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 Harbortakes the reader from the intrigue and double-dealing of the 1930s through the savagery of the Japanese occupation to contemporary Hong Kong, crossroads of international trade and finance and waystation for laundering the dirty money of warlords, drug runners, and Chinese triads. The novel ends three years after the Mainland 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 amongour most versatile and talented contemporary novelists-indeed, as The New York Timeswrote, "Lanchester is a commanding writer."
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Review: Fragrant HarborUser Review - Goodreads
Excellent depiction of the unthinking expat in the first half and I am sure what made the book so popular with us back in Hong Kong. The second half is perhaps the story Lanchester really wants us to read - about Chinese refugees from Mao's China. Read full review
Review: Fragrant HarborUser Review - Malcolm Gibson - Goodreads
The book's main mystery is the tantalizing and enigmatic Sister Maria - just what makes her tick? Loved the book and the backdrop of Hong Kong. Read full review