Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A 5-Star Review on Amazon for "Fated and Fateless"

Here's the 5-star customer review on Amazon's site:-

"Alice has brought her first book to a lively fiction. It is an amazing transition from "the Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong"; incorporating some of the wealth imbalance and social economic ills to this intense compelling novel.
The book is beautifully written, so rich in details . . I felt I was in the middle of the story. . I could feel the emotion, see the streets of Hong Kong, taste the food, and smell the air. I found it hard to put the book down, it kept me reading long into the night.
The book told the stories of many characters from distinct diverse background, cultures and different generation. . It is a tale of desire, jealously, passion, and endurance . . It is indisputably captivating, filled with suspense and unpredictable twists and turns."

Link to the customer review.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Book Review: Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong

For the author of “Wolf Totem”, Jiang Rong, to be awarded the Man Asian Literary Prize and for the fact that the book is a huge bestseller in China, there is no doubt that the book has some very laudable qualities.

But before dwelling on the good points, let me just quickly point out the one thing that I find hardest to accept, and that is the author’s tendency to explain away the weak disposition of the Chinese ethnic race with a simplistic rationale that it is due to the traditional sedentary agricultural lifestyle since the ancient times, and then to attribute all glory and success in certain historic periods to the venturesome nomadic characteristics of China’s hunter-gatherer tribes who came to be the rulers during those periods. Based on this premise, he came to the conclusion that in order for China to become once again a power to be reckoned with, Chinese people ought to discard their submissive character and assume a more aggressive, or wolf-like, outlook on life and the world at large.

There may well be a million factors and nuances that can help explain Chinese racial characteristics, and the traditional farming lifestyle may be only one of them. But this is a subject that is outside the scope of this review. (Bo Yang’s “The Ugly Chinaman” may be a good way to start exploring the subject.)

In proving his point, the author penned in one scene a poignant and sad analogical description of typical weakness of Chinese character, which is both valid and sobering. It is the scene where a herd of sheep was being attacked methodically by a pack of wolves, and where those sheep that luckily escaped just stood and watched as others were being slaughtered.

“This scene reminded him of what Lu Xun wrote in an essay: some Chinese imbeciles stretched their necks and eagerly watched the Japanese soldiers behead Chinese prisoners – it is exactly the same scene now. No wonder the nomadic tribes regard the Hans as sheep. The wolves are devilish to devour the sheep. But it is those selfish, callous and craven sheep-like people who are even more loathsome and more disheartening.”

As for the strong suits of the book, there are plenty. Not least is the honest warning about the urgent need to protect the environment. Reckless farming of natural grasslands in Inner Mongolia has had the devastating effect of letting the soil dry up and turn into sand, resulting in frequent severe sandstorms that have been plaguing cities like Beijing for years. This ‘farmers’ invasion’, along with their deliberate purging of the grassland wolves, entirely skewed the natural cycle that had gone on peacefully for centuries – a stinging reminder to the whole world that humans have been destroying the natural environment with their own hands.

Jiang Rong has nothing but praises for the natural cycle that had maintained the ecological balance in the Mongolian grasslands, with the wolves playing a key part in the cycle. Nobody knows the importance of letting nature take its course better than the nomadic people. They roam with their herds of sheep and cattle because there’s a need for grasses in the grazed areas to grow again, so that they can rotate among the patches of grasslands. The wolves who feed on gazelles, mountain beavers, rabbits and field rats are doing the nomads a great favor because these animals are unwelcome grazers. But if the wolves grow to such a number that these can no longer fill their stomachs, they would threaten to feed on the domestic herds and even horses. So the nomads in turn would, when occasion calls for it, hunt down wolves just to keep their numbers in check, but never to eliminate them completely, because they are the natural grassland protectors. Unfortunately, this ecological balance is destroyed when the farmers begin to ‘invade’ the grasslands….

The down-to-earth and unpretentious writing style throughout the book has captured my heart (it is the original Chinese edition that I read), and I was especially moved by the part about the protagonist Chen Zhen raising the wolf cub and how he tried to bond with it. The story is so compelling, vivid, and rich in emotional details, that it’s hard not to believe that it is a true life experience. The cub’s inevitable destiny, which it brought on itself in fighting for its freedom, seems to be an iron proof that wolves are a species that cannot be domesticated by men. In praising the free-spirited and audacious cub, is the author not also trying to say that freedom is worth fighting for, even if it means giving up one’s own life?

Doris Lessing once said that a novel is an outpost of journalism which reveals information about areas of life that readers don’t’ know and that successful novels are those that report the existence of an area of society or a type of person that is not yet admitted to the general literate consciousness. In this sense “Wolf Totem” certainly is a successful novel, as through it we come to know about a place, a people and a lifestyle that many of us would not ordinarily be able to come into contact with.

Lastly, the author’s plain but flowing story-telling technique tends to keep the reader in suspense and unable to stop turning the page as he/she gets sucked into the world of the Mongolian wolves and grasslands. Gripping episodes include the wolf pack’s strategic cornering of a group of gazelles into a half-frozen lake; the wolves’ brazen and vicious attack on a pack of horses; the villagers’ vengeful hunting and killing of wolves after the latter’s predatory massacre of the villagers’ horses; the farmers’ hunting of swans on the swan lake and the student’s futile attempt to save two big swan eggs from the greedy farmers.

All in all, “Wolf Totem” is more of an entertaining novel than a scientific study of wolves and much is based on the author’s life experience in Inner Mongolia during his youthful days. There are nonetheless strong messages that the author wanted to put across, the most important being: a call for immediate action to save the environment before it’s too late and an advocacy for following the wolves’ example of freedom loving and dauntless character.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Book Review: The Lasting Honour: The Fall of Hong Kong 1941

I’ve just finished reading Oliver Lindsay’s “The Lasting Honour: The Fall of Hong Kong 1941”.

The book was published in 1978 and was the result of thorough research into wartime official documents as well as interviews with survivors then living in Britain, Canada and Hong Kong. The author himself was with the 2nd battalion of the Winnipeg Grenadiers (from Manitoba, Canada) during the Battle of Hong Kong in 1941.

If reading “Not the Slightest Chance: The Defence of Hong Kong 1941” (please refer to my book review posted on 25th February, 2014) makes one feel like watching a documentary with grotesque images popping up now and then, then turning the pages of “The Lasting Honour: The Fall of Hong Kong 1941” is like sitting through a heart-rending war movie that makes one feel anger, despair and repulse about the inhumanities of wars. I couldn't help shedding a few tears out of respect and reverence for the honorable soldiers who defended Hong Kong to the best they could, even though they were aware that it was a lost cause from the outset.

That Hong Kong was doomed from the very beginning can be summed up in this passage:-

“The complete lack of air support, and inadequate sea power, made the defeat of Hong Kong a foregone conclusion. The defenders, too few in numbers and too thinly spread, have no knowledge where the weight of the attack is to be anticipated. So it can only be expected that the assault, with the advantage of surprise, pressed forward in great strength at a few points, will succeed in breaking through. This is what the Japanese achieved, and then they pushed forward to gain possession of the commanding heights which dominate the Island, and from that moment the campaign was lost.”

Even as early as April 1938, the War Office in London reconfirmed that the Hong Kong Garrison should defend Hong Kong, with no reinforcement, for as long as possible. The Chiefs of Staff in London thought of Hong Kong ‘more as a strategic liability than an asset’.

Then when it was finally decided to ask Canada for reinforcement, only two battalions with little fighting experience or training were sent to Hong Kong. Upon arrival on 16th November 1941, just three weeks before the Japanese invasion (which began in the early hours of 8th December), they had to hit the ground running, being totally unfamiliar with the battle territory, exhausted from the long sea voyage, and later weakened by malaria.

Was any help from the Chinese ever to be forthcoming? The answer seems to lie in this passage:-

“However China had her own problems. She was divided not only by the Japanese, but also by the political struggle between the Nationalists and Communists, which continued in a desultory manner. In 1937, both had joined in a ‘United Front’ to fight the Japanese. Ostensibly integrated with the Nationalist Army, the Communists concentrated on winning over the people, and setting up base areas from which to mount guerilla operations. The Communists were to be accused of conserving their strength and avoiding decisive engagements while consolidating political power, and the Nationalists were later to be criticized for corruption and inefficiency.”

It was bad enough that the Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek’s empty promises of help raised false hopes for those desperate folks in Hong Kong. But more devastating were the subversive sabotage activities by Communists who had infiltrated into the Colony (referred to as “fifth columnists” in the book), who looted, murdered and in every way added to the already harrowing ordeal that the Hong Kong population were subjected to.

Barbarism is an understatement when it comes to the unspeakable wicked acts by the Japanese during the war. The late Dr. Li Shu-fan (late founder of the Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital) had estimated the number of rapes committed during the battle of Hong Kong to be over 10,000. Cold-blooded murders of allied soldiers (in some cases even when a white flag was raised) by the Japanese were especially appalling at the Shaukiwan Silesian Mission Medical Post (where captured prisoners were bayoneted to death from the back) and at the St. Stephen’s College Hospital in Stanley (where many wounded soldiers lying in bed were bayoneted to death, where two soldiers were brutally mutilated and murdered and where several nurses were raped and murdered and still others raped). Civilian deaths during the battle were estimated at over 4,000 (Banham: Not the Slightest Chance).

For the Hong Kong folks, the 18-day battle was only the beginning, horrible though it was, of a protracted period (lasting three years and eight months) of great trepidation, starvation, homelessness and utter destitution under the merciless rule of the Japanese. By May 1945, one million Hong Kong Chinese had left the Colony for the Mainland, leaving only 650,000 behind.

This particular part of Hong Kong’s history is probably unknown or unfamiliar to many of Hong Kong’s young and not-so-young generations. To them, and others who might have an interest in the subject, I would highly recommend Banham’s and Lindsay’s books.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

"Fated and Fateless" Excerpt Part 2

Here's Excerpt Part 2 (continued from Part 1):-

[Diana had witnessed the amazing growth of Sun Tai Land on her frequent trips back to Hong Kong while studying in England – the number of staff shot up from a couple of dozens in 1966 to a couple of hundreds now (1972). The company structure had evolved from a simple single-tier one into a multi-department, many-layered management hierarchy led by her father. Her knowledge of the company’s operations, if perfunctory, had come from her attendance as an observer at board and management meetings during all her school vacations.
During those company visits, she couldn’t help noticing that her father had regular secret meetings with Detective Ngan in his private conference room, which was annexed to his large and lavishly furnished office, where valuable Chinese paintings by Cheung Tai Chin were randomly hung. She was going to find out all about the meetings from Ms. Yeung some day.
As she lay reposed on the gold-trimmed velvety couch by the sheer-curtained French windows looking out onto the terrace, she was thinking that it was high time to take the company public and use the public offer proceeds for further expansion,. She must set up a meeting with John Woo, Sun Tai Land’s legal adviser, and Ewen Saunders, the investment banker. She was not going to tell her father yet what was on her mind until she had all the information she needed. She must be able to impress him with her first presentation. But before that important meeting, she must first have a chance to hold an internal meeting with all the department heads to get an update on the company’s business outlook and financial situation. The matter was now of top priority as John Woo had told her that the KHS Group was also planning to go public.
On that thought, she rose from the couch and walked across the chandelier-lit living room to the fireplace, above which hung a huge, three-panel mirror. She picked up the antique phone on the side table while admiring her own reflection in the mirror, and dialed Ms. Yeung’s number. Ms. Yeung had been her father’s private secretary for as long as she could recall and knew the company’s staff like the back of her hand. Diana was aware of the rumor that had been going round the office in recent years: that her father had taken Ms. Yeung as his mistress and had bought her a high-end apartment in Happy Valley. For this reason, no one from the office dared to cross her and everybody was trying to please her. If there was anyone apart from Mrs. Lee, to whom Ms. Yeung would care to show some courtesy, it was Diana. Diana had once casually dropped the question on her mother, but she had shrugged it off in an unaffected manner without saying anything. She had thought it best to feign ignorance in front of her father.
“Hello Ms. Yeung, how have you been?”
“Hello Diana, it’s good to hear your voice again. When did you arrive? Did you have a pleasant trip?”
“I arrived on Saturday. The trip was OK – you know, as usual, I slept during the flight. Look, I was wondering if you could set up a meeting of department heads for 10 o’clock on Tuesday, if my dad doesn’t have anything on.”
“Let me just check his diary – yes, he’s free. I’ll have the meeting set up right away. Is there anything else?”
“Please tell my dad that the purpose of the meeting is to let me catch up. Oh, and please ask the chief accountant to let me have copies of the audited accounts for the last five years – have them on my desk first thing tomorrow morning. Another thing is that I want you to place an ad in the English papers for two personal assistants for me. Also, ask the fung shui master Mr. Yau to come by the office tomorrow. That’ll be all for now.” Mr. Lee had hired Mr. Yau as the company’s fung shui master on a retainer basis right after that house-warming dinner in 1970.
“Yes, I’ll get on to it. See you tomorrow morning, Diana. Welcome back.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Edward hauling himself up agilely from the water. His lanky torso and tight butt, dripping wet and exuding life in the bright sunlight, looked even more sensual. As his elder sister, she felt she had a duty to watch over him, not letting him fall prey to those tramps hovering around him. He was always such a naïve and warm-hearted big boy. It was a good thing he didn’t want to go into the business world – he was just not cut out for it.
She walked out to the sunlit terrace and picked up a white thick towel from one of the wooden poolside benches to hand to him.
“I’m going shopping at Lane Crawford’s this afternoon. Want to come along?” she was hoping he’d say yes.
“Umm, I don’t think so – there’s some reading that I have to catch up on. Why don’t you ask Mother to go with you?”
Masking her disappointment, she said in a teasing tone: “What a bookworm you are! Mother has her mahjong party to go to. She wouldn’t be a great help anyway. Don’t worry, I don’t mind shopping alone.”]

Monday, March 10, 2014

Giveaway of "Fated and Fateless" at Goodreads

One signed paperback copy of "Fated and Fateless" is available as a Goodreads Giveaway from March 8 to March 15, 2014. Enter to win the copy!


    Goodreads Book Giveaway


        Fated and Fateless by Alice Poon



          Fated and Fateless


          by Alice Poon


            Giveaway ends March 15, 2014.

            See the giveaway details
            at Goodreads.




      Enter to win

Saturday, March 8, 2014

"Fated and Fateless" Excerpt Part 1

The book excerpt that I'm going to post consists of almost a full chapter. As it is too long for one post, I've split it into two parts. This post contains Excerpt Part 1.

 [The last thought on her mind, as she climbed out of the Mercedes, was that she needed to advertise for a personal assistant, or maybe two, on the first day she started to work at the office.
Diana had never quite gotten over the spat she had had with Wendy when they were kids. She had never forgiven Wendy for ruining her new pink frock that day. She had the nerve to say it was my fault! She wondered where Wendy was working now, and how she was making out.
“Whatever income she may be earning, I can always give her an offer she can’t refuse.” The corners of her lips turned up in a sly smile with this thought.
The next morning, which was a Sunday, she had a chance to have a long chat with her mother at the breakfast table, her father having already gone out to the Deep Water Bay Golf Club to play golf and Edward was doing his daily laps in the terrace pool.
In the Lee family’s Sai Wan Ho days, Chuen Fat Kee had been used as a cover for a big word-guess gaming (字花) operation which was run by Ah Chuen and Ah Fat. The brothers had come from Chiu Chow like Mr. Lee. Being a sociable and astute businessman, Mr. Lee had found out about the operation during his casual chats with the brothers. He had offered to inject capital into the operation to make it bigger, using his commission earnings from broking land deals. Immigrants from Chiu Chow had a natural habit of sticking trustingly to one another. The brothers had accepted his offer without hesitation. Two years into the operation, Mr. Lee had suggested to the brothers to start a horse-racing bookie business alongside word-guess game betting. The party of three had it so good ever since that they were virtually swimming in cash.
The word-guess game was a game in which thirty-six names of well-known ancients, or of places, or of animals or profession, were put up for betting on a daily basis. Each operator would have a number of couriers who acted as collectors of bets from street gamblers. Each morning the operator would announce by word-of-mouth to the couriers which group of names would be put up for betting that day and would write up numbers in running order against the thirty-six names on a piece of paper. He would randomly pick one number (name) by marking it and would then put the piece of paper inside a porcelain container that would be hung from the beam of the flat. Bets could then be accepted by the couriers. The payout multiple for the winner was thirty to one. Thus, the odds are heavily in favor of the dealer. Such operations were illegal gaming and had to be conducted underground. The flip side to running such operations was that it would often attract triad members as well as policemen to come around to collect protection fees and bribes.
Now Diana remembered when she was in primary school, her father had a habit of placing before her each day a list of numbers and Chinese names and would urge her to pick out a number or name on the paper. Ever since she took on the job of “the gold finger”, money was flowing in faster than her father could ever have hoped for. It was thus that she became her father’s good luck charm.
As the underground operation was bringing in more and more cash, it had caught the attention of the Wo Sing Wo triad gang. Gangsters had begun coming round to extort protection fees from Ah Chuen and Ah Fat. By a stroke of chance, the brothers had got acquainted with a police detective named Ngan from the vice squad attached to the Shaukiwan Police Station. Ngan had also come from Chiu Chow and once he came to know the brothers, they just hit it off in no time. Ever since they had befriended each other, gangsters had stopped showing up. But of course there was no free lunch. Instead of paying ever increasing protection fees on demand to triad gangsters, the brothers and Mr. Lee had had to allow Ngan a cut of the gaming profits. Diana had picked up much of this information from the chauffeur Ah Wong during her car trips to and from the airport on her annual vacations. Ah Wong was a second cousin of Ah Chuen and Ah Fat. Her mother now confirmed those stories.
When the Lee family had first moved to Repulse Bay in 1960, they had settled into a 2,000 square feet apartment unit which Mr. Lee had bought with the hard cash that he earned from his underground business. Then in 1970, they had moved again into the huge 4,000 square feet, two-storey beachside mansion, which had a large manicured garden at the back and a sun terrace with a full-size swimming pool at the front facing the beach. By this time, Ah Chuen and Ah Fat had also moved out of Sai Wan Ho to live in a luxury apartment on The Peak. Together, the brothers were now the second largest shareholder in Sun Tai Land, although they were content to leave the day-to-day management of the company in the hands of Mr. Lee.
Starting from the early 60s, Mr. Lee had begun to focus his time on buying land for his own company and building low-end residential buildings in urban Kowloon for the newly arrived mainland immigrants. The business had taken off in no time and he had begun to look for land in the New Territories. In 1967, the communists in Hong Kong had started up a riot that had threatened to turn uncontrollable, which had scared a lot of rich people into running for cover overseas. The unexpected exodus had given Mr. Lee and a couple of other gutsy developers, including the Lee family’s current neighbor Mr. Ko, a golden chance to load up their land banks at negligible costs, when land and housing prices had taken a dive.]

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Note About the Kindle Format of "Fated and Fateless"

A couple of friends from Hong Kong have asked me the same question recently: how could one get to read the Kindle version of my novel if one didn't have the Kindle device?

The answer is quite simple: just download the Kindle App for free from Amazon's website as you purchase the Kindle version from Amazon. If you want to download the book to your smartphone or tablet, there is a Kindle App for smartphone or tablet. If you want to download it to your laptop, there's a Kindle App for PC. It's just a click away on the right-hand column of the Product Page (either click on "Available on your PC" or click on "Free Kindle App for smartphones or tablets" as it suits you). The retail price of the Kindle version is US$7.99.

As presently the paperback version is not yet available in Asia, the most efficient and economical way for potential Asian readers to access the novel is by purchasing the Kindle version. That being said, the paperback version is actually a nicely done product and could be had for US$12.99. But the shipping charges can amount to US$20 and it takes 5 to 10 days for the shipment to arrive in Hong Kong. It would be nice if you could get friends or relatives living in the U.S. to buy and mail it to you.

For potential readers in Canada and most European countries (U.K., France, Germany, Spain, Italy), both the paperback and Kindle editions are listed at the respective local currency (e.g. in Canada, the Kindle version is listed at C$8.50 and the paperback at C$14.40). With the paperback version, delivery may be free or may involve a small local shipping charge.

In my earlier post I provided links to the Product Page on Amazon's U.S. and European sites but inadvertently omitted Amazon's Canada site. Here's the link:-

Amazon Canada's Product Page

My Twitter Account: