Excerpt from Whispering Shadows by Jan-Philipp Sendker, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Whispering Shadows

by Jan-Philipp Sendker

Whispering Shadows by Jan-Philipp Sendker X
Whispering Shadows by Jan-Philipp Sendker
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2015, 352 pages

    Feb 2016, 352 pages


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Paul was the last passenger to get off the ferry, and a hellish scene greeted him: two jackhammers pounded at a stretch of asphalt, and, next to them, growling buses expelled black clouds of exhaust. From behind a construction site barrier came clanking and crashing so loud and shrill that he winced at the shock of it, his ears hurting. All around him were crowds of people rushing here and there in a great hurry, constantly passing right in front of him and jostling him as soon as he stood still. He fled into a taxi and took it to the terminus of the Peak Tram; a pedestrian path up to the summit started there. The altitude difference was about sixteen hundred feet; it was a distance that he had covered without any problems before; on some days he had even done it with Justin on his back.

He took a big gulp from his water bottle, picked up his backpack, and started walking. The narrow road passed May Tower 1, May Tower 2, and Mayfair, incredibly expensive residential developments that looked like faceless satellite towns but in which an apartment cost many millions of Hong Kong dollars. He and Meredith had owned two large apartments in Mayfair, which they had sold at more than three times the original prices at the peak of the property boom in 1997. He had used part of the profit to buy the house on Lamma and he lived off the interest on the rest of it.

Paul turned into Chatham Path, which led away from the road into thick tropical vegetation. It was a steep ascent and Paul felt the strain in his calves and feet, his thighs and knees, how they hefted his one hundred and fifty pounds or so upward. A thick blanket of cloud, gray like ash, had hung over the city for weeks. It had cleared somewhat in the morning and now the sun even broke through occasionally, turning the climb into a hike through a hot steam room. The trees were so thick here that Paul found himself looking through a solid green wall; all that remained of the traffic was a dull roar in the distance; instead of cars he heard birds and grasshoppers. He stopped to rest, finished the first one-liter bottle of water, and tried to empty his mind.

He made it in just under two hours. The final thousand feet along Findlay Road were easy for him, and he reached his goal with slow but rhythmic, almost feather-light, steps. Before he circled the summit on Lugard Road he wanted to have a coffee on the Peak and have a piece of lemon cake, a ritual that Justin had introduced. It was terribly cold in the café. He hated the effects of the icy air conditioner; it was as if someone had shoved him into a cold storage room. It always took a few minutes for the body to get used to the new temperature.

The café was unusually empty. A couple huddled in one corner: a young man with headphones and a girl on the telephone. An older man was reading the South China Morning Post, and a woman was poring over a map of the city, sitting just behind the table by the window that he and Justin had sat at almost every time. Paul got himself a cup of coffee and a slice of cake and sat down at the place that had so many memories for him. From up here, the view of the city had something surreal about it. Sometimes he had a passing thought that the voracious city below was only a figment of his imagination. These honeycomb apartment blocks built so boldly on the steep slopes, the skyscrapers in the Central and Causeway Bay districts, the harbor with its hundreds of vessels, scuttling back and forth assiduously like ants. To be sure of their existence, he had to trust in his eyes completely. The thick glass in the window turned the view into a spectacle free of noise and smell; the cars, the ships, the helicopters, and the planes moved as if in a silent movie. Paul remembered his arrival here thirty years ago. At the time, he had been certain that the Crown colony was only a stopping point on his way to the People's Republic of China. He had wanted to stay one or two years at most. Beijing was his actual destination; as soon as the political situation calmed down after the Cultural Revolution, he would move there. Paul had stayed on in Hong Kong, at first because the political struggles in China had lasted much longer than he had expected, then because he had been won over. Without him really realizing it, Hong Kong had become his home, the only one that he had ever known. He liked this city, built by refugees for refugees. The busyness of people who had been driven from their homelands set the tone of the days and nights here; the anxiety of the homeless, the fear of the persecuted. Before he had withdrawn to Lamma, the nonstop hustle and bustle and the lack of peace and quiet had not put him off; on the contrary, they had reflected his own restlessness in part and gave him, on good days, the feeling that he belonged, was part of a whole; a feeling that he had never known before in his life.

Excerpted from Whispering Shadows by Jan-Philipp Sendker. Copyright © 2015 by Jan-Philipp Sendker. Excerpted by permission of 37 Ink/Atria Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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