First serialized in newspaper in 1975, Island and Peninsula, yet to be translated into English, portrays the reality of Hong Kong during the turbulent years between 1973 and 1975. It’s fiction with a realistic backdrop reflecting on the adverse social and economic condition of the time and on how common people cope with their difficult life. Lau insists that the book is not historical fiction, as he has no desire to chronicle the crucial events, but it rather annotates these historical events by placing fictional characters in them. They are in constant interplay with the tough demand of life in a trying milieu following the stock market crash in 1973. Many have lost their assets in entirety and even mortgaged their properties in order to pay debts. The city is hit by depression; housing is meager; commodities are scarce and their prices skyrocketing; robberies and burglaries rife; power outage mandatory; and unemployment a constant threat.
At the center of this social struggle, and thus putting it all into perspective is the Sha family, a middle class family with two teenagers. In the face of tough financial outlook, husband and wife are often engaged in heated argument over petty household matters, especially money in times of inflation and depression. Even a small expense warrants careful deliberation. They argue over stocking up toilet papers, plastic buckets (for saving water during rationing), canned food. Their bickering is often followed by a timely reconciliation, which shows how social turmoil takes a toll on individual mind and relationship. Through people’s interaction with one another, their clipped but sharp-tongued conversation, Lau really nails the nuances of people’s psyche, one that is dictated by the desire to stay afloat.
The book is not plot-driven, but the constant interplay between society and people, in particular how they respond to hostile conditions and challenges imposed on them, keeps reader engrossed. What loosely constitutes a plot is a continuous flow of contingent events imposed on these helpless people caught in a times of depression. Lau portrays a city full of ironies, which even the most rational minds have lapsed in the face of a windfall.
222 pp. Holdery Publishing. Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]