Set in the 1970s, My City is a lively novel riddled with allegories, local discursions, nursery rhymes that evoke the life in Hong Kong. Xi Xi never mentions Hong Kong, but the natives and those with keen eyes could easily discern from between the lines. Xi Xi spends much of the narration on the representation of the city. Communication at every step is at odd with alienation. To capture this inner struggle, of being overwhelmed by the city and at the same time wanting to embrace it, Xi Xi uses the means of communication to recognize shifts in values and social relationships.
Written in the perspectives of young people, the book follows Ah Guo (Fruit), a college bound student who upon graduation from high school becomes a telephone repairman. The various jobs involving installation and erection of poles take him all over the city. He meets Happy Mak at work who is a former park ranger. His sister Ah Faat (Braids) is a precious, observant teenager who writes to neighbor concerning the rooftop strewn with trash. Fruit’s best friend Ah Yau (Swim) becomes an electrician on a ship that sails around the world. His aunt Yau Yau (Liberty) is an avid reader and regards vegetables like artifacts. Their doorman Ah Buc (North) is a carpenter whose expertise is door making.
Together these common citizens form the collective “I” that contribute to the fluid narrative with ever-changing point-of-view. Their collective perception, observation, reflection, and reninuscence work the way into the narrative to create a magical realism of the city. What they see is what matters to them the most about the city. The trees. The garbage. The need for personal space. The ways of interaction, by letters, by phone call, by conversation. The flowing pictures, the vistas, the converging and the diverging of people, the sights and sounds, and how they perceive and interpret them—all intertwine in Xi Xi’s prose to construct for the contempoeary reader a fruitful and provocative reading experience. Even the language itself, sometimes brisk and succinct and sometimes lyrical, established a cultural context by which one reflects on the vicissitudes of landscapes and social relationships.
Xi Xi uses short, simple, almost childish sentences. Yet while her style is disarmingly simple, her stories afford incisive insights and uncanny observations. The crucial point is how imagination is sparked by the narrative, aesthetic forms and the multiple meanings irradiated from between the lines. The book is not plot-driven, but what drive the reader are the ever-changing perspectives from one person to another, imbued and woven with these voices are individual hopes and dreams.
265 pp. Hung Fan Books Taiwan. Trade Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]
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