Historical Fiction

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Murphy, Sylvia Ngim. (1998). Destiny: Hong Kong. Raleigh, North Carolina: Pretland Press Ltd.

Destiny: Hong Kong is an unevenly crafted novella which attempts to chronicle the lives of three generations of a family that  has its origins as peasant farmers in Canton. It provides an almost sociological/anthropological commentary of peasant life in Canton and of upwardly mobile Chinese in Hong Kong and Singapore. The text appears to be loosely organized on the theme of destiny, and  many of the charactersí good fortune or misfortune is attributed to their ďdestinyĒ.

The story begins in Canton where Kwong-Meng, a peasant farmer, decides to make a drastic change to his life by learning western cookery and migrating to the city. At first, Kwong-Meng works as a cook in the private residence of a European in Canton and later moves to Hong Kong to work for an Englishman. In Hong Kong, he experiences the Japanese occupation and works for a Japanese military official who is depicted as a benevolent man. The familiar negative imaging of the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong is less explicit in this book, though the fear of Japanese atrocities is present in the imagination of some of the characters. After the Second World War, Kwong-Meng returns to Canton and tries his hand at farming again. However, with the communist takeover, Kwong-Meng and the family join the stream of refugees migrating to Hong Kong.

Kwong-Meng finds employment again in a British household, and his wife Leng-Leng and children live in a tiny flat experiencing a life of privation. Kwong-Meng suddenly dies by drowning while on a recreational fishing expedition, and the familyís circumstance becomes even more difficult. At this point, Lee-On the elder son of the family and May-Lee the adopted daughter of Kwong-Mengís dead brother seek employment in Hong Kongís expanding entertainment and tourist industry. Lee-On becomes a bartender while May-Lee becomes a club hostess.

May-Lee gives up the hostess job because of  family pressure and becomes a housemaid which, in turn, leads to a romantic liaison with her American employer, William. Eventually May Lee marries William and settles in San Francisco. With this event, the narrative shifts to Lee-On who invests shrewdly and becomes rich through ownership of property and shares of hotels. Lee-Onís marital life and its complications are the focus of the rest of the story. Lee-On defies his mother at first and marries a Malaysian Chinese woman named Mira and settles in Singapore. But the lack of children and his motherís pressure result in Lee-On taking  a concubine who also fails to produce children. The text critiques the practice of concubinage and attempts to depict how it marginalizes women. As Lee-Onís wealth grows, he decides to take yet another concubine who eventually gives him the heirs he wants.

The story chronicles the jealousy, hatred and intrigue such a situation of multiple women coveting a single manís attention creates and also of how the matriarch plays a manipulative role in her sonís domestic life. However, Lee-On is shown to be a complacent man willing to be manipulated by a dominating mother. Towards the conclusion, the mother dies in a car accident which results in Lee-Onís wife and concubines fighting each other for supremacy. Later, Lee-On who becomes  ill  like his mother falls in love with his nurse and decides to keep her as a mistress ó which is also shown to be a modern form of concubinage. The story ends with Lee-On being murdered by a group of people seeking revenge. (HR)

 

 
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