From historical novels to the glitz and glam of 21st-century high-society, Hong Kong has served as the backdrop to its fair share of literature. Ahead of the Hong Kong International Literary Festival this November 2 to 11, we take a look at the best books set in the city we call home. Fed up of your run-of-the-mill Netflix binge? Then why not pick up a book on this list instead.
1. Cantonese Love Stories (2017)
This compilation features 25 short stories set in Hong Kong in the 1990s. Dung Kai-cheung takes readers through the diverse lives lived by those in the city. It is part of the special edition ‘Hong Kong Series’ released by Penguin Books in July last year, to mark 20 years since the handover.
2. China Rich Girlfriend (2016)
Crazy Rich Asians may have put Singapore on the blockbuster map, but scenes from the sequel novel take place in Hong Kong. Kevin Kwan’s China Rich Girlfriend chronicles the run-up to Rachel and Nick’s wedding and her quest to find her family, but her father’s identity reveals more than she expected.
3. Umbrellas in Bloom (2016)
Jason Y. Ng is a local author and activist, and his 2016 non-fiction book charts the 79-day Occupy Central protests, with first-hand insight into the events that unfolded. It is part of a trilogy by Ng, which focuses on politics in post-handover Hong Kong.
4. White Ghost Girls (2006)
Alice Greenway’s debut novel is set in 1960s Hong Kong. Frankie and Kate are two American sisters living in the city, with the events of the Maoist revolution unfolding on their doorstep. A tale of tragedy, loss, and the unbreakable bond felt between family.
5. Gweilo (2004)
The autobiographical works are based on author Martin Booth’s childhood memories growing up in 1950s Hong Kong. The book is written from the perspective of a child with nothing but time to explore the city, from the sights and sounds of its unique street food to the far-reaching corners of the Kowloon Walled City.
6. Kowloon Tong (1997)
In Paul Theroux’s novel, protagonist Neville ‘Bunt’ Mullard is the picture of innocence. That is, until a man looking to purchase his textile business unearths his most closely guarded secrets and threatens to expose it, leaving Bunt running the risk of falling apart at the seams.
7. The Monkey King (1978)
Timothy Mo’s first novel proved so popular on its release that it was later turned into a 10-part audiobook, read on BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime segment. The Eurasian, Hong Kong-born author’s comedic novel follows a man’s attempt to fit into Hong Kong high society, with less wealth than he would have his peers believe.
8. The Honourable Schoolboy (1977)
The Honourable Schoolboy features John Le Carre’s celebrated character, George Smiley, of Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy fame. Filled with mystery, intrigue, and espionage, the sixth instalment in the series chronicles Smiley’s attempt to salvage a covert organisation from being levelled by the Government.
9. Tai-Pan (1966)
This historical novel is set in Hong Kong in the aftermath of the First Opium War. Dirk Struan, the owner of a trading company, sees the financial viability of the island of Hong Kong, and will stop at nothing to become Tai-Pan.
10. The World of Suzie Wong (1957)
One of the original east-meets-west love stories, Richard Mason’s novel chronicles the relationship forged between Richard Lomax, a Malaysian-based plantation worker, and lady of the night, Suzie Wong. Since the book’s release, The World of Suzie Wong has been transformed into both stage and film adaptations, including the 1960 movie with launched Hollywood newcomer and leading lady Nancy Kwan into stardom.