Diamond Hill by Kit Fan

Kit Fan’s writing style has beautiful similarities to Murakami in terms of tone and unique character work but he brings them together in his own unique and poetic style.

I know…it’s been weeks since my last post. I’m coming up on the final two months of my post-graduate program so I am hoping that regular posts will resume soon.

4/5 stars
ARC ebook, 221 pages.
Read from March 9, 2021 to March 12, 2021.

I discovered this book from the social media page of a local English bookstore I follow in Hong Kong called Bleak House Books. It’s the best English bookstore in Hong Kong, in my opinion, as they promote and support local authors and have a wide range of carefully curated literature, comics, and more, both in-store and online. If you’re in Hong Kong, I highly recommend that you check them out. A big thanks to Netgalley for having an ARC copy of this book that I was able to get my eager hands on..

This novel is set to be published on May 13, 2021.

Diamond Hill is a debut novel by Kit Fan, a born and raised Hong Konger, who moved to the UK at the age of 21.

Having called Hong Kong my home for over five years now, I love reading about this fascinating city and its immense and intricate history and people.

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Diamond Hill is an area on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong and contrary to its name, Diamond Hill has never contained any diamonds. In Cantonese, the word “diamond” (鑽石) has the same pronunciation as “to drill rocks” as Diamond Hill used to be a stone quarry. Diamond Hill has a long history and is an area in Hong Kong that was settled long before the British arrived, as early as the 18th century. Diamond Hill was once considered the “Hollywood of the Orient” but it turned into an ungoverned slum of squatters and shanty homes. Hong Kong’s lack of public housing created slums all over Hong Kong from the 1950s to the late 1980s. During this time the Kai Tak airport was located nearby. Planes landing at Kai Tak had to brush past both the Diamond Hill slums and the infamous Walled City slums nearby making it one of the most dangerous places to land a plane back in the day. Today, most slums have been demolished, with both Diamond Hill and the Walled City having been refurbished into a stunning park and garden. The Nan Lian Garden has replaced the shacks and the Chi Lin Nunnery, which is likely the one referenced in the book as it was built in the 1930s as a Buddhist nun retreat, was rebuilt in 1998 in Tang Dynasty style. The infamous Walled City slum relics and the park is only a quick MTR stop away from Diamond Hill. These areas are some of my all-time favourite places in Hong Kong for theri beauty and their history.

Top left: Nan Lian Garden. Photo by me
Top Right: Chi Lin Nunnery. Photo by me
Bottom right: An airplane approaching Kai Tak airport overtop of the Walled City. Photo from Unforbidding City
Bottom: Diamond Hill in 1983. Phot
o by Ko Tim-keung on Zolima City Magazine

Diamond Hill takes place in the late 80s, just as demolition is starting to take place in squatter slums all over Hong Kong, all the while the current British government is working on handing Hong Kong back over to China. Diamond Hill is run by triad gangsters and drug dealers and is enveloped with poverty, yet there is a feeling of community within its shanty homes. The narrator, nicknamed Buddha, is a former heroin addict that has found himself back at his former home after recovering from his addiction under the guidance of a monk he befriended while in Thailand. While not a full monk himself, Buddha appears as one. As he arrives in Diamond Hill, he runs into an eccentric woman, Aubrey Hepburn, who insists she dated Bruce Lee and is aggressively cutting a teenage girl’s hair. Having prior experience as a hairdresser, Buddha assists in cutting the girl’s hair. Buddha then makes his way to the temple where the head nun, the Iron Nun, is in a fight to keep the temple in place with the looming threat of demolition while a new nun, Quartz, aims to rid herself of her past. Buddha learns that the teenage girl he assisted, Boss, runs a drug scheme under the Triad gang and that Aubrey Hepburn is her adoptive mother who has ideations of a former time of ritz and glamour. Each character is attempting to escape their past while mourning for the change that is occurring and the fear that is brewing with the city’s handover.

The book simultaneously explores colonialism, displacement, loss, and how the past always tangles with the future. It’s a testament of love to a changing city while exploring a compelling narrative of identity and the inability to escape our past. The story is a mirror of misfit characters in a misfit city that’s not been able to claim its own identity with others that are constantly meddling in its future. While its ending is ambivalent, each character has finally made choices for themselves and are moving towards a future that they will control, leaving the reader wondering about the outcome of each of the characters and the city that gets left behind. Kit Fan’s writing style has beautiful similarities to Murakami in terms of tone and unique character work but he brings them together in his own unique and poetic style. Kit Fan’s writing is visceral and raw, with its writing appropriately paired and complemented with Cantonese characters and translations, emphasising just how robust and expressive Cantonese is, deepening the story’s meaning and effect on the reader while giving off an undeniable Hong Kong feel.

This novel has been one of my favourite reads of 2021 thus far. I was enthralled with the plot, its characters, and the narrative style. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has spent any time in Hong Kong or is interested in its robust history. I also think that those who are bilingual in both written Cantonese and English will especially enjoy this novel. Even for those who have never had the pleasure of visiting Hong Kong, this book holds a riveting tale with a historical premise that will be appealing to most.

The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk

Picture the Victorian Era but with magic and even more social taboos…

4/5 stars.
ebook, 384 pages.
Read from February 24, 2021 to March 1, 2021

I don’t even know how many reviews I’m behind on now. A lot. Working full-time while doing schooling full-time isn’t conducive to spare writing time.

This book was the fourth book I read out of the five Canada Reads 2021 contenders. While I was able to read all the books before the debates I wasn’t able to get them all reviewed in time. You can read how I ranked this year’s contenders here and check out how the debates went and its winner here.

When I saw that this book was selected as one of the finalists for the debates this year I will admit, I was less than thrilled, and wasn’t looking forward to reading it. At first glance, this book looked like a tacky YA novel that had no place within a literary debate (I will admit a bit of book snobbery here). I will happily admit that I was wrong about this book and will do my best to stop judging a book by its description. This book was an enjoyable and easy read that I think would speak to a lot of young women. The best way I can describe this book is to picture the Victorian Era but with magic and even more social taboos or to think of Jane Austen but on LSD.

Beatrice is coming to an age of marriage as she enters her first bargaining season but Beatrice has no plans for marriage, in fact, she is actively looking for the one way she can find her independence and that’s through magic. Women are not allowed to become magus’, in fact, married women who can bear children are forced to wear a collar that restricts any magic so that their children are not inhabited spirits before their born and any child born this way is executed. So it’s understandable that Beatrice is obsessed with finding a specific grimoire book that will help become a magus to escape the repressive fate of so many women in her society. Unfortunately, she is so involved in escaping marriage that she hasn’t noticed that her family is in serious financial disrepair and that if she isn’t successfully married her family will lose everything. In her search for the grimoire, she encounters the Lavan siblings, the handsome Ianthe and the beautiful Ysbeta. Ysbeta manages to con the grimoire from Beatrice right when it was within her grasp so she invokes a minor spirit of luck, named Nadi, to help her retrieve it. Spirits like Nadi are anxious to embody physical forms and experience the living world. Beatrice slowly builds a friendship with Nadi as well as the Lavan siblings. Beatrice soon learns that Ysbeta, like her, is even more desperate to escape the fate of marriage.

As Beatrice attempts to avoid the entrapment of marriage things become more complicated for her as she begins to develop feelings for Ianthe, who also happens to be the most wanted bachelor of the bargaining season. It also becomes complicated with Ysbeta with the struggle to keep their ongoings secretive and as Ysbeta becomes more frantic and inpatient to avoid her marriage fate, despite her not being ready to perform the magic required. As time runs out, the friends find themselves in more than a few predicaments that will tear the fragments of their society apart and leave Beatrice with an immensely difficult decision to make.

I expected to hate every aspect of this book but I found myself happily transported in a fun world that made for a nice getaway from daily life. I especially loved the aspects and relationship that Beatrice had with Nadi, I don’t think the book would have been the same without this relationship. Further, the book offers a feminist-leaning that’s accessible to everyone. The ending is especially satisfying in this sense.

This book was exactly what I needed to read during a stressful time. A comfortable read that transported me to a different world, unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to keep it in the Canada Reads debate standings. I actually predicted that this book would win Canada Reads just because it met the theme so well, One Book to Transport Us, and especially with the way the last few debates have gone, but this year was exceptional and it was nice to see a return to a respectful debate.

I would recommend this book to YA lovers, girls, or for those who would be interested in a Jane Austen setting with a fun twist, or just want something easy and enjoyable to read.

Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi

“Hold it gently, this hungry beast that is your heart. Feed it well.”

5/5 stars.
ebook, 441 pages.
Read from February 21, 2021 to February 24, 2021.

I’m finally starting to catch up on the Canada Reads selection for this year, hopefully just in time for the debates happening soon. This is book three of five of the Canada Reads 2021 contenders. Roger Mooking is championing Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi in the debates taking place on March 8-11.

Butter Honey Pig Bread begins in Lagos with a young Kambirinachi, an Ogbanje, who is a spirit that causes misfortune to a family by being born and then dying as a child, unwilling to commit to the world of the flesh and causing misery to the humans that she affects. This changes one day when she decides to stay and live as a human. This choice however, does not come without consequences. The book follows Kambirinachi through her youth, how she finds love, that then gives birth to her twin daughters, Kehinde and Taiye. The story progresses through her daughters stories and the traumas that tears them apart. Kehinde’s childhood trauma causes her distance herself and blames her sister resulting in her running off to Canada where she becomes an artist and meets her husband. Taiye also runs off but to England where she covers her guilt and loneliness in one-night stands and benders. Taiye finds some reprieve in cooking and eventually pursues a cooking certification in Halifax, Canada. Each member of the family is haunted by the past and they can’t avoid each other forever. After Taiye returns home to take care of her mother in Lagos, Kehinde returns for a visit so that her family can meet her new husband, each are eager but reluctant to reconcile.

This is one of the most beautiful and moving books I’ve read in the last few years and it reached me in ways I didn’t anticipate. It’s a story of forgiveness, friendship, love, and family that spans across three countries with a whimsical touch from the addition of Kambirinachi’s real self as an Ogbanje. I cried at the story’s climax and conclusion as the writing had me absolutely captivated and captured in this world and characters. I was more engaged with Taiye’s struggles that circle around her tumultuous and non-committal love life that allows her to neglect her own feeling of guilt. Taiye’s connections and struggles with others are immensely relatable and I found the tension between her and Kehinde familiar. There are also some amazing and intense sex scenes and scrumptious descriptions of traditional foods from Nigeria. This book really has something for everyone. I was absolutely transported with this book, in fact, I missed bus stops while reading this book I was so enthralled with it at times. The writing it concise and succinct and shows off the author’s talents as a storyteller, especially with a debut novel. I hope to see more from this author in the future.

Out of all the books I’ve read from the Canada Reads 2021 contenders this one is my favourite so far. It’s a gorgeous piece of literature with a phenomenal story and it best meets the theme of One Book To Transport Us out of the books that I’ve read. A strong contender for the winner likely to be one of my favourite reads of the year.