I can’t remember why I picked this book up, but it was a lovely read. This is a charming book about the childhood memories of Martin Booth, who, in the early 1950s, moved with his parents to Hong Kong, where his father was posted with the British Navy. With an open-minded mother and “lucky” golden hair, 7-year-old Martin explored Hong Kong, including the parts of the city usually walled off to “gweilo” (foreigners.) The book includes lovely and loving descriptions of the city and the characters that Martin finds and befriends.
While the book isn’t heavy-hitting (it’s a memoir of a 7 year old child, after all) it’s hard to read it without mourning, a little, this extinct way of life–that feeling of a nostalgia for something you didn’t even experience. The freedom of a child to wander around a city, unafraid and uninhibited; his easy, vibrant memories of Chinese customs, shops, food, friends, and denizens of his neighborhoods and streets; the glamour of the colonial way of life. Obviously, everything is more complex than that (where has that colonial way of life gotten us, hm?) but this is a lovely insight into the culture and history of an important, vibrant city. The Hong Kong of today feels like a different planet than the one described here, a mere 60 years ago. I’m even more interested in visiting the city now!
I especially enjoyed his memories of his parents–there was his progressive, chic mother who took to Hong Kong immediately and thoroughly, and was up for any adventure–and laissez-faire with regards to Martin’s adventures on his own in the city. She seems like someone I would have liked to know! There was also his father, overly proud of his position in the British Navy and afraid of “going native”, critical of his wife’s proclivities and his son’s wandering habits, but ultimately unable to do anything about it.
3 stars: an interesting, charming memoir of a very particular time and place. Very readable, with well-written and well-recollected descriptions of a city that has changed dramatically over the past half-century. Nothing ground-breaking, hence the middle-of-the road rating, but a pleasure nonetheless. If you have been to Hong Kong, I bet you’ll like it even more!