My friends look out for me, especially when it comes to books. I can’t count how many friends have given me picture books set in Hong Kong or have told me about other books that take place there.
When my friend Christine told me about the graphic novel, His Dream of the Skyland by Anne Opotowsky, and that it was set in the old Kowloon Walled City, I was all over that. Published by Gestalt in 2011, the book is beautifully illustrated by Aya Morton and takes place in the mid-to-late 1920s.
Granted, the Walled City wasn’t then what it was to become in its heyday of crime and corruption, but it was still very much in the underworld during the time of this story.
Song Lu is a young man who lives in the red light district of Wanchai. (The first few pages are quite graphic in a very Wanchai way.) He begins a job working for the post office and is assigned to a room of dead letters.
These letters have not been able to be delivered, so they’ve ended up in this back room of abandoned letters. Song Lu is to locate the people the letters are supposed to go to. One letter takes him to the Kowloon Walled City (he travels there by bicycle and ferry), which brings him from the seediness of Wanchai to an even more mysterious world in the Walled City.
There he meets people in the underworld–gangsters, opium addicts, and more–and tries to help friends who get in trouble.
I enjoyed the book a lot and found it to be a quick read (some graphic novels are quicker than others and this was pretty quick). I probably need to read it a few times more to soak in all the details of the story and illustrations. There are two more books in the trilogy, so this story isn’t over yet.