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Deep Night & Books Set in Hong Kong

My unofficial breakfast reading club, which consists of three members, often share books we read. The latest acquisition is Deep Night by Caroline Petit. This book was getting curiously meager attention among media and book blogger. Only one review was available on Amazon. Being a native of Hong Kong who grew up under the colonial flag, the story immediately appeals to me: In 1937 in Hong Kong Jonathan Hawatyne and his fiancee antiques dealer Leah Kolbe attend a movie when the second Sino-Japanese War begins. They are separated as the Japanese easily take the city. However, Leah flees the dangerous occupation by boat to Macau where she fortunately finds work and some safety at the British Consulate.

Here I include a list of books set in my hometown, Hong Kong. During the 150 some years that the city was in the rein of the Brits, it’s been a locale of wonder, opportunity, adventure, and source of wealth. Authors have also been fascinated by this unique place. The former colony has etched its way into (particularly 20th century) literary tomes. Just off the top of my head includes:

Fragrant Harbor John Lanchester
This is meant to be re-read. An Englishman finds his way into the heart of a local nun. They had to make the decision for each other when war broke out and as Hong Kong fell to the Japanese. Set in 1930s and 40s.

Noble House James Clavell
I consider my utter accomplishment this year to have finally read this fast-paced classic thriller set in 1960s Hong Kong. It left me on the edge of my seat!

The Piano Teacher Janice Y.K. Lee
The novel, set in 1940s on the verge of war, transports readers to a time when everyone was confronted with impossible choices: between love and safety, between fortune and family.

The Painted Veil W. Somerset Maugham
Inspired by lines of Dante, delves into the infinite complexities of human hearts in the context of love, loss, regret, happiness, forgiveness and isolation. It ponders on the very irony that too much of love can be hurtful.

Kowloon Tong: A Novel of Hong Kong Paul Theroux
I don’t remember it being a favorite, but his incisive prose on the snobbish Brits who would refuse to assimilate to the local culture makes it a worthy read. Their arrogance is also tamed by a Chinese man who never takes refusal.

Gweilo: Memories of a Hong Kong Childhood Martin Booth
A most engaging and loving memoir, socially rich in details as it relates the intercourse of different walks of life in Hong Kong. His description of the relationships between foreigners and the local people, as epitomised by his parents, his father’s superiors, Amercian sailors, long-term lodgers in the hotels and their employees, shopkeepers, servants and ordinary locals, is acute, with observations worthy of a sociologist’s.

The World of Suzie Wong Richard Mason
An Englishman who has left national service and moved to Hong Kong for a new career befriends a bargirl named Suzie Wong.

Love in a Fallen City Eileen Chang
A collection of stories set in Hong Kong between 1940s and 60s. Chang focuses on women struggling to break free from the feudalistic traditions of the past as they make their way to Hong Kong after World War II.

The Monkey King Timothy Mo
The Poons, according to gossip in post-war Hong Kong, have plenty of money. But when Wallace Nolasco marries May Ling, daughter of the house of Poon, he finds he has been sold short. Wallace is relegated to the bottom of the household pecking order.

White Ghost Girls Kate Greenway
An autobiographical novel about two western girls living in Hong Kong in 1967 while their dad is a photo-journalist in Vietnam.

Paper Lanterns Christine Coleman
Set both in the UK and Hong Kong, in the past and present, Christine Coleman’s latest novel presents the story of Ann, plain and seemingly insecure, dealing with a litany of revelations that shakes her ideas about herself, and her family, to the core.

6 Responses

  1. Matt, your timing could not be better! I would ideally like to read books set in or written by authors from all the countries Tony and I plan to visit on our big trip through Asia & Europe and Hong Kong was the country I have been most recently wondering about. We are planning to stop there right after Japan and now I will be able to have some reading material prepared.

  2. Great list – I will try to find Deep Night to give it a try. I must admit I did not like The Piano Teacher – somehow I could never get into it and found it a struggel.

  3. Thanks for the recommendation. I have read Gweilo: Memories of a Hong Kong Childhood and the Piano Teacher. Like the former not so much of the latter. Do want to read Love in the Fallen City, World of Suzie wong and everything that is on your list up there. Great idea. Thanks!

  4. […] Matthew of A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook as a beautiful list of books set in Hong Kong, some I have heard of and some I haven’t. Some definite possibilities here if you are interested in reading about this part of the world. […]

  5. […] Deep Night & Books Set in Hong Kong […]

  6. Noble House and The Painted Veil have been on my shelves for ages. You’ve given me a good list to consider for future reading.

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