Earlier this year I entered a competition on Jocelyn’s blog Speaking of China, and believe it or not, but I won! The price was the book “Parsley & Coriander: Life in China with Italian Flavor” by Antonella Moretti – see her website here. My spring was busy. I wrote my bachelor’s thesis, I visited Sweden with my then boyfriend, we got engaged, and we also got married… But now, in August, things seem to have calmed down a little, and I have found myself laying on my bed reading for hours – and this has to be the best way to consume a novel. Seems like the year 2017 is slowly helping me find my way back into reading. However, “Parsley & Coriander” is the first novel of the year that is related to China, and therefore the first one I am to share with you.
“Parsley & Coriander: Life in China with an Italian Flavor” is written by Italian Antonella Moretti, living in China since 2012. It’s a book about expat women who followed their husbands from Italy to China. The head characters are the three women Emma, Astrid and Luisella, but through them another handful of (mostly Italian) women are also introduced. What the three women have in common is the fact that they left their home country to come with their husbands to China. Their experiences in the new country vary.
The feeling of coming as an expat to China is easy to recognize for the ones of us that has been there. Being exposed to a new culture, new habits, a new language can seem a little scary at first, but there are also new opportunities in all areas of life. I came to China as a student and because I chose to do so myself. So to some extent I can’t relate to the hesitation and the skepticism that seem to be quite ingrained in many of the women’s attitudes.
As the expat circle I came to find myself in was multinational, and we all had decided our selves to come to China and to study Chinese culture and language, most were openminded. Being a student it was also easier to get in touch with Chinese people and make local friends. The women in the book seem to be moving in mostly Italian circles, and thus their world becomes very small and full of gossip and little disputes – things that I would never have been able to put up with. However, the expats coming and going, whenever the school year starts and ends, is something that I can relate to – I have also seen many foreign friends come and go during my time here.
Luisella is the China lover of the three – extremely satisfied with the life she has made for herself and her family in China, having discovered new passions and new roles. The biggest issue for her is being faced with the possibility of having to go back to Italy, something she can’t see herself doing.
As the book begins, Astrid arrives in China with her children to join her husband who recently moved there for work. She is a little nervous, but quite quickly adapts to the life in the compound her husband chose for them. The kids go to school, and Astrid herself sees this as an opportunity for self discovery. So she gets off to a good start, although she sometimes looks to discovery in ways that she would never have expected herself.
Emma is the character whose story I liked the most. Emma comes to China to spend time with her husband, with the intention of saving their marriage. But the marriage seems long-lost, and the couple barely speaks. Then love happens, between Emma and the Chinese man Mr. Wang. The reason I liked reading about Emma and Mr.Wang is probably because there is so much familiarity. The sparks fly and hearts beat, but the romance is subtle. The couple are slowly getting to know each other, and their common language is gestures, translation apps, eye glances and facial expressions. I know this start so well, and reading about Emma and Mr. Wang I couldn’t help but being transported back to when I first started meeting (dating) my now husband – who for that matter is also a Mr. Wang. The phone calls where we eventually would just hang up, since no-one knew what the other said. The importance of having a charged phone, for translating purposes, of having a pen and a paper ready for drawing. The importance of hands, eyes and smiles. The patience.
This early communication between two who don’t share a common spoken language is so raw, and so extremely vulnerable. I am impressed at how well Antonella Moretti managed to capture this, and how, in the end, her book made me cry.
Buy and read for yourself to see if that was tears of happiness or sadness.
(Disclosure: The link to the website where you can find the book is an affiliate link, which means that I might earn a commission through your purchase.)