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Review by Justine Solomons
I thoroughly enjoyed this novella, which is in fact three connected short stories looking at the British expat community out in Hong Kong around the time of the 1997 handover. I’ve had a few friends that have lived out in Hong Kong and I’ve have always been intrigued by their time there. This book helps put their experience in historical context.
‘Chicken’, tells the story of British born Tess, who goes out to stay with her relations in Hong Kong and joins a local newspaper where she works as a picture editor with Sam, the son of peasant chicken farmers. ‘Hong Kong Hermit’, gives us a peak at Rob’s life who has left the UK in an attempt to make sense of recent events with his girlfriend, Jane, who had spent time on the island before they’d met. Finally ‘Tomorrow, China’ is a chilling account of Sally, a cub reporter, who we meet in prison. A letter from her ‘mummy’ has some apt words for all the characters in this book:
‘… people forget themselves when they go abroad. They lose their bearings and then they do all manner of things they’d never dream of at home.’
Paul is a master of shorter fiction and reading this economic and beautifully written book I’m reminded just how elegant short stories and novellas can be. The three stories are like three acts of a play with the central theme being the members of the expat community in Hong Kong struggling to find their identity while the island they are living on, changes. Not only is there a handover of sovereignty of land, there also seems to be an ending of old lives, and the beginning of vastly different ones, which are illuminated, like the celebratory fireworks, by the political setting. Please do have a read of this book, not only is it hugely enjoyable it’s also an excellent insight into life in Hong Kong at this time.