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Nonfiction Review: The Impossible City: A Hong Kong Memoir by Karen Cheung

Title: The Impossible City: A Hong Kong Memoir

Author: Karen Cheung
Year published: 2022
Category: Adult nonfiction (memoir)
Pages: 352 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location: (my 2024 Google Reading map)Hong Kong

SummaryHong Kong is known as a place of extremes: a former colony of the United Kingdom that now exists at the margins of an ascendant China; a city rocked by mass protests, where residents rally—often in vain—against threats to their fundamental freedoms. But it is also misunderstood, and often romanticized. Drawing from her own experience reporting on the politics and culture of her hometown, as well as interviews with musicians, protesters, and writers who have watched their home transform, Karen Cheung gives us a rare insider’s view of this remarkable city at a pivotal moment—for Hong Kong and, ultimately, for herself.

Born just before the handover to China in 1997, Cheung grew up questioning what version of Hong Kong she belonged to. Not quite at ease within the middle-class, cosmopolitan identity available to her at her English-speaking international school, she also resisted the conservative values of her deeply traditional, often dysfunctional family.

Review: I listened to this memoir for one of my books groups and wasn't quite sure what to expect. I realize that while it is about the author's life, it's really more about the city of Hong Kong during the transition from British to Chinese (news flash: it isn't smooth).

The book is divided up into sections (neighborhoods, music, industry, education, etc) with the author's experiences and protests and through lines. She makes clear that those that attend international schools fare better on the whole than those in the local public schools, that there are many citizens who are brave enough to protest (and there are hundreds of thousands of them), and that the promises made by China at the handover have not been fulfilled.

The author also includes much about her own struggle with depression, mental health issues, and suicidal tendencies. She shows how she is not unusual as many young people in Hong Kong suffered as she did while the state didn't quite know how to help.

This book deals with a lot of topics that could be depressing and sad, but I didn't feel that way listening to it. I found it an interesting study of our times.

Challenges for which this counts: 
  • Literary Escapes--Hong Kong
  • Nonfiction

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