Loving “The Expat”

Loving "The Expat"Why would we move to Luxembourg?”

“To make a lot of money, and travel around Europe all the time.”

That’s not the opening of The Expats, a new thriller by Chris Pavone. But to most of us who are (or have been) expat spouses, it’s a hauntingly familiar. Even though the book is bursting with espionage and secret identities and that cloak-and-dagger stuff, who couldn’t relate to Kate Moore, the American mother of two whose life is turned upside down when her family moves to a charmingly cobblestoned European city?

I confess I bought the book because its title promised a lot of expat-ness, but also because I do love me a good thriller. Mr. Pavone delivers on both fronts. Having lived in Luxembourg for a year and a half, he certainly did his homework, and has perfectly nailed the rhythms and realities of expat life — good and bad. He writes matter-of-factly about the perks of the lifestyle, while also capturing the angst of the accompanying spouse who has left her career behind and doesn’t know who she is anymore. (He obviously spent a lot of time listening to expat women, because the dialogue has the unmistakable ring of authenticity. I can almost see him in the café where he wrote the book, straining to eavesdrop on the coffee-drinking moms at the next table and furiously scribbling notes.)

Here’s a small sampling of the phrases that made me nod in recognition.

“This, she told herself again, is my chance to reinvent myself.”

“Start to finish, it took her two hours to buy a four-euro cleaning product. She couldn’t explain all that; couldn’t complain. She was not in a position to complain about this life, not yet. Probably not ever. She’d wanted this, had expressed to her husband every confidence that she’d enjoy this. She couldn’t whine.”

“Kate shouldn’t resent him for leaving, for leaving her by herself with children in a strange land, alone and lonely. But she did.”

“This is the expat life: you never know when someone you see every day is going to disappear forever, instantly transmogrifying into a phantom….You can’t imagine you yourself being one of those people, someone who one day just vanishes. But you are.”

I don’t want to give you the impression that this is a book about a spoiled expat wife, because it most definitely is not. It’s a fast-paced, thoroughly absorbing story about deeply-buried secrets and their consequences. Pavone is an excellent writer, jerking us back and forth between the past and the present, offering us a tantalizing glimpse of the truth before closing the curtains and sending us off in another direction. I read this book in a single day, and I might just read it again to pick up on all the clues I missed the first time around.


About Maria

I'm a Canadian repatriate, former expat spouse, mother to two TCKs (and one yellow Lab), mentor to new immigrants, writer, reader, world traveller (grounded for now). I write about expat/repat issues and am still trying to figure out my place in the world.
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10 Responses to Loving “The Expat”

  1. Naomi says:

    Adding it to my list of books to read!

  2. Joburg Expat says:

    wow wow wow, I have to put that on my list! (with a twinge of jealousy that there is a book called “the expats” – one of US should have written that!

    • My sentiments exactly! Have already ordered a Kindle sample 🙂
      @JoburgExpat do you ever come up to Botswana? I’m in Gaborone (ex Lusaka) – we should swap notes & tips!

      • Joburg Expat says:

        Hi Eleanor – as a matter of fact, my first ever Botswana trip coming up in April, but game lodges instead of Gaborone. Had to wait for the kids to go on exchanges because it was too darn expensive for the six of us, so a lovely holiday just for my husband and I. Do you have a website? Would love to see more of your writing… Oh, and I’ve got a tab on my blog with Africa book recommendations. Not so much about expats though, just good reading.

  3. I might have to look for this! Been a while since I bought a new book. Thanks for posting about it!

  4. Heather says:

    Love this! Makes me want to read it!

  5. Great review for what sounds like a great book! And of course the author was an expat trailing spouse himself, so he sure knows all about it.
    I’d never heard of any novels set in Expatland before last year, so very excited to see a second one (& in a completely different genre, so no danger of stereotyping) so soon after Jo Parfitt’s lovely Sunshine Soup about six women in Dubai.

  6. I think I may need to find this book and have a wee read. Sounds intriguing.

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