Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A 4-Star Review by Johanna Zanten of "Fated and Fateless" on Goodreads

Johanna Zanten, a Goodreads member and reviewer, has posted a 4-star text review of "Fated and Fateless" on Goodreads. Here's her full text review:-

“This book starts in Hong Kong where Wendy Kwan lives with her parents and her younger siblings, as well as her grandmother, all cramped together in a two bedroom flat. Her father works, but spends his salary on booze and gambling, and goes into serious debt that her mother then tries to pay off. Her mother glues paper bags for a living, at home. They are relatively poor.

Wendy starts at an all English school and goes on to high school. She cannot stay in school after her graduation even if she is the second best in academic achievement in secondary school, as she has to help earn money to feed the family.

She had met Diane and Diane's brother at school, but all contact is lost after leaving school. Might as well, as Diane and Edward are from the rich Lee family, living in wealth on the other side of the city in an affluent neighborhood. Wendy had a secret crush on Edward, but experienced Diane as a jealous and ungracious girlfriend. It would have been an impossible friendship anyway due to their difference in social standing. Although Hong Kong was a British protectorate for many years, the old feudal Chinese structures were still active.

This all takes place long after the opium wars between China and Britain, after Britain acquired most of Hong Kong Island in the 19th century, and before the 99 year lease of the territory to the British was to end in 1997. The story starts in the nineteen sixties. The mix of Chinese and English influences in this story is obvious and somewhat confusing, although interesting.

The author is telling the story of ethnic Chinese, from the POV of the protagonist, Wendy, and her nemesis, Diane, but they have English names. The rich are sent to universities in Britain, where they feel secondhand citizens, as the British traditionally look down on anybody from the "colonies", especially when they are not Caucasian and have skin that is not pale as their own. From that experience, Diane returned to Hong Kong to follow in her father's footsteps at the family's real estate company, after having obtained her degree that was facilitated by large donations from her father to her alma mater in Britain. To his father's disappointment, Edward, his only son, did not want to go into business and studied medicine, with ideals for a future of helping his people, not of making money off them.

In the meantime, Wendy struggled to obtain several jobs to keep the family going, with her mother dying along the way, and her abusive father finally leaving the family, to her relief. By design, Diane hired Wendy as her personal secretary with the purpose to demean and exploit her for the price of a salary. Wendy finds out what the company really is doing, it's gambling profits, and the ties to a triad gang and to the corrupt police chief.

The story starts in a rather formal language that feels a bit stilted. As the story unfolds, the language become more fluid and natural. The many adjectives in each sentence could be scaled down in my view, as it makes the novel a bit cumbersome to read at times.

The story gives a good insight into the culture of the real estate business of Hong Kong and the effects of the future transition of Hong Kong back to China's authority. The siblings of Wendy emigrate to Canada eventually. Diane and her mother emigrate as well by the end of the story.

What surprised me most was the brutal and overt exploitation of women: in the first seven chapters already two rapes by wealthy men on employees are happening, with impunity. As well, becoming a mistress, the concubine of the in olden days, is still present. Diane's father, the boss, has three at the time, as he is rich enough to afford them and set them up in their own apartments or mansion (in Hong Kong, where prices are higher than in Vancouver!). I am not sure if that would be indicative of the work atmosphere then, or still currently would be. The completely subservient and strict hierarchy from the top down in the office environment as described, seems alien to me, but likely might be real, then, or now. Diane is only her father's second choice as a female heir.

The politics of acquiring land for resale laid out in the novel is as familiar as the tactics currently employed in my area: buying unused, cheap farm land and once purchased, petition (and bribe) government to rezone it for residential use, develop it and resell it at many times its purchase price. Also money laundering and unholy deals between "business partners" and Mr. Lee are described, that gave me some insight in how that sort of thing would take place.

The cultural practice of Fung Sui (author's spelling) takes a large role in choosing the location of everything, as well as the use of palm readers and other paranormal practices for doing business successfully. These practices have now also become more prevalent in the cities in Canada with the influx of more ethnic Chinese immigrants.

The basic question posed in the novel is whether birth and heritage determine the fate of an individual. Wendy and Diana both are extremely ambitious and focused persons who are not content with the traditional role of the women in their society. Wendy's quest is to rise above her simple beginnings and reach the upper echelons in the business world, while Diana's is to become the head of her father's Sun Tai Land company at all costs.

The next question for Wendy is whether Edward loves her. He is her childhood crush that grew into a mature love, for Wendy, at least. Will they get together and find love?

The last question is whether the traditional rules of the wealthy Chinese to marry off their offspring in arranged marriage will survive the modern times. One needs to read the book to find out.

I found it a good read, and the turns and twists of the story kept the interest going. One needs to be interested in the real estate business, or want to know more about it, as it figures prominently in the story. Big money is the goal, and easy come, easy go, is the the impression I have of how the real estate business took place. The idea of ethical trade was not invented in this time and place; make your money fast and get out.

This world is as foreign to me as sky diving, something I am not thinking about and have no affinity with. It is useful to know more about that world and its specific background in political terms, to understand more of the background of the new Canadians in our country and I am glad I read it. A bit more of that background explained could have been helpful. I liked it overall and the ending was satisfying.

Disclosure: I was gifted the book by the author.
I would give it 4 out of 5 stars.”

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