Although this is a short book, it’s one to savor.
I wasn’t born and raised in Hong Kong, but felt I could relate to a great part of Xu Xi’s story in Dear Hong Kong: An Elegy For A Hero (Penguin, 2017). I’ve lived there a couple times and that always seems so complicated when I tell people. So I feel a common bond with Xu Xi as she writes about her many incarnations in Hong Kong, even though mine of course can’t compare to hers.
After Xu Xi left Hong Kong in the 1970s for college in the United States, she returned back to the territory a number of times. Throughout her book, she tackles identity issues as the daughter of overseas Chinese. And each time she came back to Hong Kong, she grappled with the sense of feeling both like an insider as someone born and raised in Hong Kong and an outsider whose parents weren’t Cantonese and had immigrated to HK from Indonesia.
I enjoyed reading about her school years, her early career in Hong Kong before she became a writer, and the time in which she not only delved into writing, but became Hong Kong’s preeminent writer in English. I also loved the way she described her different homes in Hong Kong, from Tsim Sha Tsui to Kowloon Tong to Shatin.
It seems like just yesterday when her low residency MFA program–the only one in Asia–was suddenly shut down. I remember joining Facebook pages to protest the termination of the program. I remember hoping that someday, when my kids were a little older, I might apply for her low residency program.
I first learned of Xu Xi in the mid-90s when a British colleague in Hong Kong spoke of her friendship with one of Xu Xi’s sisters. It has been fun tracking her career ever since, including the months back in 2008 when she was my writing coach when I first started writing my memoir.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who loves Hong Kong and/or has an interest in the literary scene there. I think you’ll find something in her book that resonates just as it did for me.