A boldly rendered—and deeply intimate—account of Hong Kong today, from a resilient young woman whose stories explore what it means to survive in a city teeming with broken promises.
“Hums with the thrill of being lost in this massive, haunted, mythologized, neon city, yet finding oneself in the end.”—Hua Hsu, author of A Floating Chinaman
ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS OF 2022—Entertainment Weekly, PureWow
Hong Kong is known as a place of extremes: a former colony of the United Kingdom that now exists at the margins of an ascendant China; a city rocked by mass protests, where residents rally—often in vain—against threats to their fundamental freedoms. But it is also misunderstood, and often romanticized. Drawing from her own experience reporting on the politics and culture of her hometown, as well as interviews with musicians, protesters, and writers who have watched their home transform, Karen Cheung gives us a rare insider’s view of this remarkable city at a pivotal moment—for Hong Kong and, ultimately, for herself.
Born just before the handover to China in 1997, Cheung grew up questioning what version of Hong Kong she belonged to. Not quite at ease within the middle-class, cosmopolitan identity available to her at her English-speaking international school, she also resisted the conservative values of her deeply traditional, often dysfunctional family.
Through vivid and character-rich stories, Cheung braids a dual narrative of her own coming of age alongside that of her generation. With heartbreaking candor, she recounts her yearslong struggle to find reliable mental health care in a city reeling from the traumatic aftermath of recent protests. Cheung also captures moments of miraculous triumph, documenting Hong Kong’s vibrant counterculture and taking us deep into its indie music and creative scenes. Inevitably, she brings us to the protests, where her understanding of what it means to belong to Hong Kong finally crystallized.
An exhilarating blend of memoir and reportage, The Impossible City charts the parallel journeys of both a young woman and a city as they navigate the various, sometimes contradictory paths of coming into one’s own.
Karen Cheung’s perspective of The Impossible City is an enlightening one. Having been raised in HK, she attended both an international and public school before college. The tension between the socioeconomically well-off students and the locals is so prevalent that language alone is a topic for debate. It didn’t occur to me how the Asian American/Asian Westernized writers’ community can act as a gatekeeper for writers from Asia who write in both English and their native language. There needs to be some sort of resolution to invite writers from the East and West to come together and recognize that the English language is yet another colonial power structure to perpetuate classist ideals. I appreciate Cheung’s honesty about her mental health struggles and the cultural taboos that go with it in HK/Asian society. I need to read more about the stigmas of mental health struggles in Asian society, separate from the Asian American experience. Go give this book a read if you want to learn more about the aftereffects of the British Handover of Hong Kong back to the PRC. You won’t be disappointed.