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The Monkey King [Paperback]

Timothy Mo
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

18 Feb 1993
The Poons, according to Hong Kong gossip, have plenty of money. But when Wallace Nolasco marries May Ling, daughter of the house of Poon, he finds he has been sold short. Wallace is relegated to the bottom of the household pecking order. The author also wrote "Sour Sweet".

Product details

  • Paperback: 215 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New edition edition (18 Feb 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099962101
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099962106
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 13 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 257,410 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I first found this funny, sad, poignant book while living in Hong Kong and highly recommend it to anyone interested in the place, or simply looking for a cracking good read. It's set around an eccentric chinese family living in an old, atmospheric and crumbling house (of the kind, alas, that has been completely eliminated from Hong Kong's neighborhoods) and describes their personalities and eccentricities in clean, clear prose. I was surprised by how many of the details (people's actions, attitudes) were still relevant to the Hong Kong of the late nineties (and probably today). I feel I saw and met many members of Timothy Mo's fictional family in and about the city during my residence. This book is also good because it does not sentimentalize or pull any punches in its description of Hong Kong, and gives quite a true picture of the place, at least to this expat. If you like this book, try Austin Coates' Myself a Mandarin and Paul Theroux's Kowloon Tong, both excellent, insightful, accurate and, like Timothy Mo, just a plain good read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very involving, considering not a lot happens! 12 Feb 2009
I know nothing about life in China or Hong Kong, but I was fortunate enough to visit Hong Kong in 2007, which is what prompted me to try to read a little bit about it. I gather that this book is pretty accurate about life in Hong Kong in the 1950s. Of course, I do not know if that is the case, but the author makes it very vivid and real. The tale follows a couple of years in the life of one man, who marries into the Poon family, and how he is manipulated by his father-in-law and generally bullied by his other in-laws, yet somehow always emerges the victor of these minor domestic skirmishes (hence the "Monkey King" of the title - yup, it's him!).

This story does meander around. It doesn't seem to do much. But this is not a bad thing. I found it very amusing, and the characters horribly believable (most of them are not nice) - maybe they do exist in Hong Kong, but honestly, I could find a parallel for all of them here in Devon! And I found myself cheering on the lead character, willing him to triumph over the petty everyday arguments.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkably vivid vignettes 29 Aug 2003
Two things really fascinated me about "The Monkey King" and "Sour Sweet", the first two of Timothy Mo's novels and the first two that I read.
The first is that, despite it now being 6 years since I read these books, I am staggered by the clarity and longevity of the pictures that Timothy Mo painted in my head. I have since found this with all of Mo's novels: the vividness of the depiction of the scenery or interiors makes me feel as if I've watched a film of the story, rather than read a book. I haven't sat back and analysed his writing to find out how he does it - and partly I haven't done so now for fear of spoiling the magic with which I remember the stories.
The second is that Mo's main characters in these two novels are unknowing innocents simply living their lives, such that the reader can see the wider implications of their actions when they cannot do so themselves. For example, in "The Monkey King" the reader is all too aware that Wallace Nolasco fits in far lower down the hierarchy of the Poon family than he thinks. Again, in "Sour Sweet", the thought of triad involvement is more often with the reader than with the characters. Often, the dramas that unfold in the stories are the result of quirky accidents rather than design - but that's what gives the stories such authenticity. Consequently, you feel as if you're a privileged observer quietly watching the characters live their ordinary lives for a few years. I could quite happily believe that the main protagonists had lived their lives like this before the events told in the story, and would continue to do so, just as naively, after the book is finished.
I thoroughly recommend Mo's writing to you if you enjoy novels that totally immerse you in the observation of others' lives - even where those lives are not always pretty.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Hong Kong in the early 50s brought to vivid life 10 Dec 2011
In the first part of this book, life in the household of the domestic tyrant Mr Poon makes for a painful though blackly funny read. Fortunately, humane values establish themselves ever more firmly chez Poon as the book progresses and the personalities of the downtrodden begin to blossom.

This is an entirely individual comedy full of vignettes of life in Hong Kong and the New Territories almost sixty years ago. Every character has his or her share of foibles and every race likewise. The dialogue is a special delight - a strangely Cantonese version of English with no plurals, of course, and hilariously erratic tenses.

This is a novel that relishes absurdity and keeps its humour dry.
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