IN THE claustrophobic city that is high-rise Hong Kong, expatriates’ lives inevitably intersect. The men do business with each other, and the women – the “trailing spouses”, almost uniformly once-successful standalone individuals with their own careers indefinitely on hold – gather in select little social groups to do lunch.
As inconceivable as it seems, this metropolis of more than seven million people is in reality more fishbowl than ocean for its contract-focused foreigners. Their paths collide in the supermarkets, in the restaurants and cafés, even at the long-weekend-getaway resorts; their children attend school together, and in their leisure time they mingle at the same welcome parties and, several years later, the same farewells.
It is against this backdrop of seeing, knowing and freely commenting one another’s most intimate movements that novelist Janice YK Lee introduces three very different American women who share a vast acreage of common ground.
Hilary – an independently wealthy Californian – and David have been married more or less contentedly for 10 years but so far have not succeeded in adding a baby to the mix. With every passing month, Hilary, now 38, feels the pressure escalate.
Former landscape architect Margaret, conversely, is a mother of three. With her husband, Clarke, she is raising two of the children, the whereabouts of the third quickly establishing itself as the central theme that shapes this plot.
At 26, Mercy is the youngest of the trio, a Korean-American Ivy League graduate from Queens, New York, who should by all estimations be cruising into adulthood on the back of one of the six-figure salaries with which Hong Kong is able to take its pick from the international talent pool.
For all three, however, life is complicated, challenging, almost unbearable at times. Trapped in the microcosm of the expatriate lifestyle, can Hilary, Margaret and Mercy turn their fortunes around?