“The Expatriates” by Janice Lee


I first heard about this book in a recent NPR Fresh Air interview with the author, Janice lee. The plot of the book – a story about a group of expatriates in Hong Kong – seemed interesting, and the author spoke well. The Expatriates is her second book, the first one being The Piano Teacher, which I had not heard of prior to the Fresh Air interview. I borrowed a copy of The Piano Teacher from the library right away, but when I started reading it, it didn’t grip my attention, and I didn’t persist with it. Thus, when my copy of The Expatriates that I had put on hold in the library finally arrived (it took a bit longer as it was a new book), I didn’t think I would like it very much, based on my experience with Lee’s earlier book.

But I was wrong. I found The Expatriates a very well written and engrossing story about three women, all of whom are expatriates in Hong Kong, and whose lives intersect in ways I did not anticipate at all. There is a major tragic event at the core of the story, and although it doesn’t get resolved – which in itself is extremely unusual for a book – the end of the story is still surprisingly uplifting … and totally unexpected. Along the way, the book does an excellent job of capturing the milieu, the minutiae – the feel – of what it is like to live as an expatriate in Hong Kong and how it is different from life in the US, where all the three main protagonists emigrate from. I imagine much of the authenticity of the book comes from the author’s own experience with both Hong Kong – where she was born and raised – and the US – where she was educated and lived as an adult.

Overall, I found The Expatriates a very well-written book that tells a compelling story about both loss and redemption, but without the sentimentality that often goes with these themes. It wasn’t too highbrow for me to enjoy, but at the same time, it was far from a casual flick.

The Expatriates
Author: Janice Y.K. Lee
Publisher: Viking
Publication Date: January 2016

Reviewer: Lachmi Khemlani runs a technology publication in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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