four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
21-Mar-Apr-2006
By: 
Martin Booth
user_rating: 
0

Memories of a Hong Kong Childhood

A-GoldenBoyIn 1952, when Booth was seven, his British civil servant father was posted in Hong Kong. For three years, Booth roved the streets of this exotic locale. His blond hair, symbolizing good luck to the Chinese, gave him entrée to dangerous but exciting places—the infamous Walled City, an opium den, a brothel, Mafiosi quarters, even a leper colony. Booth also learned pidgin Cantonese, tasted water beetles, and witnessed the dark side of the culture—and the disintegration of his parents’ marriage. While his mother embraced Chinese culture, his bigoted father feared his family would "go native." These years nonetheless marked the start of Booth’s lifelong love affair with his adopted home. "If the truth be told," he writes, "I have never really left Hong Kong."
St. Martin’s Press. 342 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 0312348177

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"It rises far above private memoir. It is a vivid recreation of a lost time and place, and a quite unsparingly candid portrait of a marriage in disarray. … Golden Boy rings true from first page to last." Jonathan Yardley

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Adding to this appealing memoir’s liveliness is Booth’s ability to vividly capture events, objects and moments. … Down to the last two pages the author leaves you wondering: Will mother and son bolt from this dolt [father] and remain in Hong Kong?" Roger K. Miller

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Golden Boy is a grand adventure, seen through a boy’s eyes but remembered by a novelist with a sensualist’s appreciation of sights, sounds and tastes. … He has written an extraordinarily happy book, filled with hilarious set-pieces and pulsating with Hong Kong’s vibrant street life." William Grimes

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"These experiences, while lived by a child, are conveyed with the clarity and adult wisdom of a superb prose stylist. … The backdrop to all of this, though, was a drama played out between Martin’s parents—his father the overbearing patriarch, his mother the spirited explorer." Alan Moores

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Golden Boy is full of lively anecdotes, but few would call it a page-turner. Like an old photograph, it is meant to be lingered over for its detail, for the moment it has captured. History buffs will be grateful for Mr. Booth’s painstaking descriptions." Emily Parker

Christian Science Monitor 3 of 5 Stars
"Booth does a good job of telling his story from a young boy’s point of view and paints a remarkably detailed canvas from his boyhood memories. But despite the scope of his adventures, the book is confined to the thoughts and emotions of a boy, giving it a somewhat small, contained feeling." Marjorie Kehe

Critical Summary

Critics agree that Booth vividly captures the sounds, sights, and tastes of Hong Kong—from Kowloon’s chaotic alleys to the stunning countryside. Simultaneously a portrait of a place, a childhood, and a marriage, Golden Boy should be savored for its wonderful prose and nostalgic, wise recollections. Booth, who died last year, wrote this book for his two children. Although he recounts his story from a young boy’s perspective, most reviewers were touched by the authenticity of his voice. Despite the noxious scenes Booth paints of his family troubles, Golden Boy is an uplifting and "loving tribute to Hong Kong, which in some ways hasn’t changed at all" (Wall Street Journal).