Set in Hong Kong, from the intrigue and double-dealing of the 1930s, through the savagery of the Japanese occupation, to the year 2000, this novel depicts a tumultuous time and place, peopled with extraordinary characters.
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."
Part One : Dawn Stone
When I was a teenager I used to play a game called Count the Lies. The idea was pretty simple: I just made a mental note of every time I heard someone tell a porky, and kept a running total. It was a one-player game, a form of solitaire. Some days I started playing the game after some more than usually gross piece of hypocrisy or cant at school, some days it would be triggered by something I saw on TV or heard on the radio or read in a paper or magazine or book. Most of the time, though, what started me off on Count the Lies was my parents. It wasn't so much any specific thing they said as the whole family atmosphere. It was the air we--even that "we" was a kind of lie--breathed. Some days the lies I counted began with "Good morning" (why? what's good about it?), carried on through "We want you back by half past eleven" (no you don't, you don't want me back at all), and finished with "Good night" (the lie here being: Oh, so you ...
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