Kowloon Tong: A Novel of Hong Kongby Paul Theroux
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Ninety-nine years of colonial rule are ending as the British prepare to hand over Hong Kong to China. For Betty Mullard and her son, Bunt, it doesn't concern them - until the mysterious Mr. Hung from the mainland offers them a large sum for their family business. They refuse, yet fail to realize Mr. Hung is unlike the Chinese they've known: he will accept no refusals. When a young female employee whom Bunt has been dating vanishes, he is forced to make important decisions for the first time in his life - but his good intentions are pitted against the will of Mr. Hung and the threat of the ultimate betrayal.
Neville "Bunt" Mullard and his mother Betty reside in the eponymous city of Kowloon Tong and continue to run the textile factory (Imperial Stitching) cofounded by Bunt's late father. Betty subsists on bittersweet memories of her husband's business acumen and compulsive philandering, and Bunt fills his lonely nights with furtive visits to the city's semi-notorious "chicken houses." Both feel in their element in this rigorously stratified society: "They had been liberated by Hong Kong, they had money and a sense of the exotic, they were superior here." As the "Hand-over" draws near, the influence of Chinese military and business interests becomes oppressivespecifically, for the beleaguered Bunt, in the person of the enigmatic Mr. Hung, who at first politely offers, and soon thereafter demands, to buy Imperial Stitching. Eventually capitulating, the embittered Bunt undergoes the erosion of his self-confidence, the loss of the local girl he had hoped to marry (she's one of several people who mysteriously "disappear" ), and a final humiliation at the scene of his factory's demolitiona scene that Theroux caps with a stunning final image. This hybrid story is infused with a powerful sense of menace (and an unfortunate whiff of racism) and manages a doggedly convincing characterization of its complex protagonist. But there are several long stretches during which nothing much happens, and Theroux overindulges a penchant for lengthy summaries in place of developed scenes. As a result, the book feels uneven, and sometimes hurried.
A strongly imagined melodrama with a lot on its mind, but not the novel it might have been.
"A compact, provocative gem of a novel." Boston Globe
"A moody thriller . . . cleverly, tightly constructed, fast-paced." The New York Times
"A taut, illuminating story that transcends it's timely subject . . . A bravura performance." The Washington Post
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Meet the Author
PAUL THEROUX is the author of many highly acclaimed books. His novels include The Lower River and The Mosquito Coast, and his renowned travel books include Ghost Train to the Eastern Star and Dark Star Safari. He lives in Hawaii and Cape Cod.
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