Posted by Paul Samael on Saturday, September 30, 2023 Under: Book reviews
Bad Traffic, Indelible City, The Bandit Queens
Bad Traffic by Simon Lewis
This novel is a really engaging and unusual twist on the crime thriller genre. Inspector Jian, a tough cop from the “Life on Mars” school of policing, travels from China to the UK to look for his daughter, Wei Wei, who’s disappeared after getting involved with some rather unsavoury characters. It’s also the story of Ding Ming, an illegal migrant from a dirt poor part of China who’s been trafficked to the UK hoping to earn his fortune - but finds that the reality is very far from what was promised. As well as being a page-turner, it conveys a great sense of what it feels like to be a Chinese person coming to the UK for the first time. Whilst the people-smuggling aspect may sound grim, there are moments of humour - I particularly liked the way that the police inspector psychs himself up to go into action with the bad guys by reciting passages from Mao’s Little Red Book under this breath, such as “The contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat can only be resolved through the method of socialist revolution.” A sequel - “No Exit” - is due to be published next year.
Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong by Louisa Lim
I’ve read several books about Hong Kong’s recent history and the Democracy movement, but this is the best one so far, by quite some distance. Lim combines her own personal experience with some serious journalism - for example, using previously embargoed interviews with various characters involved in negotiating the return of the territory to China, she uncovers some really interesting material. In particular, she reveals how the British Government largely ignored the views of a committee of Hong Kong citizens that was supposed to provide input on what the people of the territory actually wanted. She also outlines how Hong Kong’s development has been influenced by both the West and Mainland China, but its people don’t wholly identify with either and feel that they occupy a space somewhere between the two. Lim suggests that the Democracy movement, although triggered by concern over loss of Hong Kong’s freedoms, was also motivated on a desire to preserve that unique sense of Hong Kong identity against an overbearing Chinese state (and that rather like the British for most of the time that they were in charge, China prefers to ignore what Hong Kong’s people actually want)
The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff
The rumour in Geeta’s village in India is that her husband disappeared because she murdered him using some kind of black magic (in fact, he just left - although Geeta's actually quite relieved about that and finds that many aspects of life without him are better). But although she tries to convince herself that she doesn’t care about her outsider status in the village, she’s actually quite lonely. So when another woman from her micro-finance loan group asks for help knocking off her husband (who’s an absolute sh*t), she decides to help out. This was a book group read and I enjoyed it (it’s very funny in parts), although not everyone at the group felt the same - and it’s fair to say that there are some problems. For example, it’s a bit uneven in tone - is it meant to be serious and largely realistic but with funny bits? Or is it more in the nature of a black comedy, which you’re meant to take with a pinch of salt, but along the way it’s making some serious points? I think ultimately the author was probably aiming for the latter, but it veers around a bit at times. All that said, I thought it had some interesting things to say about women’s position in a very patriarchal society, the caste system in India and also how women (or perhaps more accurately, human beings in general) don’t always help one another out, even when they're facing much the same problems or challenges. In what is (in more ways than one) perhaps a slightly left-field analogy, some of the moral dilemmas also reminded me of Brecht's Good Person of Szechwan, which essentially asks whether you sometimes need to be bad to be good - or whether the "system" effectively forces people into making those choices. Anyway, if your literary sensibilities are so refined that you’ll just get annoyed by some of the stylistic problems, then this probably isn’t for you - but otherwise, I’d say it’s worth a try (despite the problems, I felt that the author has definitely got talent).
In : Book reviews
Tags: the bandit queens parini sheriff bad traffic simon lewis indelible city hong kong louisa lim
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