Review: “The Expatriates” by Janice Y.K. Lee

This book will be enjoyed by almost anyone, do not get me wrong; but I think that my experiences as a mother helped me to get even more deeply involved in the lives of Janice Y.K. Lee’s three expatriate women living in Hong Kong. It’s something I wasn’t expecting. But Lee opens the book with a prologue that discusses the reasons that people move countries and what their experiences are like. And for some people, seeking that dream or that better life involves moving entire families. For various reasons, Mercy, Margaret and Hilary have all found themselves living life abroad and none of them have found it what they expected.


Their challenges are all very different yet hinge around the ideas of motherhood and womanly expectation. What happens if you feel like you are meant to be a mother but you cannot have a child? What happens if a child is lost? What happens if you find yourself about to be a mother when it isn’t ever something that you’d even contemplated? The women find themselves living private lives very different to the public persona that they put forward and I love how Lee gives us this sense of peeking behind the curtain.

What did I love most about this book? Lee makes her characters real; imperfect and gritty. I can’t think of a single character that I liked the whole way through – they all had moments that made me want to yell at them and tell them that their behaviour was shoddy. While that seems like a bizarre thing to enjoy, it just goes to show how utterly engaged I was in the book. And without giving anything away, despite all the imperfect players in this story Lee manages to tie everything up in a resolution that is ultimately satisfying.

Would I recommend this book? Most definitely. I think that most people would enjoy this book but you might have a particular connection (and that similar frustrated engagement) if you are either an expat or a mother. It is definitely a book that’s hard to put down so make sure that you set aside that lazy Sunday to read it.

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