Book Review

The Expatriates


The setting of this book is Hong Kong, the characters a trio of American women who are part of its expatriate community. Each woman is dysfunctional in her way, bogged down by elements of loss, confusion, paralysis, or grief. Their individual stories are interesting, as is what happens when their paths cross. But I never felt close to any of the three, and the neatness of the ending still unsettles me.

The Expatriates was published on January 12, 2016. Loving reading new books, I raced out to buy it based on rave reviews in The New York Times Book Review, Vanity Fair, People, Publishers Weekly, not to mention a slew of 5-star reviews online, so my expectations were high.

Oh, the writing is gorgeous. If you’re an armchair traveler who likes experiencing foreign places in exquisite detail, this book is for you. The author knows her Hong Kong and paints it well. She also knows the life of the “trailing wife,” who follows her husband to a foreign country, and she knows the social scene there. If reading about this kind of thing interests you, go for it.

Me, I’m a plot-lover, and this plot just didn’t work for me.

The author does go into the minds of these three women with skill and depth. But I could never quite warm to the youngest, Mercy, who makes one bad decision after another. Hilary struck me as being shallow. And I could feel Margaret’s pain, as any mother would, though I never fully understood her. I never fully understood any of them – not to mention that I‘m still haunted by the child named G. Does he not have a full name? Or is the medium the message?

I may have missed whatever it was that others saw and loved in this book. It could be that if my book group discusses this, I’ll see more in it than I have so far. I enjoyed parts of it, but only parts. The rest left me feeling chilled.


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