Fragrant Harbor by John Lanchester

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It is 1935 and Tom Stewart, a young Englishman with an almost visceral longing for adventure, has bought himself a cheap ticket to the complex, corrupt, and corrupting world of Hong Kong. Aboard ship, he becomes the pawn in a wager between a bluff businessman and a Chinese missionary nun, who bets she can teach him Cantonese on the six-week voyage out. What begins as friendship turns into solace and then a passion that only individual vows can remit.

Fragrant Harbor takes the reader from the intrigue and double-dealing of the 1930s through the savagery of the Japanese occupation to contemporary Hong Kong, crossroads of international trade and finance and waystation for laundering the dirty money of warlords, drug runners, and Chinese triads. The novel ends three years after the Mainland takeover, with Hong Kong as greedy, corrupt, and corrupting as when Stewart first landed there.

Writing with the same fine style and observant eye that distinguished his previous novels, John Lanchester depicts a tumultuous time and place and then peoples it with extraordinary characters. The result is a novel that proves he is amongour most versatile and talented contemporary novelists-indeed, as The New York Times wrote, "Lanchester is a commanding writer."

About John Lanchester

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John Lanchester is the prizewinning author of two novels. He was brought up in Hong Kong, where one of his early languages was Cantonese.
Published January 1, 2002 by McCelland & Stewart. 352 pages
Genres: Romance, Literature & Fiction, History, Action & Adventure. Fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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Many die—close friends and co-workers among them—but Tom survives, recovers, returns to hotel work, and takes part in the extraordinary economic rise of postwar Hong Kong—though not without one grievous element of disaster and terror, when his life is touched once again by Sister Marie—and then q...

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Publishers Weekly

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Lanchester steeps the narrative in vivid detail (having been raised in Hong Kong, he is intimately acquainted with the city), and the subtheme of money and its ultimate power over human destiny permeates the story.

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Entertainment Weekly

FRAGRANT HARBOR John Lanchester (Putnam, $25.95) Lanchester's thoughtful, frustrating novel follows adventure-starved Englishman Tom Stewart as he heads to Hong Kong in 1935.

Jul 19 2002 | Read Full Review of Fragrant Harbor

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