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Fragrant Harbor

by John Lanchester

Fragrant Harbor by John Lanchester
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2002, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2003, 352 pages

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Michael R. Tomkins

I read John Lanchester's Fragrant Harbor both from the perspective of someone born and raised in Hong Kong of British descent, and someone extremely interested in the one-time colony's rich history. That combination uniquely qualifies me to appreciate the handful of novels that have dealt with the colony in recent years - and for the most part I have come away thoroughly disappointed.

That is not the case with Fragrant Harbor, however; where most authors show a complete lack of even basic geographic knowledge for the place - let alone how it works - Lanchester obviously knows his material. What he has done with this book is something truly stunning - he has carefully and tightly interwoven the real events, places and names in Hong Kong's history with his fictional characters and a touch of artistic license to create a story that not only entertains, but educates as well.

Fragrant Harbor is wholly satisfying on every level, and I can unreservedly recommend it to anyone interested in a well written story, a gripping read, or the subject matter itself - the lives and interactions of expatriates and refugees, both in Hong Kong and Asia in general.
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