Cecily's Reviews > Gweilo: Memories Of A Hong Kong Childhood

Gweilo by Martin Booth
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Aug 13, 2014

really liked it
bookshelves: biog-and-autobiog, china-japan-asia

Autobiography of an English boy of aged 7 - 9 growing up in Hong Kong in the 50s. Exploring on his own (infamous Kowloon walled city; wild bits of The Peak etc), and also the contrast in the way his parents adapted to the life of expats, and their new "home". His father was a mean-spirited man with chips on his shoulder and a drink problem, but in describing all his mother's little asides to him (Martin) about his father, it actually makes her look vindictive and underhand - probably the opposite of his intention.

In my formative years, I was at boarding school (in England), where my best friend was an expat from Hong Kong, and there were many Hong Kong Chinese girls as well. I was captivated by everything I heard about HK, and longed to go. I first went between school and university to stay with my friend and her family, and it exceeded everything I'd hoped for. Part of the appeal of this was learning a little of what her childhood might have been like were she ten years older.

5 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Gweilo.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

08/01 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Ed (new) - rated it 5 stars


I disagree with your interpretation of how Martin's mother came across as "vindictive" or "underhanded". I think her asides to Martin were far less derogatory than her direct comments to her ass of a husband.

The only even slightly inappropriate comment was when she told him after a particularly challenging interaction with his father that if it wasn't for him, Martin, she'd leave his father.

A more plausible explanation for her behavior was that she had no one else to share her frustration with; certainly not her fellow ex-pat wives who might gossip and hurt her husband's job prospects and certainly not her Chinese friends who, even if they did understand, would see it as a tremendous loss of face.

Her rare leaks, in the context of the location and the story, were neither vindictive nor underhanded but totally understandable and forgivable.

Cecily Hmm. Perhaps vindictive is too strong a word, but I still think his mother's asides, whilst to some extent understandable, were at the very least mean-spirited and something she should have tried not to say in front of her son.

I expect you grew up in a different sort of family from me and that is why we have such a different perspective.

message 3: by Ed (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ed A question: if you were married to a man who took every opportunity to put you and your child down and who refused every reasonable request to treat both of you as human beings and who continually acted the ass, how would you react if you had no one but your child to vent with?

Maybe bearing up no matter what is a good thing but I strongly doubt it.

Though, it has little to do with my interpretation of Martin's mothers actions, I come from a very dysfunctional family where my parents never spoke ill of one another but acted out their resentments in very destructive ways or buried them in alcohol.

Cecily I hope I would have the courage to leave - because I have seen the consequences (for all parties) of not doing so.

message 5: by Ed (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ed C F S R wrote: "I hope I would have the courage to leave - because I have seen the consequences (for all parties) of not doing so.

I guess it was the ethic of the time. Divorce was a no-no and a disgrace in many families. I agree that leaving is the best solution to this type of dilemma but it was 1955 and they were in Hong Kong where it is highly unlikely she could have made a living, found quarters and supported herself and her child. She could have dumped him back in England and evidently didn't because they returned to HK four years later. Dependency often leads to manipulation and that is what she engaged in. Not pretty!

back to top