It is 1935 and Tom Stewart, a young Englishman with an almost visceral longing for adventure, has bought himself a cheap ticket to the complex, corrupt, and corrupting world of Hong Kong. Aboard ship, he becomes the pawn in a wager between a bluff businessman and a Chinese missionary nun, who bets she can teach him Cantonese on the six-week voyage out. What begins as friendship turns into solace and then a passion that only individual vows can remit.
Fragrant Harbor takes the reader from the intrigue and double-dealing of the 1930s through the savagery of the Japanese occupation to contemporary Hong Kong -- the crossroads of international trade and finance and the waystation for laundering the dirty money of warlords, drug runners, and Chinese triads. The novel ends three years after the Mainland Chinese takeover, with Hong Kong as greedy, corrupt, and corrupting as when Stewart first landed there.
Writing with the same fine style and observant eye that distinguished his previous novels, John Lanchester depicts a tumultuous time and place and then peoples it with extraordinary characters. The result is a novel that proves he is among our most versatile and talented contemporary novelists.
As The New York Times wrote, "Lanchester is a commanding writer."
The New York Post
John Lanchester delivers his third impressive novel in a row . . . a robust, decades-spanning saga about lovers in Hong Kong.
The New York Times Book Review Fragrant Harbor is not an enormous novel, but it feels like one - it is bursting with ideas. Lanchester takes on almost every major theme and succeeds with most of them: race, class, love, war, the fall of rulers and the rise of the ruled. The novels sharpest insights are into the nature of success, its best passages careful dissections of how a disenfranchised community of poor refugees turned the colony into one of the richest societies in the world.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
In his rich, bold new novel, Fragrant Harbor, Lanchester has done it again, bringing his singular narrative ease to a historical story that sniffs of a quiet, personalized epic, but does so beautifully . . .His sentences glide across the page with a leisure that disguises their deeper significance. Into all of this luxuriant language Lanchester sneaks in sly humor, moral dilemmas and tightly wound universal emotions.
Lanchester's previous, prize-winning novels, The Debt to Pleasure and Mr. Phillips, excelled in cleverness but didn't hint at the depth of feeling and narrative drive that he manifests here.
Booklist - Elsa Gaztambide
Lanchester weaves a circular tale of lives that unintentionally intermingle to produce life-changing events, and his vivid descriptions of the city and culture bring them to life for the senses to savor.
Extraordinarily knowledgeable, ingeniously woven, and powerfully engrossing a portrait of nothing less than an entire piece of the world and most of a century.
Roberta Rubin, The Bookstall at Chestnut Court
Lanchester, who wrote the wonderful Debt to Pleasure, has done it again. Set in Hong Kong from 1935 to the present, he follows a man traveling on a ship to start a new life. Add in the story of a young Chinese missionary nun, and there begins a trail of intrigue dealing with crime, money and the Hong Kong undercurrents of modern business. I just loved it.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Michael R. Tomkins
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