Sunshine Soup by Jo Parfitt

This is a novel every expat woman will enjoy, even if their experiences don’t exactly match those of the very human and likeable characters in this story. They will recognise the familiar challenges of moving abroad and establishing themselves again in a new environment. Maya, the first heroine in this story, moves to Dubai with her family. I found the early chapters about her settling in there almost too tough going to read, they so accurately reflected the difficulties and oppression of an independent woman suddenly thrust into a constricting way of life. As a housewife Maya isn’t allowed to work, and her over-zealous housemaid Annie does her best to keep her out of the kitchen. How can Maya fill her time?

But luckily there’s Barb, the second major female figure in this book. We all know a Barb, the indefatiguable organiser who comes up with new ideas and projects to help new arrivals settle in motivates everyone into action. Barb is bright and cheery, at least outwardly. However, she has a sad secret which she finds harder to bear. And over the years she’s grown apart from husband Bill so life isn’t all roses, even though she has the money and time to live a life of pampered leisure.

Maya gradually settles in, mainly through reclaiming her place in the kitchen and creating recipes that incorporate local ingredients into familiar English dishes. She finds voluntary work and begins to feel happy and at home. But then Rich, her husband, starts acting very strangely and worrying about money. Maya is up in the air again and then her ex appears on the scene. Things start to get dangerous. Barb’s sadness becomes harder to bear, but for both women events take several unexpected turns but eventually they both find happiness again.

This is a cleverly structured and fascinating novel. The characters, which include electronic-device-addicted teenagers, native men, a huge mix of expat women to name but a few, are rounded and interact realistically. The settings are always described in detail and you feel you’re there with the characters.

The icing on this cake, or rather the topping on this delicious soup, is the collection of wonderful recipes at the back of the book. I’m busily working my way through.

All in all, a great read from a talented writer. More please Jo!

Available at here.

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