by Martin Booth
published in 2004
A quick note on the two cover images below: my copy has the first cover and I really like it. I found the second cover interesting but not as appealing. In part this is due to the content of the book which relates better to the first cover, but it's more than that - I just like the first one better. Which do you prefer?
*** About the Book ***
When author Martin Booth was diagnosed with cancer he realized that he hadn't passed on the stories of his childhood to his adult children. This book is the result of that realization.
Martin was 7 years old in the early 1950s when his father's job moved the family to Hong Kong. As an only child - and hence without built-in playmates - young Martin spent lots of time getting to know the local Chinese people and exploring his new home. With the courage of youth he wandered the crowded streets, ate at roadside shops, explored the countryside, learned pidgin Cantonese ... and fell in love with Hong Kong. His mother was busy doing the same thing, much to his father's chagrin.
The book covers the three years the Booth family lived in Hong Kong.
*** Why I Read It ***
I first heard of this book through the non-fiction portion of the DearReader.com newsletter way back in August 2007. I added it to my Wish List at paperbackswap.com and received a copy in June 2008. It has been on my shelf waiting to be read ever since.
Earlier this year I joined the Read Your Own Books Challenge which encourages participants to actually read the books stockpiled around their houses. This book went on my reading list immediately. I'm glad to say that I'm making progress on that challenge - 8 down, 12 to go by the end of the year. This is also my final book for the Non-Fiction Five Challenge.
*** My Thoughts ***
I really enjoyed this memoir and would highly recommend it. It was very easy to get into and fascinating to read - I didn't want to put it down.
It was refreshing to read about a (mostly) happy childhood for a change, seeing as many recent memoirs seem to focus on horribly depressing childhoods. Martin recounts his numerous adventures through the eyes of his childhood self and occasionally adds adult commentary like 'I didn't understand it then but here's what was REALLY going on.' I loved the fact that he was street smart yet still innocent and I found myself cheering every time he narrowly escaped disaster.
I loved reading about the Hong Kong of the 1950s: the blending of cultures from farm life to city life, the religious and cultural life of the city, the refugees from the Japanese invasion, the growing influence of Communist China, the European & Russian expatriates. I'd never read a book set in this time and place before so much of this was new to me.
Martin was completely taken with the local culture and was surprising respectful of it for a child. This is due in large part to the example of his mother and in spite the horrible example of his father. His parents did not have a good marriage and those parts of the story were sad to read but on the whole the book is light and fun and very informative.
*** Additional Thoughts ***
Two random unrelated points ...
Speaking of respect for the culture, I have to point out that this is completely in contrast to the lack of cultural respect in DON'T CALL ME A CROOK!. If you were turned off by the racism in that book you'll definitely be encouraged by the openness to other cultures in this book.
My dad grew up in Taiwan and Hong Kong in the late 1940s/early 1950s, where his father was stationed after WWII. I don't know much about his life there other than the fact that he loved it. His family had a Chinese chef and person to do their laundry as well (not sure if that person was Japanese or Chinese); dad still remember the delicious food the chef would make, and the way he could never leave his shirt anywhere of it would disappear into the wash. My grandfather was the sole American in charge of a division (group? something?) of Japanese soldiers and he was well respected by them - so much so that when he was transferred back to the US, one of the men gave him a samurai sword that had been in his family for hundreds of years. Reading this book gave me a taste of what my dad's life must have been like. I'm giving it to him to read in the hopes that he'll be encouraged to tell me more stories.
*** Other Reviews? ***
I can't find any other bloggers who have reviewed this book and that is a real shame because it is very good. Have any of you read it but not reviewed it? Or have you even heard of it? Does is interest any of you? Tell me what you think now that you've read my review.