A Catalog of Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On , by Dung Kai-cheung. Published by Columbia University Press Dung Kai-cheung may be one of Hong Kong’s most original, lauded and prolific authors but for English-language readers the pickings have been slim. Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City , which he wrote in 1997, was the first of his books to be translated into English. That was in 2012. The translators were Bonnie McDougall and Anders Hansson. In 2017, a slender volume called Cantonese Love Stories appeared; this was their translation of 25 of the 99 tales in The Catalog , which had been published in Chinese in 1999. Now, all 99 “sketches”, as Dung prefers to call them, have been published as A Catalog of Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On . Again, the translation is by McDougall and Hansson but the English title, taken from a line in Shakespeare’s The Tempest , was chosen at the last minute by Dung. He studied comparative literature at the University of Hong Kong and his master’s thesis was on the French author Marcel Proust. Although there are certainly stormy moments in A Catalog , it’s probably best to summarise it as, literally, a remembrance of things past. Hong Kong in the 1990s: the (sometimes welcome) end of an era Windows 98, IXUS, Polaroids, MP3, PalmPilot, Fujifilm Digital Camera, Sunday (the former telecommunications company, not the day of the week) – the titles of the sketches convey Hong Kong’s lost world of 1998 and 1999. To anyone who lived through that era, Dung’s is a familiar yet strangely skewed city. In his pages, the British colonisers who’d departed in 1997 have left no trace, unless you count the British children’s series Teletubbies . At the same time, the youthful inhabitants seem to have little regard for their own culture. Instead, they’re obsessed with everything Japanese: songs, films, tech products, make-up. “Isn’t our Chinese food good enough for you?” complains an older man to a young woman who feels compelled to eat 100 Japanese cheesecakes and give another 100 to random people in the streets. While I was writing these stories, I imagined them as an historical document left by some unknown writer and discovered many centuries later Dung Kai-cheung Even while they’re chasing these fleeting trends, they know they’ll soon be obsolete. They pick up their developed snaps from the photo shops and scrutinise who they were, hours earlier. Their desired watches (G-Shock, Rolex Daytona) tick away their lives. A girl wants a Sharp Minidisc Player to record her relationship; when, at the climax, it fails to work “it seemed as if there were a dark shadow, humming”. One heroine has a little brother who suffers from premature ageing: “after turning ten, he was like an old man”. Another boy is called Antiquarius. Whether you’ll enjoy these brief tales depends on your taste for Hong Kong nostalgia and tolerance of characters who suddenly stop speaking (Miffy) or who dream their mouths have disappeared ( Hello Kitty ). Dung is often compared to the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges; the magic realism in A Catalog usually concerns transference between object and human so that, for example, a young man wearing his girlfriend’s fashionable leopard-spot hat soon develops blotches all over his face. In Bucket Hats, the heroine – spoiler alert – eventually does a Kafka and turns into a Japanese horned beetle. Dung, 55, says his inspiration came from late-1990s Hong Kong magazines. He’d go through them every week, pick a fashionable subject, then set his word processor so that he only wrote a single page. “While I was writing these stories, I imagined them as an historical document left by some unknown writer and discovered many centuries later,” he recalls in a video interview from Fanling, in Hong Kong’s New Territories. Although in public he’s usually seen wearing a hat, he’s bareheaded (“I thought it might be quite queer for me to wear one in my bedroom”) but obligingly disappears for a minute before returning in a Panama. Is he about to morph into a different being? Dung, who teaches part time at Chinese University, and has a mildly professorial demeanour, laughs. “Personally, I don’t have that kind of attachment to particular objects. Except these.” From off-camera, he produces two stuffed toys: a fox and a hedgehog, in homage to philosopher Isaiah Berlin’s famous essay dividing writers into the fox (who has many viewpoints) and the hedgehog (who has one big idea). “I’m both,” he says. “I want to alternate between the two kinds of mentality.” But A Catalog was definitely written by the fox … “Most certainly,” he agrees. “I think I have two sides, two faces, I can play with things, cross boundaries, incorporate different points of view.” He can take this to a distinctly meta-level: in The History of the Adventures of Vivi and Vera , which he wrote in 2005, some of his characters begin to rebel against their creator. They, too, are part-human, part-object. (An English translation, by Yau Wai-ping, was published in 2018.) Atlas and A Catalog are two of the four books in his City of V series. (The V stands for Victoria, the old name for Hong Kong Island’s Central district.) When he wrote them, he says, he needed to do more teaching and wanted to find a way of writing that was “flexible”. This explains the segmented style; later, he began to write longer novels. “Actually, I have been writing quite fast – almost every year I publish a new novel, which I think is too many. So I need to stop myself and go slowly.” As it happens, this reviewer adopted the same tactic while reading Dung. His world of pallid girls, trips to Cheung Chau (an island to the southwest of Hong Kong Island), dodgy housing estates, divorced parents, shopping malls and now-defunct gizmos is highly addictive, the equivalent of literary dim sum. But if you overdo it in one sitting, you can end up feeling a little dissatisfied and jittery; the advice is to sample these sketches in small batches. Then you’ll crave more. A Catalog is not intended to be a work of Proustian heft and although a character called Prospero makes a fleeting appearance (delivering goods in a minivan), the overlap with Shakespeare’s Tempest , says a surprised Dung on hearing this, is “unconscious”. He’d forgotten he’d chosen that name; and so the past retreats.