Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Book Review: Travails of a Trailing Spouse by Stephanie Suga Chen

I'm aware that I haven't featured a book review on the blog in quite some time. Well, here I am changing that by bringing to your attention a good read I came across recently.

Travails of a Trailing Spouse is the debut novel written by Stephanie Suga Chen, a Taiwanese-American expatriate living in Singapore. A former partner of a New York City-based investment fund, she grew up in Michigan and moved to Singapore in 2012 with her husband, two children, and ageing cocker spaniel. Travails of a Trailing Spouse opened at #2 on the Straits Times bestsellers list. 


The book is a work of fiction chronicling the lives of four expat families during their stint in Singapore.

There is Sarah, the trailing spouse, her neuroscientist husband Jason and their two young children who have left a familiar and stable life in the US behind to find their footing in Singapore, Ashley and Chad, the American-New Zealander seemingly perfect-for-each-other duo who lead an envious lifestyle, Carys and Ian, expats from UK whose perpetually stoic facade could be a cover-up for problems in the relationship or the odd American couple Sara and John whose unconventional marriage offers a steady source of gossip to their friends. The four couples form a close-knit group, filling their evenings with drinks at the pub, dinners at fancy restaurants, poolside barbeques and trivia nights. But everything doesn't stay hunky-dory for long as crumbling marriages, secrets among friends and a brush with the law threatens to break up the group dynamic. 

During the course of their adventure in the Lion City, the characters in the novel go through various highs and lows - dealing with the upheaval that relocation brings and the initial settling-in adjustments, forging new friendships, grappling with career stagnation, figuring out cultural assimilation, sorting through marital problems and ultimately finding oneself in the midst of it all.

My thoughts...

First things first - I absolutely loved the title of the book. It couldn't have been any more apt. The title effectively (albeit a tad dramatically) captures the point of view of the main protagonist.

As I immersed myself further into the novel, I couldn't help but think that it would be hard for anyone to guess that this is the author's first novel. She does indeed have a flair for writing. Travails of a Trailing Spouse is well written with clean, innocuous and uncomplicated prose. The pace of the novel is brisk and it comprises of characters that are both interesting and relatable.

The novel focuses on everyday aspects of life in Singapore, taking a frank and realistic look at friendships, marriage, motherhood and self-discovery. The novel highlights familiar scenes in Singapore expat life such as coping with the unforgiving heat and humidity of the tropics, recruiting and managing live-in helpers (or FDWs as they are known here), fitting in with the locals, amusement/annoyance at the widely considered unimpressive 'Singlish' (the informal, colloquial form of English that is used in Singapore), the exorbitant prices that the tiny island nation is infamous for including the luxury of owning a car, the challenges of owning a pet, the frustrations with frequently travelling spouses, the foreboding of having a brush with Singapore's very strict law, the dreaded annual 'haze', the stereotypical weekend getaways to nearby Bintan among others. The author has left no stone unturned - this is as comprehensive an overview of expat life in Singapore as it can be.

Expat life in Singapore is vastly different from the local lifestyle and this novel highlights the former. I arrived in Singapore as an expat and a trailing spouse myself (opting for permanent residence and embarking on a career at the same time roughly two years later) so this book struck many chords with me. I'll admit, it did take me some time to get oriented with all the names of characters, their backgrounds and equation with one other, but once I did, there was no turning back. Although the novel does not boast of a complex storyline or delve into any niche genre, it makes for a light-hearted, mildly funny, insightful and an engaging read. 

I would recommend this book not only to expats living in Singapore but also extend it to anyone who has/is/planning to live abroad. Moreover, for those at a crossroads in life owing to relationships, career or  relocation, this book may resonate with you. Heck, even if you have lived your whole life in one place, it would still offer itself as an easy breezy read!

I would gladly read more of this author's work in the future. 

My rating for this book is

Have you read this book? Leave a comment to let me know your thoughts.


Travails of a Trailing Spouse is available in the US from Amazon, and in Singapore from Kinokuniya, POPULAR, and Times. International orders can be made direct from the publisher, ST Press Books.

You can visit the author's Facebook page here

Disclaimer: I was sent an Advanced Reader's Copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. I am hosting a book giveaway on my blog's Facebook page but this has no bearing on my review. 


  1. Looks like a great place to eat and hang out. Thanks for the lovely review!

  2. Amazing blog. This post is looking interesting. Thanks for sharing this with us advancetopreviewer


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