Heading to Hong Kong

hong kong

Hong Kong has always been at the top of my list of places I want to visit in Asia. It’s a city that was founded on capitalism and free trade, a city that mixes the best and worst of both the East and the West. On top of that Hong Kong is the setting of my favorite novels, James Clavell’s Tai-Pan and Noble House. If you haven’t read those books stop whatever you are doing and start right now.

tai-pan

Anyways, next week the wife and I are going to temporarily suspend our Gaijin card so we can become Gweilo tourists and visit Hong Kong. That means I will be hard to get a hold of on here and across social media. I plan on taking pictures and sharing, but enjoying my vacation will take precedence. I have much to see.

Hong Kong is the second time this year we are visiting one of the Asian Tigers, Taipei was the first, and we will have to complete the set with Singapore and South Korea after the baby is born.

In other news, the outline for my novella is almost complete, just ironing out some plot points and filling in the blanks. I’m planning to begin actual writing once I get back. The vacation should refresh me and give me some good ideas.

 

 

 

Barbarian Book Club: August 2017

August was a good month for reading. I managed to finish a bunch of technical books, lots of articles, and the usual daily dose of blog posts. I started reading Macbeth and supplementary material that helps me understand Shakespeare and the time period he wrote in. But most importantly I managed to read a book that jumped to the top of my list for all time favorite.

Noble House.jpgNoble House by James Clavell was an amazing read. A loose sequel to the equally badass Tai-Pan, Noble House is one of the best novels I have ever read. Part historical novel, part thriller, all wrapped up in a family business saga, that takes place over the span of one week in 1963 Hong Kong. Noble House follows Ian Dunross, Tai-Pan of the titular Noble House of Struan founded by Tai-Pan’s Dirk Struan through a week of financial challenges as communists, traitors, spies, market forces, and nature itself become seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It’s amazing how a fantastic writer like Clavell can pack so much action, excitement, and romance into a single novel compared to 21st-century fantasy writers who write epic multi volume works where nothing worth reading happens for entire books. Clavell’s writing is everything that I want out of a novel and I’m really bummed that he passed away before writing more. If you haven’t read any of the Asian Saga stop whatever you are doing and go pick up Shogun, Tai-Pan, and Noble House right now. I loved Tai-Pan and Noble House so much that I even booked a trip to Hong Kong because reading Clavell made me interested in the culture and history of one of the most unique cities in the world.

Call for the Dead by John le Carré. Awhile back I got the urge to read some espionage literature so I asked around for recommendations. The obvious answer was to read le Carré so I picked up his first book and the first appearance of his famous character Smiley. Call for the Dead isn’t really an espionage novel, it’s more of a murder mystery with spies but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Smiley is a great character, a realistic anti Bond. He’s fat, frumpy, plain, and extremely erudite. It’s almost boring and pedestrian to

callforthedead

picture him but that’s kind of the point of being a spy, you have to blend in, be boring, not stand out in a crowd. I enjoyed the book and will eventually move on to the later Smiley novels, specifically the one that takes place in Hong Kong.

Tilt-a-Whirl by Chris Grabenstein. This one was a bit of a wild card, I picked it up for free on a recommendation from Misha Burnett and read it over the weekend. It was a fun buddy cop detective story that takes place in a sunny Jersey Shore town filled with quirky quaint stores and carnival attractions. The main character is an Iraq war veteran, Detective Ceepak, who lives by a squared away moral code and perfectionist military lifestyle while being followed around by the narrator who is a young part-time police man working the force for the summer. A murder occurs, the solution is predictable, but the characters were fun and the writing was good and crisp. Fun book, nowhere near the level of Jo Nesbo or Tana French, but overall enjoyable, even if it felt like the pilot episode of a new police show.tiltawhirl.jpg

I’m not sure what I’m going to read in September. I’m kind of in a Horror or Detective mood, so I might go back to some Northern Noir and continue reading through Jo Nesbo’s Hole series. I also have so much sitting unread on my Kindle so I might make a push of reading through my pile before buying anything new.

Tai-Pan by James Clavell

“I’m saying that some men are saints. Some are happy being meek and humble and unambitious. Some men are born content to be second-best.”

tai-pan

I finished James Cavell’s Tai-Pan today and it immediately skyrocketed to the top of my favorites. A masterpiece of action, history, intrigue, adventure, and romance. Most of all it had an epic ending that blew me away, unlike more recent writers that seem to choke at the finish line.

Tai-Pan is an epic historical novel about the opium trader Dirk Struan, who is loosely based on William Jardine, and  the founding of Hong Kong in 1841. It follows Dirk as he maneuvers, rival traders, corrupt Chianese authorities, close minded British politicians, and pirates, in order to solidify the dominance of his trading company, Noble House, and ensure the success of Hong Kong as a lasting colony.

A massive novel filled with violence, pirates, romance, incest, and political intrigue that would teach Littlefinger a lesson or two. Nestled into the main plot are several interesting side plots including one of the best tragic romances I have read and a very well done father-son plotline. All of the plot threads subtly come together and are fantastically wrapped up during the epic finale.

Most of all the main character, Dirk Struan, stands out as one of the most badass characters I have ever read. He is the ultimate model of a great leader. Tough but fair, able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the people around him allowing him to put each man to proper use. Dirk is a model hero who has the foresight to understand that Hong Kong is a vital port and must be protected. He also embraces the best of Chianese culture and mixes it with his own striving for a future where British and Chianese live together benefiting each other.

I have a feeling it will be a long time until Tai-Pan gets dethroned as my favorite book. It had everything I want in a great story and everything I aspire to include in my own writing. Read it. Read it now.