For Goodness Sake: The Afterlife of Suzie Wong

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 May, 2008, 12:00am

For Goodness Sake: The Afterlife of Suzie Wong

by Sebastian Gerard

UrbisMedia, HK$160

Suzie Wong has led a convoluted existence. The Wan Chai girl who falls in love with an Englishman was born into a novel by Richard Mason: The World of Suzie Wong, published in 1957. A year later, Suzie was resurrected on stage, with France Nuyen playing opposite William Shatner, of all people. Suzie then boldly went where no Wan Chai girl had gone before and became a star of the silver screen thanks to Chinese actress Nancy Kwan. James Clapp, writing as Sebastian Gerard, was clearly not satisfied with the story in all its incarnations, for he has constructed an absorbing novel about obsession, love, art and politics that pushes Suzie towards the 21st century. It is 1997 and Hong Kong is on the verge of the handover. Professor Marco Podesta is researching the ramifications of the social and political change when he steps aboard a Star Ferry. While his eye is stopped by a woman with a 'silky, raven-black pony-tail', his heart drifts to Suzie Wong. Podesta's fascination with Suzie's back story grows when he chances upon another beautiful girl, this time in a painting by Fong So. Mixing fact and fiction, flashbacks to Vietnam and atmospheric descriptions of Hong Kong, Gerard's novel is a romantic puzzle, a political meditation and largely a triumph.