Historical Fiction

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Kavon, Caleb. 2009. The Monkey in Me: Confusion, Love and Hope under a Chinese Sky.Hong Kong: Proverse.

The Monkey in Me is a loosely structured, episodic account of an American-born Hong Kong resident that attempts to be a light-hearted, ironic commentary on world affairs. The tone of the narrator is that of a world-weary liberal westerner who dishes out with equal measure critiques of America’s neo-imperial political and economic practices  and  of Mainland Chinese authoritarianism. The narrative voice is, however on the whole sympathetic to China and sees western critiques of the Mainland as  mostly extreme and sometimes  ungrounded.

The narrator also tries to establish his local credentials by commenting on details of Hong Kong life which are not always convincing. For instance, he comments on how Hong Kong’s image as a “world city” with gleaming skyscrapers masks the more mundane government housing. But the comparison of Hong Kong government housing to soviet-style communal housing, and of people leading anonymous lives confined to their limited living space with little or no community spirit appears exaggerated and itself an ‘outsider’s’ impression of a social reality he has little familiarity with.

There is also extended critique of expatriate life in Hong Kong as being divorced from the ‘reality’ of a vast majority of Hong Kong dwellers. This critique is extended to cover what is seen as a profligate lifestyle associated with nightlife in Wanchai bars.  The narrator too participates in binge drinking and one-night stands but tries to position himself as someone who is almost reluctantly drawn into it, and also has an ironic perspective on such activities.

The prose sections of the narrative are interspersed with short verse segments which juxtapose political events  like the 2008 US presidential campaign with popular culture  items like baseball results or the name of a popular TV series. This narrative style appears to be an attempt to capture a sense of modern urban life through the analogy of switching  TV channels. The narrative is also littered with critiques of, for example,  the crass consumerism of contemporary world culture (especially American culture), famine, and war – all of which gives a sense that there is a general global moral crisis. However, these social critiques, if they can be so-called, do not deliver real impact  because of their reliance on  loose generalizations and recourse to cliché.  (HR)

 

 
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