Expatriates

I remember when we first went to live and teach overseas, an older international teacher told me, "Don't expect anyone back at home to care or understand what it's like to leave the United States and live in a foreign place . . . when you go home for the summer, they're just going to tell you how many rolls of toilet paper they bought at Costco," and while I found this to be a bit of an exaggeration (while my family wasn't particularly curious about our life in Syria, my friends and colleagues were generally interested in my stories, anecdotes, and analysis . ..  or maybe they just pretended) and while I thought I had forgotten much of day-to-day life overseas was like, Janice Y. K. Lee's novel The Expatriates brought it all back for me; it's the story of three expatriate women in Hong Kong, and while it's definitely chick-lit and examines the inner lives of these women in detail-- and makes some statements about the inner lives of women in general-- it is also a story of the fishbowl world of the expatriate community and how that world operates . . . there is the sentiment while you are there, far from home, that the people you are with are (and will be) the most significant people in your life-- and Lee takes a sardonic look at that struggle to fit into this new community, how difficult that is for adults, but there is also the realization that "no one back home cares . . . there's an initial shallow interest in what life is like abroad, but most Americans aren't actually interested at all," and not only did the novel detail and articulate that theme, which is near and dear to me, but there's also Mercy Cho-- the Korean-American Columbia graduate who is so ironically American that she sees the "meta" in everything, despite the tragedy that surrounds her, she remains detached; you don't have to have been an expatriate to enjoy this rather intense (but also humorous) novel, but it certainly helps.

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