The debut novel of Singapore-based, Taiwanese-American expat Stephanie Suga Chen is a fictional story that follows Sarah, and her encounters an expat, mother and wife. Travails of a Trailing Spouse and Sarah’s story of adapting to being an expat living in Singapore has struck a chord with readers, with the book recently hitting number one on Kinokuniya’s bestsellers list.
What inspired you to write this book?
Travails started as a memoir. I had lived in the US my entire life until moving to Singapore, so, when I think back to those first few months after arriving, it was such a surreal, almost magical, experience that I really wanted to document.
How much of the book has been inspired by your own life here in Singapore, and how much of it is total fiction?
That seems to be everyone’s favourite question! It started as a memoir, but then my wise husband suggested that perhaps our life wasn’t interesting enough to sell as a book. That’s when I took out my editing pen! So, most of the juicy stuff is probably made up!
What’s your favourite part about living here?
There are so many wonderful aspects – the unbelievable variety of food, so many fun activities for the kids and a very welcoming expat community. But, my most favourite part would probably be the diversity of cultures.
Stephanie’s Five Favourites
Here are the expat author’s top Singaporean hang-outs and food picks.
#1 Jurong East Swimming Complex
#2 The Children’s Garden at Gardens by the Bay
#3 Tanjong Beach at Sentosa
#4 Bubble tea
#5 Din Tai Fung
What do you miss most about living in the US?
For sure, my family. Although I’ve met some fantastic friends here in Singapore, nothing can substitute being able to call my brother or mom for a quick favour.
How did you get into writing?
It happened quite suddenly, actually! After over 15 years in finance and investing, I discovered about a year ago that I really enjoyed writing last February. It quickly unfolded from there – I finished the novel, found a publisher, and released the book, all within 12 months.
What’s next for you?
I’d love to make writing a career and am hard at work on several projects. I’d also love to do a sequel to Travails. I’m already being approached by people saying, “You’ll never believe this story…” (Well, that, and, “You better not put this in your next book!”)
About Travails of a Trailing Spouse
As an expat, you’d be hard-pressed not to relate to this tale about Sarah, a Taiwanese-American who quits her job as a lawyer to move with her two kids and husband to Singapore where she finds herself adjusting to a new culture, making close-knit condo friends and grappling with what it means to be the “trailing” spouse. Sarah is relatable and familiar in so many ways (as are many of her friends), as she provides an honest look at the everyday pros and cons, and “first world problems,” of the expat experience in Singapore, the constant quest of finding one’s “new” identity abroad, making close friends only to have say goodbye to them, and the hard work it takes to keeping a marriage afloat every single day. Stephanie captures it all so perfectly – from mould and haze, and crazy grocery prices, to spending too much time surfing expat wife forums and feeling guilty but thankful for being able to employ helpers; the obstacles (ranging from trivial to major), behaviours and everyday observations are unabashedly relevant. Throw in some juicy drama and a tinge of mystery, and you’ve got yourself a book that you won’t want to put down! – Amy Greenburg
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