Hong Kong's Top 10: Books set in the city
Looking for a good read this summer? Why not pick up one of these, all featuring our own fair city...
1 Tai-Pan by James Clavell
Filled with backstabbing and libel, Tai-Pan gives us a look at post-Opium-War Hong Kong. Set in 1842, the novel follows protagonists Dirk Struan and Tyler Brock, former shipmates turned business rivals, each vying for the title of Tai-Pan.
2 The World Of Suzie Wong by Richard Mason
Set your sights on the more risqué side of Hong Kong with this gritty romance centred around British artist Robert Lomax and his whirlwind romance with Hong Kong sex worker Suzie Wong. Having been such a roaring success when it was first published in 1957, it has inspired two unofficial sequels and numerous plays.
3 The Bourne Supremacy by Robert Ludlum
Action more your thing? Then look no further than The Bourne Supremacy. Set during the handover 1997, the sequel to The Bourne Identity takes us on a journey shrouded in mystery. Jason Bourne is forced to take action when his wife Marie is kidnapped. The 1986 thriller is the very definition of a page-turner, with a head-to-head conflict between communist China and the CIA.
4 Fragrant Harbour by John Lanchester
Take four people from very different walks of life and you’re sure to capture a glimpse of the city in a way you’ve never seen. It’s a book that spans several decades – from the Japanese occupation to the handover – and we see the city from the perspectives of expats and local Chinese residents.
5 Gweilo by Martin Booth
This is a delightful account of Hong Kong from the point of view of a seven-year-old boy – it’s an autobiographical account of Martin Booth’s childhood in the 1950s. We follow his travels through small fishing villages in Sha Tin and settlements in Sheung Shui, with fascinating if sometimes grim details about Kowloon’s Walled City and the fires in Shek Kip Mei, all from the inquisitive perspective of a child.
6 The Honourable Schoolboy by John le Carré
This 1977 spy novel is the second in the Karla series, which includes Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The book takes us on a journey through much of Southeast Asia. Through the eyes of George Smiley, caretaker chief of the British secret intelligence service, MI6, our imaginations are filled with scenes of drug smuggling, helicopter rescues and espionage. The language is a bit jargon heavy, but once you get your head around it you won’t be able to put it down!
7 The Monkey King by Timothy Mo
Highlighting complex and often tense family relationships, The Monkey King delivers these themes in a highly amusing fashion. We follow Wallace Nolasco, who marries into the Poon family to further the family’s lineage and improve his own social standing. This mutually beneficial trade turns out to be a disappointment for Nolasco, with corruption and resentment soon ruling his life. Armed with a host of Cantonese colloquialisms, Mo delivers a hilarious take on scenes many of us can relate to.
8 The Piano Teacher by Janice YK Lee
This international bestseller explores Hong Kong’s high society under colonial rule. The love story is set in the 1940s and 50s and explores the relationships of Will Truesdale, an Englishman who ends up working as a chauffeur in Hong Kong. The story flits seamlessly between the two decades, interweaving stories of romance, loss and betrayal, and explores the notion of love in different historical contexts.
9 White Ghost Girls by Alice Greenway
In this teenage rebellion novel with a twist, we’re given a glimpse into the lives of two sisters growing up in a time of political unease. With the Maoist revolution setting in, the novel explores the girls’ teenage years against a backdrop of danger and intrigue.
10 Bitch on Heat by Richard Tong
This story pays homage to Hong Kong’s more salacious side. Recent widower Jack So’s life is turned upside down when he meets the eponymous bitch, Micki Wong. Set in 1987, this graphic novel takes us on a journey through the seedy underbelly of Hong Kong.