Paul Theroux, Kowloon Tong: A Novel of Hong Kong

Paul Theroux, Kowloon Tong: A Novel of Hong Kong

With an intoxicating cultural clash like no other, Hong Kong is a unique city and this special character about the city has seduced many notable writers who have attempted to convey this distinctive character. Taking into account its complex history and evolving present, these works of both fiction and non-fiction focus on Hong Kong and are a means to understanding this city in constant evolution. Kowloon Tong is a novel by Paul Theroux about Neville "Bunt" Mullard, an English mummy's boy born and raised in Hong Kong. The story is set in the days leading up to the handover to China of Hong Kong from the British.

One of the most outstanding authors that have attempted to capture the essence on this city in his writing is Paul Theroux. In fact, the novelist said that "When I went to Hong Kong, I knew at once I wanted to write a story set there." His book Kowloon Tong: A Novel of Hong Kong, published in 1997, depicts the city on the cusp of the most dramatic event in its history, the 1997 handover to China. Today, the book remains a powerful exploration of the ambivalence felt by most citizens towards this epoch defining event. Ninety-nine years of colonial history are about to meet its end and the time has come for the east and west to finally meet.

The book tells the story of a family of English expats who have settled in Hong Kong and become entangled in a mysterious web of crime, deceit and betrayal due to their involvement with the shady Chinese businessman Mr Hung. The main character Neville ‘Bunt' Mullard is symbolic of the confusion of identities Hong Kong citizens inherit, and leads a double life as he winds his way through the crowded city. Theroux's novel captures the sense of anxiety and menace that encapsulated Hong Kong at the time, and the complex spectrum of economic, social and historical issues which the city faced before returning to Chinese control.

"Albion Cottage was off Lugard Road, on a bluff above the Peak fire station. The fire brigade was inside today with the windows and doors shut. Everything in the bungalow on a morning like this had a film of dampness and the dampness seemed to live in the mildew and gave the interior the ripe cheesy odor of a mortuary... Yet on a clear morning, like a hallucination from the east-facing windows, where heavy with blackflies and aphids there were nasturtiums tumbling from a window box, Betty could see China - red China, as they used to call it. Shum Chun was an hour by train from the factory in Kowloon Tong across the harbor."

Paul Edward Theroux is an American travel writer and novelist, whose best known work is The Great Railway Bazaar (1975), a travelogue about a trip he made by train from Great Britain through Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, through South Asia, then South-East Asia, up through East Asia, as far east as Japan, and then back across Russia to his point of origin. Although perhaps best known as a travel writer, Theroux has also published numerous works of fiction, some of which were made into feature films. He was awarded the 1981 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel The Mosquito Coast.