So I just finished reading the newly released English translation of Parsley & Coriander written by Antonella Moretti and wanted to recommend it to you, my dear readers.
While fictional, the story will ring true with many expats in China as Antonella drew from her real life experience of quitting her job, and uprooting her life to follow her husband who was sent to China for work.
The book focuses on a group of Italian women, almost all of whom came to China due to their husbands job, and all of whom live a very privileged life, with money, drivers, aiyi’s and a whole lot of free time on their hands. The story revolves around several of these women and how they deal with their extra time and living in a foreign country.
Now, I’m not gonna lie. Most of Antonella’s characters are the worst kind of expats to someone like me. They have disdain for China, mock anyone who tries to leave the expat bubble and treat having Chinese food at a local place like a expedition to mars…something wholly new and unbelievable.
The thing is that while I hate these kinds of expats, I am painfully aware they actually exist, and in many ways I felt like I was getting a secret look into the lives of these types of women, and found they were not as all vain and shallow as I thought. Well, not all of them anyway. Antonella drew from her own life and her own experiences and writes very convincingly. I would have no problem believing that the “fictional” characters are just her real life friends and acquaintances with new names. (Though in an interview at the Speaking of China blog, she swears they aren’t.)
This is not a book for someone who wants to get to know China better, or Chinese culture. This is 100% from the point of view of expat wives (called “trailing wives”) who suddenly find themselves living in another culture with basically no purpose and trying to fill their time and have a meaningful life. And that’s what I like about it. It gives a fresh take on the “foreigner in China” story. (No English teachers here bumbling their way around China.)
Instead it follows proper, almost prudish, mostly middle-aged women as they go about trying to figure out their place in this new world while trying to maintain their European sensitivities. My one critisism on the book is that the book focuses on the lives of several women and while each chapter is clearly marked over who’s story is being told, I found myself getting mixed up with the names and who was who at time. Parsley and Coriander gave me, someone who’s been here for awhile, a glimpse into this life of expats I’ve only seen from afar. And I found it fascinating!
If you would like to check out this book, and I recommend that you do, you can buy it on Amazon in both paper format or for your Kindle. Enjoy!
Hey Becky, thanks for the pingback and great review! Normally I feel similarly about privileged expats, but I think the focus on trailing spouses, and the fact they were all women, made it different and interesting. I also enjoyed the stories quite a lot.
I bought Parsley & Coriander yesterday. I have a couple other books to read first, but when I’m done with them, I plan to read Parsley & Coriander and write a review on my blog.
As an expat wife (now called trailing spouse) for 20 years, I’m interested to see how Antonella describes the experiences of some Italian women in China.
In defense of expat wives, most of us didn’t move abroad to live a life of ease. We moved because of one necessity or another. In our case, we had three children under the age of four, my husband’s company closed down, and there was a serious downturn in the US in jobs for engineers. Not all of us had drivers and nursemaids, but if we lived in countries that didn’t give work permits to most foreigners, we did end up with time on our hands. Many of the women I knew were professionals or had serious jobs in their home country, so not being able to work caused them some heartache.
I didn’t have friends who lived in an expat bubble, but maybe that’s because my husband worked for an international organization with employees from all over the world. I did, however, meet American military families from Clark Air Base who lived in a bubble.
I’m glad you came to appreciate some of Antonella’s characters. I hope the book I’m writing now about expats will also paint at least a partially sympathetic picture of them.
I don’t mean to be contentious, but since I know so many wonderful “trailing spouses,” I felt I had to speak up.
It’s not contentious, don’t worry! I get where trailing spouses are coming from but it is such a different world than mine, and in the expat “community” or worlds rarely meet. Like the women in Antonella’s stories these types of wives often judge people who are more like me (integrating into Chinese life) so in real life we tend to not meet that often and when we do we don’t get along very well. So from my point-of-view I tend to not really like these kinds of people but her story definitely made them more sympathetic and I understand more now.