Tell Me a Story: Forty Years Newspapering in Hong Kong and China by Kevin Sinclair SCMP Books HK$200 3 stars Kevin Sinclair lived just long enough to see the publication of this book. He died on December 23, and this month was voted Person of the Year in an RTHK poll, beating Anson Chan Fang On-sang, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and others by a wide margin. Sinclair arrived in Hong Kong to work as a reporter in 1968. Many of the people who have paid tribute to him recently have expressed the feeling that his death marks the end of an era. This book shows they are right. Tell Me a Story is not exactly an autobiography, but it would be accurate to call it a life. Being a book by a man who thought in newspaper columns, it has 50 short chapters. They're interspersed by lists, that journalistic standby: Sinclair's top 10 interviews, friends, heroes and so on. The narrative parts start with his arrival in Hong Kong, backtrack to his childhood in New Zealand and meander about a bit. There is some repetition and the book is not always well edited. The self-portrait that emerges, as much from the style as from the stories, is of a rambunctious, uncomplicated, generous man, full of curiosity and confidence; a man who enjoyed life and a professional of the old school. His natural environment is the newsroom, with chain-smoking hacks clattering out stories on typewriters as the deadline approaches, before repairing to Wan Chai for some heroic drinking. This is how the rest of us have always imagined newspapers work, and Sinclair's memories confirm they did. Most of the journos were male. Many were Antipodean. Their style was direct, their ethics often robust. One of the best anecdotes in Sinclair's book relates how, on a slow news day, hacks at The Star cooked up a story about 'koro', a mysterious ailment said to cause the shrinking and disappearance of the male organ, saying it could hit Hong Kong. The story was a bombshell: hospital emergency wards filled up with anxious Hong Kong men and The Star's circulation soared. It wasn't all fun. Sinclair's childhood in New Zealand was tough. Aged 16, he landed his first journalistic job, as a copy boy on Wellington's Evening Post, on referral from the Children's Court, where he was up for delinquency. Three years later he arrived in Brisbane looking for work with sixpence in his pocket. In Hong Kong he worked for The Star, The Standard and the South China Morning Post, then made his living as a freelancer. By his own reckoning he wrote about eight stories a day, six days a week for half a century. And books: this is his 20th. Then there was cancer. It first struck when he was 33 and he spent half his life battling it. It returned six times and finally killed him. It's hard to believe willpower and bloody-mindedness can keep a deadly condition at bay for 30 years, but that seems to have been the case. Family and doctors helped, of course. He tells the story here without self-pity. Sinclair's friendships and admirations were ecumenical. He was a fan of Zhu Rongji and Rupert Murdoch, of Tsang Yok-sing and Szeto Wah. He knew absolutely everyone in Hong Kong for decades. There is a very strong and valuable sense in this book of Hong Kong as a community, embracing equally tycoons and hawkers, New Territories villagers and grandees on The Peak. Sinclair's job as a reporter gave him access to all these people, and so did his curiosity and openness. This book is something of a love letter to that Hong Kong. It's only in the last chapters that some of his broad-mindedness seems to falter. He expresses irritation with the pan-democrats, whose demands seem unreasonable to him. It's a point of view, of course. But Sinclair was such a Hong Kong partisan that it's as if, near the end of his life, he didn't like the idea of anyone challenging the notion that everything was all right here, in a community to which we all equally belong. But Hong Kong is not really knowable as that place any more.