Martin Booth died in February 2004, shortly after finishing the book that would be his epitaph - this wonderfully remembered, beautifully told memoir of a childhood lived to the full in a far-flung outpost of the British Empire...
An inquisitive seven-year-old, Martin Booth found himself with the whole of Hong Kong at his feet when his father was posted there in the early 1950s. Unrestricted by parental control and blessed with bright blond hair that signified good luck to the Chinese, he had free access to hidden corners of the colony normally closed to a Gweilo, a 'pale fellow' like him. Befriending rickshaw coolies and local stallholders, he learnt Cantonese, sampled delicacies such as boiled water beetles and one-hundred-year-old eggs, and participated in colourful festivals. He even entered the forbidden Kowloon Walled City, wandered into the secret lair of the Triads and visited an opium den. Along the way he encountered a colourful array of people, from the plink plonk man with his dancing monkey to Nagasaki Jim, a drunken child molester, and the Queen of Kowloon, the crazed tramp who may have been a member of the Romanov family.
Shadowed by the unhappiness of his warring parents, a broad-minded mother who, like her son, was keen to embrace all things Chinese, and a bigoted father who was enraged by his family's interest in 'going native', Martin Booth's compelling memoir is a journey into Chinese culture and an extinct colonial way of life that glows with infectious curiosity and humour.
"A classic memoir... the voice of the youthful narrator carries the reader on in a wonderfully honest tone... Booth has delivered a pre-coming-of-age book that ranks with the best of the breed. The writing is superb... it is a more than worth legacy to his prolific literary life, but also stands as one of the most original and engaging memoirs of recent years, all the more telling because it is so personal, witty and true"
"Admirably evocative... one longs to learn what happened next; but, alas, we never will"
"It has such pace and power... his memoir is, above all, a celebration... the portrait of his parents... is particularly fine"
"Highly evocative... as a sharp-eyed, sensitive child of a vanished Hong Kong, Booth earns his nostalgia... his family are not the only ones who will enjoy the book"
"His finest work. Full of local colour and packed with incident"