Interview & FREE Book Giveaway: “Parsley & Coriander” by Antonella Moretti

There’s not a month that goes by here in China without some remembrance of my first tentative steps into this country. How I stammered my way through even the simplest of conversations, and could hardly understand anything people said in return. My fears of venturing out to do commonplace things we usually take for granted – going to the post office, shopping at the supermarket, buying meds at the pharmacy, dining at a restaurant. The times when I would cry out of frustration of adapting to such a foreign culture, or simply because I was lonely and longed for the comforts of something familiar. The moment I fell in love with a local Chinese man.

Getting to know China that first year was such a formative time for me. I never realized that a chance decision to work here would eventually change my life and love forever. Despite all the challenges involved, I look back on that time with gratitude, knowing I wouldn’t be who I am today without it.

It’s a joy to remember this. But it’s also a joy when I happen to read a book that captures the spirit of finding your own path in China, especially as a woman. Parsley & Coriander is a delightful novel by Antonella Moretti that does just that, through the stories of Italian expat women in China.

In this compelling story of Luisella and her circle of friends and acquaintances, Moretti brings to life many of the foreigners I’ve met in China. Entrepreneurs and working girls. Foreign students smitten with Chinese men. Expat wives-turned-writers. Trailing spouses, uncertain what to make of their new home.

Despite the fact that this is a novel told through an expat lens, Moretti doesn’t shy away from the darker, more prejudicial sides of the China expat community – those content to criticize China about everything. While Parsley & Coriander is never preachy, the underlying message is clear – open yourself up to new perspectives, and give China a chance.

You’ve already had a taste of Parsley & Coriander through the guest post Antonella Moretti penned for the blog last month (On Being An Expat Wife in China). I’m excited to feature Parsley & Coriander and Antonella Moretti once again through this interview.

Here’s her bio from Goodreads:

Antonella Moretti is an Italian expat blogger and writer living in China since 2011. In her blog cucinanto.com she likes to share her experience as an Italian mom and trailing spouse living in China, always trying to understand the differences and contradictions between the Chinese society and Western culture. She is a contributor for online magazines and writes about expat life. Her first novel “Parsley and Coriander” tells the story of three Italian women who left their life in Italy behind and followed their husbands in China: it is a story about love, friendship and the courage of making choices.

You can learn more about Antonella Moretti at her blog. Her new novel Parsley & Coriander is available at Amazon.com, where your purchases help support Speaking of China.

Would you like to win a FREE copy of Parsley & Coriander? If you have a mailing address in China, why not participate in a giveaway today! Scroll down for details.

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Tell us about what inspired you to write this novel.

When I started my expat journey, living in China was new and exciting for me and I wanted to share everything about it. Moreover, I had the chance to know many different women and I was fascinated by their stories. Each of them had an interesting point of view and a different experience and I thought this was the right topic for a novel. In the book, all the characters live a different adventure, and yet they have a lot in common.

You’ve based much of your writing on the people you’ve met here in China, including your friends. How have they responded to the book?

Yes, I took a lot from daily life and many of my friends told me they really could relate to the emotions of the women in the book. But at the same time I mixed everything in order to create different stories and fictional characters, so nobody could really identify with a specific one! I confess I was a little afraid about how they could respond to the book, but they loved it! And I still have all of my friends!

How did you come up with Assunta’s, the Italian cafe featured in the novel run by a Chinese woman who has lived in Italy?

I liked the idea that the most popular hangout place for Italians in town was actually run by a Chinese woman. Italians are very proud of their food, their wine and coffee and I found it funny that Assunta chooses for herself a typical name from Southern Italy and claims to make the best Espresso in China.

Unfortunately, that is a completely imaginary place: in Suzhou we don’t have a cafe like that, where you can go and always find some Italians to chat with, drinking the perfect Espresso. And we really miss it!

Which character was your favorite to write and why?

My favorite character to write was Emma, because her adventure is the most tormented and romantic in the book. Writing her story, I really identified with her feelings: I got angry when she did, I cried when she was sad… I found her personality fascinating and I really loved her.

Your novel features a variety of relationships experienced by expat women in China, from trailing spouses to students to entrepreneurs. Without revealing any major spoilers, could you share with us some of your favorite relationship moments in the book?

I found interesting the relationship between Camilla, the young student in love with China, and Fulvia who, instead, hates everything of her Chinese experience and is very negative and sarcastic. Of course, in the story they have many occasions to fight! This also gave me the chance to talk about the different perceptions of China by foreigners.

What do you hope readers gain from reading your novel?

I hope readers will identify with the emotions of the characters, and discover they are not alone when they must cope with the difficulties of expat life in China. And also realize that living here can be a great opportunity when you are flexible and able to adapt. For those used to China, it can represent a memory of their experience while living in the country. And I also hope it can be useful for those who plan to move here: it gives a glimpse of what you could expect once arrived in the Middle Kingdom.

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A big thanks to Antonella Moretti for this interview on Parsley & Coriander!

Would you like to win a FREE copy of Parsley & Coriander? If you have a mailing address in China, why not enter the FREE book giveaway going on right now on WeChat?

(For those of you not based in mainland China, but with friends or family over in China who could receive it for you, you can enter too!)

Here’s how to enter:

1. To be eligible to win, you must use WeChat on your mobile phone and have a mailing address in mainland China. (Note – if you haven’t installed WeChat, it’s easy to download. You can find it in most major app stores by searching for WeChat or微信, or get it directly from their website here).

2. Follow my official WeChat account. If you’re not already a follower, just scan the QR Code below using your WeChat app (here are directions on how to scan QR codes in WeChat):Or, you can search for my official WeChat account under the words “speakingchina”.

3. Finally, just send a message to my official WeChat account with the phrase “pc” and you’re entered.

It’s THAT simple.

Remember, entries must be received by 11:59pm tonight (May 18) Beijing time. Only one entry per person. Tomorrow, on May 19, I will randomly choose a winner from all the entries and notify them via my WeChat official account.

Good luck to everyone!

By the way, if you’re in Suzhou, China on Saturday May 20 and would fancy an evening of fine wine and books, you can meet Antonella Moretti in person:

Guest Post: On Being an Expat Wife in China

I’m thrilled to publish this guest post from Antonella Moretti, author of the novel Parsley & Coriander: Life in China with Italian Flavor. Here’s the description from Amazon.com:

How would you feel if you are told that you have to give up your whole life and move to China? This is what happens to the three Italian women in the story, who decide to follow their husbands abroad.

Challenges, thrills, ups and downs and the struggle of having to deal with a very different culture.

Antonella Moretti portrays a group of trailing spouses: some of them adapt to the new reality and reinvent themselves, others simply can’t bear the cultural shock and give up.

Stay tuned, as I’ll be featuring an interview with Antonella about her novel later on the blog.

Do you have a guest post you’d like to see featured here on Speaking of China? Visit the submit a post page to learn how to get published on the blog.
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My name is Antonella and I moved to China from Italy in 2012. It was our family’s first experience abroad and I didn’t know what to expect from this new adventure.

So, what happens when your husband receives a job offer in China and you decide to follow him?

You’ll probably become a taitai. 

Taitai in Chinese means married woman. But for us, the wives of foreigners who work in China, it also means to be a lady who sacrifices a part of her life and goes toward the unknown. A woman who will probably become a privileged housewife, with an ayi hired to clean the house, kids all day long at some international school, maybe a driver to take her around. And a lot of free time.

Sounds great, isn’t it? But sometimes, if you were used to being a busy woman, you struggle to fill that time.

Taitais meet in foreign coffee shops, trying to deal with the diversity of Chinese culture. Some of them like their new life. Others are overwhelmed by cultural shock and only desire to go back to their motherland. Many of them become addicted to shopping and fill their wardrobe with fake bags and clothes. Others are obsessed with their body and spend their days at the gym. Some try to work, but for spouses it is not easy to find a job in the same field you were employed in, especially in China.

When I decided to follow my man, like many others I quit my job. I was an accountant and never really loved that job, So no tears from me when I told my boss I was going to resign.

Becoming a taitai myself, I had to deal with all the unusual spare time. To find myself without anything to do was really weird! I feared I had no purpose anymore. Shopping sprees and neverending chitchats were not meaningful activities to me. I wanted something more! So I had to reinvent myself. And what was better than rediscovering my old passion for writing? I started a blog and after a while, I wrote and published a novel.

What is this novel about? About expat women, of course! The topic I know best. I didn’t have to do much research to write about it. Even if the book isn’t a memoir, I poured into the pages all the experiences, the stories, and the feelings of my first years in China.

I wrote a novel because I wanted to describe the most expats I could — from the ones who adapt easily to the ones who never fit in. And fiction helped me to mix everything and create a captivating plot.

The women in the book try to get the best out of their “taitai life”. They challenge themselves, doing new things that sometimes frighten them. Like Astrid, who becomes a stronger person:

“Every choice she made, trembling with fear, she did wondering if it was the right one. It was anything but a smooth process and left her worn out, tired and nervous. But now she understood that dealing with it all, taking all those risks, had made her able to do things she, knowing herself, would have considered totally impossible until a few months earlier.

For someone this is just too much, and they lock themselves at home, frightened and shocked. There’s the young Livia, who says:

“Not everyone is like you, Luisella! Not everyone can keep smiling through difficult times. I know you don’t appreciate those who honestly admit not being happy in China, but we are not all the same, you know? Some of us need a long time to adapt, some will never fit in, but they should not be judged for it!”

In my case, I didn’t have that much of a cultural shock. Maybe because I’m flexible, maybe because I’m curious. Or maybe because, when I was young, I was a girl scout and certain things don’t shock me! But, joking aside, I understand that this is not true for everybody. This is the reason why many expats live in the “expat bubble”. They rent an apartment in a very nice compound and spend their time inside it, hanging out almost exclusively with fellow countrymen.

On the contrary, there are also expats like the young student Camilla, a truly China-lover, who arrives in the Middle Kingdom full of expectations, declaring she wants to find a local boyfriend.

“Astrid looked at the picture on her smartphone screen: only Camilla could find the courage to photograph a bank employee, not at all ashamed to be seen!

– He’s actually really handsome!

– He is tall, has dark, almond-shaped, irresistible eyes, a prominent jawline, a straight and long neck, broad shoulders…

Astrid laughed:

– Did you X-ray him? Okay, but now what’s the next move? Are you going to ask him out?”

But dreams and reality do not always match, and she will clash with difficulties she didn’t expect.

Because of her declared love for Asia, she will become the favorite target of Fulvia’s mockery. Fulvia is one of the so-called “three witches”, a group of ladies who don’t miss a chance to speak ill about their life in China, giving voice to the ones who think they are right just because they are Westerners.

“The Three Witches (…) never missed a chance to rant about China and the Chinese people, and didn’t make the slightest effort to learn more about the country and the people that were hosting them. Indeed, their mouths were filled with mostly racist platitudes.”

Emma, instead, arrives China without expectations or prejudices. She comes to save her broken marriage and end up finding a new, complicated love: she falls for a calm, strong Chinese man. But their love will be destroyed by doubts, prejudices and guilt. Eventually, she understands that all she wants is to save their romance…but is it too late? Will she win his heart again?

“She felt as if she were floating on the clouds. The meetings with Shen had become a regular thing, and although nothing had happened between them, Emma felt satisfied and complete. She knew little or nothing about him, and yet she seemed to have known him for a lifetime.(…)

Sometimes, as they sat gazing at the river, their shoulders touched. Emma felt a strong urge to take his arm and put it around her shoulders, but at the same time she didn’t dare. She was savoring the tension that grew stronger every time but didn’t force his hand in any way.”

This was the only part of the story that required some research. Neither I nor any friend of mine have ever been involved in a cross-cultural relationship and I wanted to make it sound realistic. In this, Jocelyn and other women who share their AMWF experiences in their blogs helped me a lot. I discovered for instance that Chinese men show their love differently. They don’t use many words, they show their appreciation in a subtle way. Yet Shen is a very romantic character, and my readers loved him!

Living day by day in this country, you’ll learn to appreciate things you wouldn’t think you could. Like coriander, the herb which gives the title to the novel. At the beginning I really couldn’t stand its smell. I found it nearly disgusting. Then, little by little, I learned to enjoy it. And now I really love it!

Italian writer Antonella Moretti, who resides in Suzhou, China, is the author of Parsley & Coriander: Life in China with Italian Flavor.
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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.