Talking Location With… author Lizzy Barber – TUSCANY
Ten Great Books set in HONG KONG
2nd February 2022
Hong Long is the latest city for us to visit in our ‘Great Books set in…’ series. Ten Great Books set in Hong Kong. Hong Kong, officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, is a city and special administrative region of China on the eastern Pearl River Delta in South China. Due to its special status, Hong Kong is able to exercise a degree of autonomy and enjoy limited executive, legislative, and independent judicial power.
‘企喺城樓睇馬打交’ ‘Watch your horses fight from the top of the fort tower’ – ‘Observe from the sidelines / keep your distance’: Cantonese proverb
Mongkok Station by Jack Needham
Hong Kong is teetering on the edge of anarchy. Violent street battles are raging between riot police and mobs demanding democracy.
Samuel Tay is a legendary Singapore homicide detective. He’s retired, but it was purely involuntary. It seems his legend made a lot of senior officers uneasy and they wanted him gone. John August is an American who has shadowy connections to the intelligence community. He’s done Tay a lot of favors in the past, and Tay owes him one.
When August asks Tay to come to Hong Kong to track down the missing girl, Tay doesn’t much want to go. August and his friends deal in the fate of nations. Tay deals with personal tragedies, one human being at a time. Even worse, he doesn’t like Hong Kong and, to be completely honest, he’s not all that fond of Americans either.
Regardless, Tay answers August’s call for help. He’s a man who honors his debts, his forced retirement really sucks, and there’s this woman… well, there’s always a woman in there somewhere, isn’t there?
August thinks that the triads may have kidnapped the missing girl. Tay doesn’t have the sources to get inside the Hong Kong triads so August teams him up with Jack Shepherd, an American lawyer living in Hong Kong who just might be the only white guy on the planet the triads trust.
Tay is considerably less than thrilled by that. Here he is in a city that seems only moments away from going up in flames, everybody is certain the missing girl is dead, and now he’s stuck with all these Americans. Can things get any worse than that? Oh yes, they absolutely can.
White Ghost Girls by Alice Greenway
The narrator, the reticent Kate, who is 12, and her teenage sister, the boisterous Frankie, are American girls living in Hong Kong in the summer of 1967. Their father, Michael, a photographer for Time magazine, spends most of each month in Vietnam. When he’s home, he develops his pictures and the girls sneak into his darkroom, which becomes a depository for all things related to the war: a Vietnamese-English dictionary, slivers of shrapnel from his leg, a stolen AK-47. Kate describes how he “tacks his photographs up on the walls of his darkroom, a former laundry room. A soldier shoots through the open door of a Huey. ‘Squirrel hunting,’ my father’s scribbled underneath. A tall, sad-faced marine lifts an old Vietnamese woman from the rubble of a burned-out house. The woman’s arms stick out stiffly, as if she’s scared of being touched. ‘Saving Tuyet Diem,’ my father’s written.”
Harbour Views by Philip Chatting
Norwegian expatriate Jakob Odergaard rules his successful furniture corporation with a ruthlessness and egotism that draws comment even in the merciless cut and thrust of the Hong Kong business world. His baleful influence warps the lives of all around him: his imperiously bitter wife Dagmar, his estranged hippyish daughter Sigrid, and his sexually frustrated administrator, Mrs Tung, among them. Not even the blithely laddish Anil Patel, a company courier, is immune. In this jet-black comedy, lives are as tangled, messy, and precarious as the back streets of Kowloon. In a world where ambition collides with passion, tradition with modernity, East with West, no one comes away unscathed. Only the city itself – from the hyper-commercial Central District to semi-rural Sai Kung, and from ramshackle apartment blocks to sea-washed temples – endures.
Chopsticks by John Berkeley
On a restaurant on a boat, in faraway Hong Kong, lives a little mouse. This enchanting story tells of his adventures when, one New Year’s night, he magics a carved wooden dragon into life and together they fly through midnight skies, over lands you and I only dream of…
Fragrant Harbour by John Lanchester
In Fragrant Harbour much of the story is told in the words of Tom Stewart, a young Englishman who sails to Hong Kong in the 1930s and ends up spending the rest of his long life there. The voice of Stewart–reserved, humane and understated–is as finely achieved as those in the earlier novels. Through his eyes we see Hong Kong’s 20th-century history. The class-ridden and racially divided society of the 1930s is given the brutal awakening of the Japanese occupation. After the war, the old Hong Kong disappears and the city is transformed by economic boom and entrepreneurial energy. The approaching return of the city to mainland China brings its own problems, anxieties and upheavals.
Noble House by James Clavell
The setting is Hong Kong, 1963. The action spans scarcely more than a week, but these are days of high adventure: from kidnapping and murder to financial double-dealing and natural catastrophes-fire, flood, landslide. Yet they are days filled as well with all the mystery and romance of Hong Kong-the heart of Asia-rich in every trade…money, flesh, opium, power.
Eye for Eye by Chul Kim
On 9 June 2019, over one million Hong Kong citizens marched on Hong Kong island. It was the biggest protest in Hong Kong history. The series of demonstrations lasted until 2020, thousands of people got injured or arrested.
Peter Chen is the leader of his undercover medics team. He is not related to the medical field, but he is a pacifist, who avoids using violence in the protest. Every weekend, the Hong Kong streets are dyed in violence, but rescuing injured people in the protest site is Peter’s own way to resist against the government with non-violence.
In a massive protest held in the main hub airport of Hong Kong, Peter rescues a severely injured protester Blaze Lai. However, Blaze is a wanted criminal who was charged with damaging property in the legislative council. The police dragnet is getting closer to Peter, and the undercover medic is under the threat. Will Peter be able to sustain his fight against the unyielding resistance of mainland China?
Hong Kong by Jan Morris
In its last days under British rule, the Crown Colony of Hong Kong is the world’s most exciting city, at once fascinating and exasperating, a tangle of contradictions. It is a dazzling amalgam of conspicuous consumption and primitive poverty, the most architecturally incongruous yet undeniably beautiful urban panorama of all. World-renowned travel writer Jan Morris offers the most insightful and comprehensive study of the enigma of Hong Kong thus far.
Diamond Hill by Kit Fan
Set in the last shanty town of Hong Kong before the fraught 1997 handover from Britain to China, Diamond Hill follows the return of a recovering heroin addict, Buddha, as he tries to salvage what’s left from a place he hoped to forget.
Diamond Hill was once the ‘Hollywood of the Orient’, but is now an eyesore in the middle of a glitzy financial hub. Buddhist nuns, drug gangs, property developers, the government and foreign powers are all vying for power, each wanting to stake their claim on the land.
Buddha finds himself crossing swords with the Iron Nun, fighting for her nunnery; a disturbed novice, Quartz, who is fleeing her past; a faded film actress called Audrey Hepburn; and Boss, a teenage gang leader with a big mouth and even bigger plans, plotting to escape what she calls ‘the death of Hong Kong’.
Kit Fan’s hard-hitting and exhilarating debut is a requiem for a disappearing city, and a meditation on powerlessness, religion, colonialism and displacement. It explores the price of forgetting and how the present is ultimately always entangled in the past.
The Piano Teacher by Janice Y K Lee
In 1942, Will Truesdale, an Englishman newly arrived in Hong Kong, falls headlong into a passionate relationship with Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasian socialite. But their love affair is soon threatened by the invasion of the Japanese, with terrible consequences for both of them, and for members of their fragile community who will betray each other in the darkest days of the war.
Ten years later, Claire Pendleton lands in Hong Kong and is hired by the wealthy Chen family as their daughter’s piano teacher. A provincial English newlywed, Claire is seduced by the colony’s heady social life. She soon begins an affair…only to discover that her lover’s enigmatic demeanour hides a devastating past.
As the threads of this compelling and engrossing novel intertwine and converge, a landscape of impossible choices emerges – between love and safety, courage and survival, the present and above all, the past.
We hope you enjoy our selection of books set in Hong Kong. If we’ve missed any of your favourites, please add them in Comments below.
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