Of Gods and Mobsters is a 2013 anthology of short stories published by the Hong Kong Writers Circle (you may recall that I participated in a podcast for the HK-based literary society). The Writers Circle publishes anthologies on an annual basis, and this volume in particular was recommended to me. I am pleased to report that the stories are excellent and the quality of writing coming out of Hong Kong is very high indeed.
The stories are grouped together into three parts: Of Gods, Of Tales, and Of Mobsters. Broadly speaking, the stories are split between the genres of magical realism and crime. The pervading theme throughout all are unique examinations of modern cosmopolitan experience—specifically within the strange land of contradictions that is Hong Kong.
The first and longest part tells stories of Western mythology in this Eastern-yet-international setting, which range from James Joyce-esque references to Neil Gaiman-style stories of ancient gods in the contemporary era. Several stories star the Mount Olympus pantheon, starting with Reena Bhojwani’s Hidden in the Night, an entertaining romp about Apollo and Zeus and Hera interacting in the city. Makes for very interesting juxtaposition.
The middle section, Of Tales, still fits with the style of the rest of the book. Aber Revisited by Joy Al-Sofi is a fable in the style of Kipling full of talking tigers, yet the tiger is represents Chinese symbolism. One of the best stories is The Standard by the anthology’s editor SCC Overton, a tragic science fiction romance about the fascinating concept of ethnic minority DNA becoming the future currency standard. It is a genre-bending story, very literary and very poignant. A futuristic banker of all people falls in love with a woman who is a Hakka specimen carrying her people’s genome for the sake of the economy. What a way to capture the essence of Hong Kong.
The final part Of Mobsters exemplifies the spirit of such themes by taking a myriad of story-telling directions. Some mystery, some even satire. Midlife Triad by James Tam is about gangsters in jail who are fans of ‘wuxia’ pulp stories. Guanxi by Edmund Price contrasts the rich (literately) high-life on the Peak, with corrupt Filipinos who break into the world of one wealthy man. I found The Curious Resemblance to the Case of the Speckled Band by Kim Grant very charming, an amusing postmodern take on Sherlock Holmes about a fan who happens to named Holmes who bumbles and strives to be a detective, and actually has a wife named Watson. And The House by Melanie Ho references the board game Clue (known as Cluedo in some countries).
Perhaps the best is saved for last with Ian Greenfield’s story Mr Tse and the Pied Piper of Homantin, which ties the entire anthology together well. The story is both a crime story, and an homage to fairy tales of old. A great satire full of quips on Hong Kongers complex relationship with mainlanders, the shallowness of pop stars, and the prevalence of parent’s dependence on tutors. Ostensibly a retelling of the Pied Piper (also with Snow White, Miss Muffet, and even vampires therein), Mr Tse finds a way to use its structure lambaste nearly everyone in Hong Kong.
Like any anthology, Of Gods and Mobsters has many different short stories of various styles and each may not suit all readers. However, no matter a reader’s preference it cannot be denied that the quality is always high. Not to mention, there are also poems of depth sprinkled within for yet more diversity if one isn’t just into prose. The only major criticism, as it goes with expat literature, is that much of it might only make sense if the audience is familiar with the area. One frequent phrase is “Fragrant Harbour”, which of course is a literal translation of the characters for Hong Kong, but that wouldn’t necessarily be known to most around the world. Nonetheless, for fans of the region the book is sure to have many stories exemplifying the spirit of 香港…
Available in Hong Kong bookstores and on Amazon.com.