of entitlement among the expat community and wealthy Hong Kong residents was disgusting at times (i.e. a maid holds up an ipad while a child plays on it in a restaurant). But, it was a train wreck I couldn’t stop reading about!
- I find that stories about rich people can either completely hit the mark or be incredibly boring…and a key to success is having an observant outsider (i.e. Nick Carraway) to marvel on the wealthy’s social quirks and deliver biting commentary. Mercy played this role in The Expatriates. Though she graduated from Columbia and moved in wealthy circles there, she had a less privileged childhood as a Korean immigrant in Queens. And, she was scrapping by to make ends meet in Hong Kong. She interacted with the wealthy expats, but was not one of them.
What I Didn’t Like:
- In addition to the Epilogue wrapping the story up a bit too neatly (a feeling I have about Epilogues in general), this one was unrealistic and overly sappy.
A Defining Quote:
"She looks around the table during a pause in the conversation with Mindy. Every woman there is well exercised, watches her diet, has two or three children, a husband. They all have shiny hair, and they are all wearing sheaths and daytime dresses perfect for the occasion. No one is breaking the rules of ladies’ luncheon. They radiate well-being and privilege, and yet she is among them, so who is to say what’s behind any woman’s smiling face."
Good for People Who Like:
Social commentary, marriage, dislikable characters, different cultures, motherhood, wealthy people behaving badly
Check out my blog, Sarah's Book Shelves, for more reviews.
For the expat American community featured in this novel, the former British colony has it all: a flourishing economy, a modern infrastructure, and a relative tolerant society, all set in a beautiful and exotic location.
This is a community full of overachievers, people that radiate success, affluence and wellness. Many of them have relocated to Hong Kong pursuing new career opportunities, at the same time most of them consider the place to serve only as a provisional home.
The Expatriates follows the lives of Mercy, Margaret and Hilary all of whom have relocated from America to Hong Kong at different times and under very different circumstances, but they also face similar struggles trying to fit it into a society that uses cultural norms that are unfamiliar and at times feel outright regressive.
"Hong Kong is so small" is an aphorism we hear from the expats again and again, which might strike you as odd considering they live in a place populated by 7+million people.
But whether is a conscious decision or not, inevitably these Americans find it easier to socialize with their own kind, this results in a "living in a fishbowl" lifestyle, a place where everyone knows everyone, privacy is a scarce commodity and secrets are hard to keep.
The lives of our three protagonists will overlap in unexpected ways and they'll find themselves entangled in a complicated web of lies and betrayal, but they'll also get a chance to forgive and start anew.
These women have lived for the most part in a bubble, they have enjoyed vacations to Bali, excursions by junk boats and relaxing parties at their country club, but The Expatriates underlines the fact that a life of privilege and adversity are not mutually exclusive and that ironically having such a sheltered existence if anything, might make it harder to recover from personal loss and hardship.
At the end, the stories of these women remind us how fragile life is and how our destinies can so radically changed in the blink of an eye.