Islandexpat's Blog

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I’ve moved!

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Specifically, to Norwich. The flat seems to have been falling apart since we signed the lease, but hopefully it’ll stop soon.

I’ve found some salsa classes, and have an audition lined up with a bluegrass band who needs a singer, so all is mostly well.


As promised: reaction to The Monkey King, by Timothy Mo. It was pretty good – out of all of his books that I’ve read (this one, Renegade, or Halo^2, Brownout on Breadfruit Boulevard, and The Redundancy of Courage) I still think that Renegade, or Halo^2 is the strongest. However, The Monkey King gets extra points for being a first novel.

The novel itself, which takes place in post-war pre-Mao Hong Kong, is about Wallace Nolasco, a Hong Kong resident of Portuguese-mixed descent (there’s some Chinese and whatnot in there) who marries into a Chinese businessman’s family. As I’ve read and watched a fair amount of novels and movies/TV about Asian family politics, it was refreshing to see the subject discussed from an outsider’s point of view, so that was good.

Also good is Mo’s ability, which he wastes no time in establishing here, to capture the idiosyncrasies of how Hong Kong residents (and in later books, Southeast/East Asians in general) use English. As the only Western English speaker, the British Mr Allardyce, is viewed by Wallace and most of the cast as something of an oddity, Hong Kong English is depicted as the norm for verbal communication rather than being presented as “broken” English, which is key to allowing us to enter the characters’ world.

The ending wrapped up pretty nicely, too, and I can’t say much more than that.

My main objection was that Wallace didn’t seem that strong as a character. He wasn’t implausible or anything; it was only that several of the other characters were intriguing, distinctive and dominant on the page, and Wallace, perhaps given that his main goal was to get by in difficult situations, didn’t have that kind of presence. The protagonists in The Redundancy of Courage and Renegade, or Halo^2 are similarly surrounded by vivid characters without apparently being equally vivid (Adolph in Redundancy is gay, but his sexual orientation seems more like a footnote than anything else), but both books are told through first-person narration, so it’s all right; the way that these books unfold, it’s as though the characters have cameras strapped to their heads and are recording the events around them, a bit like Peep Show, and in such a situation, the cameraman doesn’t need to be as obviously interesting as the occurrences and people that he happens to record.

Still, there are glimmers of attention-grabbing characteristics – Wallace’s relationship with his wife, for instance – which do help, and which look forward to Mo’s later creations.

In conclusion, read this book, but do read one of Mo’s other books first; I recommend the Filipino ones (Renegade, or Halo^2 FIRST and then Brownout on Breadfruit Boulevard), though that might be personal bias. However, the letters from the protagonist’s best friend, Danton, in Renegade are amazingly funny no matter where you and your ancestors are from.


Written by Kelly Kanayama

September 28, 2009 at 10:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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