After waiting all summer for the release of Eating Smoke: One Man’s Descent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland (Blacksmith Books, 2011), I was elated to receive it this Monday. Averaging 100 pages a day, I finished it today despite chasing after four kids (I’m taking care of my niece part of this week).
This book works on so many levels. For starters, memoirs can only be successful if the central character is likable. And this is certainly the case for Chris Thrall. He’s very sympathetic throughout the book: on his first two trips to Hong Kong, at the end of his seven-year career in the Royal Marines, and during his roller-coaster ride through Hong Kong during the bulk of his story.
Not since Richard Mason’s The World of Suzie Wong (Collins, 1957) and Han Bangqing’s The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai (Columbia University Press, 2005 [first published in 1892]) has a writer taken such an in-depth look into a Chinese red-light district. Thrall brings the reader smack dab in the middle of Hong Kong’s colorful Wan Chai district, which includes local Chinese, but also other Asian nationals, Caucasians, and Africans.
And that’s another thing I love about this book. Thrall floats between these different worlds and is just as comfortable in expat crowds as he is in local ones. Unlike stereotypical Caucasian expats, he doesn’t look down on anyone and develops his closest friendships with locals.
Of course, his book hits home for me because I lived in Hong Kong during the time in which Eating Smoke takes place. I’d been to a couple bars he writes about, but certainly knew of all of them. My friends and I didn’t get into drugs, but we definitely had some turbulent relationships back then and will forever equate them with 1995 Hong Kong.
People always say the teenage years are difficult and awkward. But once folks reach their twenties they’re suddenly expected to become well-adjusted and focused adults. In Eating Smoke, Thrall honestly delves into the insecurities and inner struggles most twenty-somethings experience. So his story will resonate whether or not you’ve battled controlled substance addiction.
Although I loved the entire book, I have to say the last sentence reached out, grabbed my heart, and gave it a final twist. What an ending.
To stay up to date with Eating Smoke, check out these links: