Stephanie Suga Chen's expat revelations at ST Book Club session

Author Stephanie Suga Chen (left), author of Travails Of A Trailing Spouse, speaking at The Straits Times Book Club.
Author Stephanie Suga Chen (left), author of Travails Of A Trailing Spouse, speaking at The Straits Times Book Club.ST PHOTO: BENJAMIN SEETOR

SINGAPORE - At the Straits Times (ST) Book Club's first fiction book discussion on Wednesday night (June 30), Stephanie Suga Chen shared the inspiration and funny stories behind her novel, Travails Of A Trailing Spouse.

The Taiwanese-American writer drew from her own experiences for the light-hearted look at the lives of expatriate wives in Singapore.

In 2012, she gave up her investment banker career to follow her neuroscientist husband to Singapore.

It was a difficult transition as Chen, 38, went from "wearing the pants in the family... to a very stereotypical role of a household wife".

She felt very unfulfilled and unhappy because she mostly stayed home to care for her two children. It was a friend who told her to "get it together and quit complaining" that pushed her to get into writing.

She also recalled some of the challenges she faced as an expatriate, such as mastering Singlish.

"I struggled sometimes with just getting understood, like calling and scheduling cleaning for the air-conditioning and then completely not being understood at all."

In contrast with her struggle to fit in, her then four-year-old daughter had no problems settling in and making friends.

"When my husband and I made a bet on who would get invited over to a local person's place first, it was our daughter who won."

An audience member asked if she spoke Hokkien and Chen said her fluency in it confused many people due to her American-accented English.

Some readers also asked whether the novel's juicy content, which includes marital affairs and pub brawls, was based on real-life experiences.

She said that while some of the stories were based loosely on her own experiences, some were based on "gossips which trailing wives just love to talk about".

There was some criticism that the rich lifestyles portrayed in the novel were not representative of all expatriates in Singapore.

The author said that it was not meant to be seen as a general portrayal but as a work of fiction with "a bit of over-dramatisation".

Colombian musician and aspiring writer Alvaro Sanchez asked for tips on starting a novel and Chen said: "Just write, write and write. You just have to get writing."

The next book club session on June 27 will feature Singapore, Disrupted, a compilation of essays by ST Opinion editor and political columnist Chua Mui Hoong on the threat of technological disruption, the class divide and political change in Singapore.

Readers can register at str.sg/ofWM.