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The Expatriates by Janice Y. K. Lee
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The Expatriates

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The Expatriates by Janice Y. K. Lee
Paperback $18.00
Oct 11, 2016 | ISBN 9780143108429

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    Oct 11, 2016 | ISBN 9780143108429

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  • Jan 12, 2016 | ISBN 9780698404939

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  • Jan 12, 2016 | ISBN 9780698410503

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“A female, funny Henry James in Asia, Janice Y. K. Lee is vividly good on the subject of Americans abroad. . . . [The Expatriates is] vibrant social satire: Inside these dark materials lies the sharpness of a comic novelist, and Lee’s eye for the nuance and clash of culture, class, race and sex is subtle and shrewd.”
—New York Times Book Review
“Devastating and heartwarming, and exquisite in every way, this is a book you’ll fall deeply in love with and never want to put down.”
Kevin Kwan, author of Crazy Rich Asians

“Irresistible . . . Lee’s wizardry is her ability to whip drama, pathos and humor into a scrumptious page-turning blend. Raise a glass: The first great book-club novel of 2016 has arrived.”
USA Today, 4/4 stars

“I raced through this enthralling story.”
Liane Moriarty, author of Big Little Lies

“Gorgeously wrought . . .a must-read.” 
Marie Claire

“Powerful [and] nuanced . . . poignant and compelling . . . The Expatriates moves with urgency, but also takes time to slowly reveal a complex story. Lee’s storytelling is intricate, precise and rich enough to keep the reader seduced until the end.”
Seattle Times

“We found ourselves racing through this exotic, sexy, heartbreaking book. . . . We couldn’t wait to find out what happens to each of the women.” 

“At turns illuminating, entertaining, cringe-inducing, piercing . . . With meticulous details and nuanced observations, Lee creates an exquisite novel of everyday lives in extraordinary circumstances. . . . How Lee’s triumvirate reacts, copes, and ventures forth (or not) proves to be a stupendous feat of magnetic, transporting storytelling. . . . Mark my words: The Expatriates will appear repeatedly on year-end award nominations and all the ‘best of’ compilations.”
—Christian Science Monitor
“An emotionally gripping page-turner.” 

US Weekly

“A nuanced reminder of how shockingly easy it can be to lose everything in a moment and of how to reinvent one’s life after a fall.” 
—San Francisco Chronicle

“One chief pleasure of The Expatriates is watching how the lives of Hilary, Mercy and Margaret converge and are changed by that convergence, and how they each metabolize grief. A more subtle yet lingering benefit is getting to know Lee’s acutely observed Hong Kong, a city on the cusp of change that must eventually affect the lives of expatriates and locals alike.” 
—Los Angeles Times

“Janice Y.K. Lee’s absorbing, poignant novel . . . [is a] nuanced story of the ordinary heroism needed to move past some of life’s worst experiences. It’s a great read and a testament to the strength and resilience we all have.” 

“Combines a page-turning plot with intimate perceptions about Americans in Hong Kong.” 

“We imagine we know these [expatriate] women, who are distanced from their work, friends, and family, but we don’t. Janice Y. K. Lee does. Set in Hong Kong, The Expatriates looks inside the lives of three women . . . all in crisis, all needing one another in ways they, and we, can’t imagine.”
Vanity Fair
“A novel about displacement and belonging . . . A thoughtful portrait of motherhood trade-offs, the book also offers sharp insights into the tensions between moneyed expats and the impoverished locals who serve them.”  
People, “The Best New Books”
“Janice Y. K. Lee nails family drama and gentrified Hong Kong.”
—New York Magazine
“[Lee] gently conveys her sad characters’ loneliness, suffering and anguish.” 
—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“One of the novel’s strengths is Lee’s exploration of the sometimes subtle interplay between different layers and types of privilege; another is her empathy for the loneliness that her characters must endure. The result is a shrewd and moving study of how race, gender and education constrain the options that life gives you.” 
—The Financial Times

“Everyone’s buzzing about The Expatriates. . . . These women and their stories will pull at every string in your heart.”

“Sex and the City meets Lost in Translation.”“

“Brilliantly plotted and written, utterly absorbing.”
Daily Mail (London)

“Like Jodi Picoult and Kristin Hannah, Lee is a perceptive observer of her compelling characters and brings them vividly to life in this moving novel.”

“Captivating . . . Lee’s women are complex and often flawed, which makes the stories of their strength all the more compelling in this tale of family, motherhood, and attempts at moving on.”
—Publishers Weekly

“A richly detailed novel that rubs away at the luster of expat life and examines how the bonds of motherhood or, really, womanhood, can call back even those who are furthest adrift.” 
Kirkus Reviews

Author Q&A

1. The primary theme of The Expatriates seems to be motherhood in its many forms. Was this your intent when you first began the novel?

I’m afraid I cannot claim to be intentional when beginning a novel.  My experience of writing a book is more akin to groping around in the dark.  I am grateful for even the smallest hint of what is to come, as I rarely know what the book is about until I am around halfway through.  I usually start with an image or a character and the novel develops from there.  What I do think is that my actual life infused the novel in many, many ways.  The period in which I wrote The Expatriates was one in which I was fully immersed in being a mother, with four children under the age of ten, so that part of my life was one that I was thinking about all the time.  Using your own life for research is efficient, I suppose.

2. Your New York Times bestselling debut novel, The Piano Teacher, was also set in Hong Kong, but during World War II and the decade following. Were you ever tempted to follow up with another historical novel?

I loved the experience of researching and writing a novel with the skeleton of historical fact.  It was wonderful to be able to go into a library and spend hours immersed in learning about a time and place and then to work those facts into the story and the characters that were living in my head.  That said, I had no experience writing historical fiction and it came as a bit of a surprise to me that my first novel ended up being that.  I did not have any great hankering to write another historical novel, just a wish to be able to finish another book, period.

3. How was writing this novel different from writing The Piano Teacher?

It’s funny because they took around the same amount of time—five years—but this second book didn’t require any research so I wrote it entirely at home.  Sometimes, when you are struggling with the story, it is good to be able to leave and change up your surroundings.  I sometimes wished I could go to a library or an office and get out of my house, but in the end I was able to finish it while surrounded by all the chaos that was at home. 

4. As a Hong Kong native who currently lives in New York City, what do you miss most about life in your homeland? What do you love most about life in America?

I miss really good noodles and dumplings.  They just don’t make them the same over here.  I miss being part of a visual majority (many assumed I was Chinese although I’m Korean), which affords a certain, comforting anonymity.  Hong Kong is also surprisingly green once you get out of the city parts and I miss the hiking and the mountains.  We used to go on hikes with our children all the time and it was like you were in another world.  We would run across wild boars and snakes and spiders the size of dinner plates in the morning and then in the evening be eating sushi in town.  

5. In the novel, you write about how virtually all expatriate wives cede the cooking and cleaning to paid housekeepers—something many American readers fantasize about—but the downside to all the free time is a complete lack of privacy. Is it worth the trade-off?

It is definitely a mixed basket.  I had very young children when I was there so it was enormously helpful to have help with laundry, ferrying children around, getting meals on the table and cleaning up.  I did find, as my children got older, that all the help was contributing to a lack of independence and a general inability to do things for themselves.  My children expected lights to be turned off for them, never closed drawers or doors, and left clothes in a pile.  Perhaps typical child behavior, but it seemed excessive.  As I think they’ll probably live in the United States as adults, I wanted to get them back to where they might learn good habits!  Having the house to yourself is also a luxury in Hong Kong.  

6. Did you write The Expatriates while you were living in America or in Hong Kong? How—if at all—has your perspective on life in the former British colony changed since you’ve left?

I wrote it while I was living in Hong Kong.  It was very convenient, as all my “research” was at my fingertips.  But I had and have a good sense of life in Hong Kong and America, as I’ve spent my entire life traversing the two.  So my perspective on life in Hong Kong hasn’t changed that much.  I did find that the longer I was there, the less I appreciated the wonderful aspects of it and found myself complaining about the most prosaic of inconveniences, like how the air-conditioning was too cold (I know . . .)  and how apples could cost six American dollars each.  Now that I live in New York, I miss the camaraderie among expats, the sense of life as an adventure, as opposed to the life you are “supposed” to be living.  

7. In many ways, Hilary seems set free by David’s abandonment. Was this intentional?

There’s this idea of when the worst happens, what remains?  I think it is freeing because you no longer have the dread and the apprehension and the waiting.  So then what do you do and who do you become?  It is painful but it can be liberating.  I think someone like Hilary will look back and think that this rupture in her life made her stronger in the broken parts.  

8. Mercy’s mother is a fascinating character. She’s married to a man who drinks and gambles away their money, but comes into her own—many years after losing her youth and beauty—when she finally leaves her husband and follows Mercy to Hong Kong. Why did you choose to give her such a prominent role in the later part of the novel?

Korean mothers are a force of nature. And Korean dramas have been enormously popular in recent years and have highlighted the unique nature of Korean family dynamics.  At the risk of generalizing, I would say that Koreans are wonderfully and unapologetically family-oriented and, because of this, melodramatic.  Because I grew up surrounded by Koreans in almost every community I’ve been in, all the talk of fortune-tellers, fate, face-reading, is second nature to me.  Mercy’s mother’s fierce love for her child eclipses everything else.  But this can be universally recognized in all the mothers in the book, and, indeed, all cultures.  Toward the end of the book, it seemed a good perspective to view all the other kinds of love that were starting to manifest themselves.  

9. You studied under Chang-rae Lee. Do you consider his work an influence on your own? Who are some of your other favorite writers and literary influences?

Chang-rae was and is a wonderful mentor to me, not only as a writer but as a Korean American.  He provides a model of how to be. His work is illuminating and cerebral, and his language is so extraordinarily precise and intelligent and beautiful.  I endeavor to reach any of the heights that he does.  I read extensively, as you might imagine, but the writers who are nearest and dearest to my heart are the ones I discovered in my formative years, when I was learning how to read good literature and, thus, how to write.  These writers include Michael Cunningham, Amy Bloom, Mona Simpson, Elizabeth McCracken.  Their prose always surprises and clarifies life and the many different ways to be a human being.  

10. What are you working on now?

I’m working on a short story that seems to be about three or four couples in the suburbs, which is odd because I’ve never lived in the suburbs.  Short stories are my first love and how I first came to reading and writing and I’ve not been able to spend a lot of time on them, so I’m so happy to be working on one.  Who knows, it may turn into a novel, as The Piano Teacher started out as a short story.

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