Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Monkey King - Timothy Mo

This writer has been in discussion for a while, with the release of his new book Pure, which I guess was published after a long gap. Timothy Mo became a popular figure along with Salman Rushdie and Kazuo Ishiguro in the 80s after few successful novels. Like the other two, he too have a mixed background. Born to a Hongkong father and a British Mother, he too writers about the duality of culture and the life spent between Orient and London.

The monkey King, is his first published work and the only one I've read so far. Set in Hongkong, following the life and fortune of a rich business family, he explains the book is result of his early days in Hongkong. Hongkong , where the Portuguese ( in Macau), Chinese, British and Indian (due to British Influence during war) culture intermix is an interesting place. The World War is ended and Japanese have returned. The Post war depression is evident Wallace Nolasco, with his Potruguese background from Macau, is now married to the daughter of Mr.Poon, a wealthy businessman in Hongkong. Moving into his house, Wallace soon realised that all is not well for him at the new place. An autocratic family , with Mr.Poon controlling the affairs with his iron fist, had no power to either Wallace( his son-in-law) nor his wife beating son. A crowded house-hold which included many Amah's for house duties and a couple of unmarried sisters, apart from the Poons and his grand children. Wallace, status and his respect in the house is directly related to Poon's behaviour and Wallace realised that he was short sold and the promised dowry was not given.

His act of rebel did not have any direct consequences with no other support to his mission. However, he slowly changed the tactic to work around his wife and Poon's grand children. Often spending time outside the house, exploring Hongkong along with his wife and few other company, which seems to have caused some disturbances in the house. However, Mr.Poon had other plans. Using Wallace's connections and his easy going nature, he wanted to expand his business. Planting Wallace in one of the state agencies, and befriending the authorities, he secured a huge contract for rebuilding. The irregularities were found out and Wallace with his wife were moved to a farm house in the country to avoid any repercussions. Working among the locals and the revelutionaries, Wallace build his clout in the country as well , before he was called back to take over from an ailing Poon. The last par of the book is the rule of Wallace, on building his empire back.

A three part book, the first focussing on the Poon house , the second on Wallace's time in the country house and the third on his return and building the empire by himself. The language and style is something very similar to the books you read from the orient. The use of Hongkong diction and the local idioms, the mix of few local expressions were interesting to note. The sly humour which is in abundance is very entertaining, especially in the early pages with Poon family. By rebelling the Poon's Wallace is not only questioning the family, but some of the age old practices and tradition of the Cantonese living. He is an outsider, hence take the liberty to continue to be an outsider.

I am not sure of the connection with the old Chinese folklore of 'Legend of the Monkey King". However, I do feel there are some strong references to the tale of Monkey King to Wallace. The book is not too absorbing and engaging. The language is such , detached san emotion. Its a good book, but nothing spectacular to talk about.
The Monkey King (1978)

Timothy Mo


215 Pages
Confusionism in Timothy Mo's The monkey King, L A Times,

No comments: