Title: The Expatriates
Author: Janice Y.K. Lee
Publication Date: 12 January 2016
Add it: Goodreads
Buy it: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Book Depository
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.
I was really expecting to like this one and I’m honestly disappointed that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to. I don’t really know what it was that I was interested in now that I read the blurb, but I was incredibly interested in this novel.
The most important issue that I had with this novel was that none of the characters were particularly interesting. I didn’t deeply care about any of them. Now that’s not to say I’ve cared about every character of every book that I’ve ever read, there are lots of books out there that I didn’t care about many of the characters. However, there is almost always at least one character who I’m more interested in than the rest. But not this time. All of these characters were flat.
On the other hand, I did find some of their struggles to be rather interesting. They were, in many ways, very real problems that people face. However, these problems weren’t specific to being an expatriate. They were simply relatable or sad problems that many people deal with.
I also wasn’t particularly fond of the writing style throughout the story, however, it was almost necessary for this particular setting. Lee has a very straightforward, almost blunt style of writing. There wasn’t much in terms of detailed description, nor was there significant amounts of dialogue. In part, I think this is because each of these women felt very isolated in their communities and were being very introspective. And as much as I appreciated that fact, I’m not a huge fan of no dialogue between characters. This flaw is really more of a personal issue, not a major flaw in the book itself.
I think my biggest problem with this book was that the title made it seem like this story was about being an expat and the struggles that come along with it. The struggles that these women faced weren’t expat related nor expat specific. They were problems that many people deal with. Furthermore, each of these women’s character arcs were incredibly flat and it made it seem as though they were nothing more than the relationships with their husband and kids.
I really didn’t enjoy this read and there were many times that I nearly gave up. The lens that Lee chose to look through had so much potential to be so incredibly interesting, but alas, this wasn’t the case. The characters were one dimensional, the plot was slow and disorienting, and the writing style wasn’t my particular cup of tea. I have faith that there are so many better expat novels out there that are truly excellent.