The Expatriates by Janice Y. K. Lee

Books that deal with heartbreak seem to be my go-to listen lately. Maybe that’s just because I know the plot will be interesting and engaging, but nevertheless, I find myself gravitating towards heart-squeezing family dramas. The Expatriates by Janice Y. K. Lee is full of devastating consequences, yet heartwarming relationships that make you yearn for each character’s eventual happiness.

The Expatriates is the inter-woven tale of three American women living in Hong Kong. Each woman is a part of the same very small expat community. Their reasons for coming to Hong Kong as well as their personal and professional lives may be different, but the situations that they find themselves in all become intertwined rather quickly, sometimes without them even realizing it. (I was constantly reminded of the idea that we are only separated from someone else by six degrees of separation throughout this book. And also by the fact that the smallest action can change our lives so drastically.)

Mercy is a young Korean American who finds herself in Hong King after her graduation from Columbia. She has moved to Hong Kong looking for a change from the normal and the promise of a more lucrative job. Marcy is haunted by a terrible accident that happened to her recently. Hilary is a housewife whose marriage is on the rocks. She gave up the bulk of her career to follow her husband, David, to Hong Kong, so he could further his career. Hilary finds herself thinking over and over about her inability to have a child and how if she was only able to conceive, her marriage problems would evaporate. Margaret is a married mother of three who is forced to deal with a shattering loss that has destroyed her life and her family. She is having to find a new normal, something she must survive even if she isn’t quiet sure how to do so.

Mercy, Hilary, and Margaret soon find their lives to be thoroughly enmeshed together in was neither of them expected. Each woman must deal with their own separate issues and struggles, but soon they fins that there are many common threads linking them together. Consequences run rampant through their lives, dictating their decisions, their lifestyles, and their relationships. This book was very moving and I found myself listening to it obsessively to try to figure out how their lives were going to unfold.

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The Piano Teacher by Janice Lee

the-piano-teacherWhat would you do, what choices would you make if a war arrived in your once peaceful life? Who would you save and who would you betray? Your friends, your family, your country – even yourself – to save yourself? And one day, when the war is over and you return to some semblence of your life, how would you live with those choices? Can you ever escape the past?

The Piano Teacher by Janet Lee explores those questions in the exotic world of Hong Kong before, during and after World War II. Arriving in Hong Kong ten years after the war, Claire Pendleton soon begins an affair with Will Truesdale, the English driver of a powerful Hong Kong family. Gradually she learns that Will hides many secrets – his love affair with the Eurasian heiress Trudy Liang before the war, his experiences as a prisoner-of-war, his current plan to right past wrongs. Almost without her knowledge, she’s swept up into a story that was set in motion years in the past.

Lee writes beautifully, evoking the glamour and glitz of pre-war Hong Kong and the horrors and suffering of the war years with equal clarity. This is an eye-opening look at a lesser known arena of the war and at how people struggled to survive. It’s richly populated with interesting characters and their stories, not the least of which is Hong Kong herself, exotic and mysterious and full of secrets.