Book review: Parsley and coriander
It’s not every day that I hear about a book written by a foreign woman who lives in Suzhou and tells a story about foreign women living here! So, understandably, I was very excited to hear about Antonella Moretti’s Parsley & Coriander. Antonella is an Italian woman who has lived in Suzhou for over 5 years with her husband and children. Parsley & Coriander is her first novel, which she wrote originally in her native Italian and then had translated into English. And she also has a blog in English!
Antonella arrived to Suzhou more or less at the same time I did, but our experiences must have been very different. She, as many other trailing spouses, came to China with her family because her husband’s company moved him to their China office. I know there are a lot of expat families like Antonella’s in Suzhou, and a lot of women who had to leave their lives and their jobs back home to come here and keep the family together. It’s almost always women, right? I have always been curious about how the life of a foreign taitai (married woman who doesn’t work outside the house) really is. On one side, it looks like a very comfortable and leisure life: most expat packages include a nice apartment, a good school for the kids, a cleaning lady, sometimes even a car with a driver! But most of these women actually worked in their home countries, so it must not be easy to find themselves with a lot of free time on their hands (especially after the children start going to school), in a country they wouldn’t have chosen themselves, and immersed in a culture so different from their own.
Anyone who knows a bit about Mediterranean and Chinese food will guess the reasoning behind the title. Parsley is a herb frequently used in Mediterranean cooking, and coriander is widely used in Chinese food. And they look very similar! (The smell and taste is completely different, though!). And so, Parsley & Coriander is the story of several Italian women living in Suzhou. There are three main characters: Luisella, who has been here for several years and likes it (and is writing a book about Italian women in China!); Astrid, who after a bad first impression starts finding herself in China; and Emma, who comes to try to save her marriage. And then there are a lot of secondary characters which interweave with the main ones to create the different stories. There are the typical grumpy expats who hate everything about China and the Chinese, and also the typical student who comes to learn Mandarin and wonders why it is so difficult to make Chinese friends. Hehe, I’ve been there too. When I was a student in Beijing I didn’t have many Chinese friends, as our class building and dormitories were separated and all the classmates were, obviously, foreigners.
I think Parsley & Coriander is a very interesting read in general, and particularly useful for expats who find themselves facing a move to China. Not only for women, but also for men. If they are the ones “dragging” the family halfway around the world, it won’t hurt them to get a glimpse of what their wives’ lives might be like!