Wednesday, June 2, 2010


The parallel story lines here are only 11 years apart, 1941 and 1952, and both take place in Hong Kong, so that there are characters who span both story lines. The primary such character is Will Truesdale, who acquired a limp during the war, but, more importantly, has gained a dour disposition. In the later story line, he strikes up an affair with Claire, who, along with her husband Martin, is a recent transplant to Hong Kong. The most colorful character is Trudy Liang, half Portuguese and half Chinese, who, before the Japanese occupation, was expected to marry Will. However, Trudy is an opportunist, as are many of the survivors, getting in bed, literally, with the Japanese just to survive. The predominant theme seems to be betrayal. Claire betrays her husband, Trudy betrays Will, and friends and family throw one another under the bus if they think it will improve their chances. Trudy makes the observation that most of the Europeans in Hong Kong prior to WWII are reluctant to leave, because their creature comforts far surpass what they could achieve in their home countries. The partying is supplanted almost overnight, though, by famine, filth, imprisonment, violence and destruction when the Japanese take over. These people had choices but stayed put and paid the price with loss of self-respect, at the very least. Claire, who teaches piano to the daughter of a well-to-do Chinese couple with dark secrets of their own, becomes the confessor of several guilt-ridden ex-pats and becomes as drawn to the city as those who should have left when they could. Most of the characters are too self-serving to be likeable, and The Distant Land of My Father (PattisPages, Dec. 2008) observes a similar setting in a more captivating way.

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