Sunday, 13 June 2021

Diamond Hill by Kit Fan

Diamond Hill by Kit Fan
Published by Dialogue Books on the 13th May 2021.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Diamond Hill was once the 'Hollywood of the Orient', but is now an eyesore in the middle of a glitzy financial hub. Buddhist nuns, drug gangs, property developers, the government and foreign powers are all vying for power, each wanting to stake their claim on the land.

Set in the last shanty town of Hong Kong before the fraught 1997 handover from Britain to China, Diamond Hill follows the return of a recovering heroin addict, Buddha, as he tries to salvage what's left from a place he hoped to forget.

Buddha finds himself crossing swords with the Iron Nun, fighting for her nunnery; a disturbed novice, Quartz, who is fleeing her past; a faded film actress called Audrey Hepburn; and Boss, a teenage gang leader with a big mouth and even bigger plans, plotting to escape what she calls 'the death of Hong Kong'.

Kit Fan's hard-hitting and exhilarating debut is a requiem for a disappearing city, and a meditation on powerlessness, religion, colonialism and displacement. It explores the price of forgetting and how the present is ultimately always entangled in the past.

Diamond Hill is one of those novels that feels as though it completely captures a particular place at a particular time, in this case the eponymous shanty town district of Hong Kong city in the immediate aftermath of Britain's agreement to return the territory to China. While, officially, there is over a decade to go before the handover itself and then a promised fifty years of 'no change', the disparate Diamond Hill residents see their homes being bulldozed in a fervent land grab as rich speculators and developers seek quick fortunes.

Fan manages to convincingly portray this chaotic time through overviews of Diamond Hill itself and also through the eyes of five people on the ground - four women and one man. For me, the most interesting character was the Iron Nun who finds herself stuck in the impossible predicament of having to go against her Buddhist vows in order to protect the ancient Buddhist nunnery she leads. While this woman often comes across as cold and aloof, we are given glimpses behind that facade. Another strong character is Audrey Hepburn, a woman who is happiest in her self-created dreamworld, reliving her youth as an aspiring actress in the then-thriving Hong Kong film industry, but who now scrapes an existence barely above destitution.

I loved the first two-thirds of Diamond Hill which explored this vibrant, yet derelict area and its close-knit community. I could easily envisage the people and places Fan describes and felt invested in their story. Unfortunately I did feel I lost touch with the characters, one especially, towards the end of the book. Their motivations weren't clear to me, leaving me unsure quite why they chose the path they did. However, overall, I very much enjoyed Diamond Hill.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Kit Fan / Historical fiction / Books from Hong Kong

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