This post is the start of a new series. I love books, I am an expat. So, I am going to start writing about the books I read that are related to being an expat. (Note: I write a tiny bit about the other books I read over at Goodreads). This series is supported (in part) by Summertime Publishing, who have very kindly offered me review copies of some of their books (their books are by and for expats, and you can buy them at Expat Bookshop).
Sunshine Soup is the story of a group of expat women in Dubai who are trying to travel through the culture shock, loss of identity, and depression so often associated with an overseas move. The story starts with Maya, a newcomer who misses her friends, her delicatessen and her kitchen. When she gets the stamp in her passport saying “Wife – Not Allowed to Work”, she is shocked, and has to rediscover her identity without the business she built and loved back at home. Early on she meets Barb, a ‘super expat wife’ who is so busy volunteering, meeting and helping that she neglects herself and has never really dealt with past grief. A number of other women with different experiences and reasons for being in Dubai come into the scene, and we meet many of the ‘typical’ types of expats.
But while the main characters may be ‘typical’ in some ways, they are not caricatures, or one dimensional. The characters are layered and interesting, and definitely draw you into the story. This is also helped by the fact that the book starts at just the right point. The story starts where the action starts, and the background is woven in throughout, making it a far more interesting read. I was into the story from the start, and wanted to find out what happened.
Sunshine Soup really nails an often ignored expat life. That it’s just ordinary life, but in another country. It’s so easy to glamourise this life (after all, staying in a lovely sunny climate, with lots of new experiences and travels, and often a fairly lavish lifestyle is pretty easy to glamourise). But the reality is that ordinary things still happen. People grieve, people are tempted, people are sullen, work is hard sometimes, teenagers are teenagers. And this book captures all of that reality throughout.
However, at the end, I lost the plot a little (no, I didn’t go crazy, I just wasn’t quite so engaged with the story). I think the end was a little rushed, and a few storylines were a bit out of the blue for me (particularly Barb’s love interest). I also thought that the connection with food was a little bit forced. There were times where it fitted in seamlessly (and made me really hungry), but other times where I felt like the story was being pushed in slightly unnatural directions.
Overall, I think that this book would be particularly great for anyone about to head on their first expat adventure, as well as anyone who has already been through the experience. There are plenty of characters and experiences to relate to. And I love to engage with life experiences through fiction. I far prefer this format to a memoir, where the constraints of reality can so easily be detrimental to the plot (that is not to say there aren’t great memoirs out there, and I even intend to review some here, but in general I’m a fiction girl). Sunshine Soup is a great read, and will resonate particularly strongly with global souls. But the writing and story is accessible enough that anyone could enjoy it, whether they see themselves as a global soul/trailing spouse/expat/traveller or not.
Rating: 3.5 stars.