In Janice Y.K. Lee’s The Expatriates, readers are immersed in the lives of three women trying to make sense of their existence in the bustling city of Hong Kong. The novel sheds light on the challenges and triumphs of living as expatriates, tackling issues of identity, connection, and the pursuit of a place to call home.
If you loved The Expatriates, and are looking forward to the adaptation featuring Nicole Kidman, these recommendations are for you. Capturing the essence of life without the frills, presenting stories that echo the complexities, victories, and self-discovery found in Lee’s compelling novel. From the vibrant streets of international cities to the quieter corners of personal growth, these suggested reads promise to transport you to worlds where the concept of home is as diverse as the characters navigating it.
Paper Names by Susie Luo
In the span of three decades across New York and China, Paper Names explores the American experience through the eyes of three distinct characters. First is Tony, an engineer from China turned Manhattan doorman, driven by the pursuit of a better life for his family in the United States. His daughter, Tammy, enters the narrative at nine and takes us through her journey into adulthood as she struggles with the expectations of being a first-generation American while navigating her personal aspirations. Lastly, there’s Oliver, a handsome white lawyer harboring a dark family secret and residing in the same building where Tony works. Their lives become intricately connected after a violent incident, setting in motion changes that will redefine them forever.
Absolution by Alice McDermott
Against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, two American wives, Tricia and Charlene, form an uneasy alliance in the year 1963 in Saigon. Tricia, a starry-eyed newlywed, is married to a rising oil engineer connected to US Navy Intelligence, while Charlene, a seasoned corporate spouse and mother of three, is on a mission to alleviate suffering. After Tricia’s miscarriage, Charlene mobilizes a group of American wives on a philanthropic mission to hospitals, orphanages, and a leper colony. Sixty years later, Charlene’s daughter reconnects with the widowed Tricia, and they grapple with the impact of Charlene’s pursuit of “inconsequential good” on their lives.
How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee
In 1942, a village in Singapore was completely destroyed by Japanese soldiers, leaving only two survivors and a baby. Meanwhile, in a nearby village, seventeen-year-old Wang Di was forced onto a truck by Japanese troops and taken to become a sex slave at a military brothel as a “comfort woman”. She endured horrific abuse for years but kept silent about her experiences for over sixty years. Decades later in 2000, twelve-year-old Kevin overheard his sick grandmother mumble a shocking secret while he sat with her. Determined to uncover the truth, Kevin started investigating, setting in motion events he never anticipated. Intertwining two timelines and revealing two major secrets, this powerful debut novel sheds light on the atrocities many women faced with immense courage during this little-known historical period.
Wandering Souls by Cecile Pin
After the final US soldiers withdraw from Vietnam, siblings Anh, Thanh, and Minh begin a risky journey to Hong Kong. Their parents and younger siblings are supposed to follow after but tragedy strikes, leaving the three orphaned with 16-year-old Anh abruptly as caretaker. In the ensuing years, the siblings resettle as refugees in the UK, first in crowded camps and then in a modernizing, inequality-plagued London. Anh works in a factory, Minh loiters with other unemployed dropouts, and Thanh plays soccer. Each grapples with survivor’s guilt and feels unanchored without their parents. As they grow up, their choices diverge further, threatening to divide them, despite love binding them together.
Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So
Afterparties depicts the broad range of Cambodian-American experiences. The children of refugees forge trailblazing routes in California while carrying the passed-down trauma of the Khmer Rouge genocide. They wrestle with the nuances of race, sexuality, camaraderie, and kinship. With subtle emotional accuracy, raw comedy, and kind understanding of queer and immigrant groups, Afterparties explosively presents Anthony Veasna So’s talent. The tales introduce a bold new voice that adeptly balances the preposterous and the heartfelt, in portraying the complexities of Cambodian-American life.
Skinship by Yoon Choi
Skinship is a book of short stories penned by Yoon Choi delving into the connections between Korean immigrants and their American-born children. Through the experiences of the characters, Choi investigates the conflicts and shared understanding between the two generations, the fissures between native and adopted tongues, the burden of unmet expectations, and the anguish of uprooting one’s life. The narratives provide deep insight into the intricate nature of affection and the true identities of those held most dear. Expanding beyond the brief summaries, the stories cover a diverse range of relationships from marriage, parenthood, friendship, and family ties. Choi explores the nuances and complications that arise within these bonds among Korean-American immigrants struggling to bridge the gap between their roots and new homes.
Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz
Milk Blood Heat is a collection of short stories by Dantiel W. Moniz that provides an intimate look at the lives of young girls, women, and men in Florida as they experience unexpected moments of violent personal reckoning. The stories delve into the complex nature of relationships and family, faith, forgiveness, desire, and moral obligations. Set against the backdrop of Florida’s cities and suburbs, these extraordinary stories form a cyclical narrative that illuminates truths about human nature through the lens of the characters’ self-realizations. Moniz crafts perceptive insights into the spiritual and seductive aspects of ordinary lives disrupted by extraordinary events.
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri follows the Ganguli family as they immigrate from India to America. After an arranged marriage, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle together in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While Ashoke adapts to American life as an engineer, Ashima resists assimilation and longs for her family life back home. When their son is born, naming him reveals the conflict between their old and new worlds. They name him Gogol, after a Russian writer, in memory of a past tragedy. Gogol struggles with his odd name and clashing cultural loyalties. Lahiri captures Gogol’s difficult first-generation experience as he navigates identity conflicts, relationships, and expectations from his parents’ heritage versus his own American life.
Dominicana by Angie Cruz
At the age of fifteen, Ana Cancion hesitantly relocates from the Dominican countryside to the United States when Juan Ruiz, a significantly older man, proposes. After Ana ties the knot with Juan, she finds herself confined to his chilly apartment, experiencing loneliness and misery. Yearning to break free, Ana spontaneously devises a plan to depart but encounters a hurdle at the bus terminal in the form of Juan’s carefree younger brother, Cesar. He persuades her to reconsider. Amidst the political upheaval in the Dominican Republic, Juan returns to safeguard his assets, leaving Cesar in charge of Ana’s care. Liberated, Ana enrolls in English classes, relishes the attractions of Coney Island, goes to the movies, dances with Cesar, and envisions a different way of living in America. When Juan reemerges, Ana is once again confronted with the choice between her desires and what would be advantageous for her family.
The Leftover Woman by Jean Kwok
The Leftover Woman delves into the intertwining lives of two women in New York City. Jasmine Yang, a Chinese immigrant from a rural village, escapes a controlling husband and navigates the challenges of the One Child Policy as she desperately searches for the daughter taken from her at birth. Racing against time and pursued by her husband, Jasmine is compelled to make increasingly desperate decisions in the hopes of reuniting with her child. On the other side of the spectrum is Rebecca Whitney, a successful publishing executive with seemingly perfect credentials—wealth, a glamorous career, a beautiful home, a handsome husband, and an adopted Chinese daughter. However, when an industry scandal threatens her job and marriage, Rebecca’s ideal world begins to fall apart, forcing her to question everything she holds dear.