Kowloon Tong by Paul Theroux

A sinister look at the 1997 handover of Hong Kong

This novel is set in Hong Kong in 1997, just before its handover to China, and presents a bleak, yet moody outlook for residents of Hong Kong. 43-year-old Neville (Bunt) Millard has lived in Hong Kong all his life. He and his mother, the racist Betty Millard who refers to all Chinese as “chinky-chonks,” run the Imperial Stitching Factory. Bunt’s life unravels when mysterious Mr. Hung appears and strongly encourages Bunt to sell the factory to him – or lose it under less appealing conditions once the Chinese government takes over. Bunt’s relationship with a factory girl adds tension and glimpses into the desperation of those with no option to leave. 

Theroux brings out ugliness of stereotypical expatriates living off and taking advantage of the economy, the class systems and their own privileges in and out of the country. As always, Theroux’s descriptions and language are rich, vibrantly capturing Chinese customs and culture, as well as the hustle and bustle of the city.

This novel may appeal to fans of travel around Asia, and George Simenon’s gritty Red Lights.