An American expatriate reevaluates his life in China.
In this contemporary novel, Moreau (Understanding China, 2015) draws on his own experience living and working in China as he tells the story of Adam Bertrand, an American executive in charge of a Chinese manufacturing operation. Adam’s management style is effective, but serves as a source of conflict with his boss, a by-the-books CEO unfamiliar with the culture, from the opening pages. Adam is also on his third marriage, this time to Li Qing, his former masseuse, also known as Lisa. When it becomes clear that Adam’s career in China has reached its end, he looks back at his life while figuring out the next steps, made more difficult by laws limiting the immigration of Chinese wives like Li Qing. Adam confronts his strengths and shortcomings, establishes a comfortable relationship with the children of his previous marriage, and plots a path forward that meets his physical and emotional needs. Moreau’s familiarity with the expatriate experience in China is evident throughout the book, with a vividly drawn setting, though the blanket statements about Chinese culture delivered in an authoritative voice (“As receiver-oriented communicators, the Chinese can be poor conversationalists if the feel no sense of personal obligation to the speaker” ) may raise eyebrows. The narrative is somewhat uneven, filled with professorial asides (“Humans think through a process called precognitive conclusion. Even in the current moment when all data is theoretically available, our brains process only a small fraction of the data presented to it for analysis” ) and organized into a timeline that leaves the reader wondering at some points whether action is taking place in Adam’s past or present. Adam is a flawed but ultimately likable protagonist whose emotional and intellectual growth over the course of the book serve as his redemption, and Moreau presents a unique vantage point for understanding the role Americans play in a multicultural world.
A thought-provoking and intriguing, though unevenly written, novel of the expatriate life and one man’s discovery of what matters most to him.