Susan Johnson Hungry Ghosts

ISBN 13: 9780743437776

Hungry Ghosts

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9780743437776: Hungry Ghosts
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In late twentieth-century Hong Kong, the relationship between two friends, both expatriate artists--Rachel Gallagher, shy, inhibited, and painfully self-conscious, and Anne-Louise Buchan, fearless and uninhibited--is undermined by Martin Bannister, a stunningly handsome man with a talent for reinvention, who comes between them. Original. 15,000 first printing.

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About the Author:

Susan Johnson, an internationally acclaimed author, has written four novels and the memoir A Better Woman. She lives in London with her husband and two sons.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One: A City Built on Forgetting

Somewhere in a room in the colony, a pile of stones is growing ever damper. They are made of sandstone of a rare, lucky colour, a buttery cream laced with pale, whitish veins. The sandstone came from China, beyond the colony's borders, and the bringing of it involved many arduous journeys. In the room, the stones are probably stacked neat as stones can be stacked, according to size and weight. Possibly they stand in impressive piles to the roof, forming labyrinthine canyons. The stones once formed Bonham House, one of the first and most impressive of the colony's structures, built to house imperialist army officers. These men must have thought that the stones beneath them, above them and around them on all sides would last forever, longer than their own bones. They must have stood on verandahs of creamy grace looking out at ships, confident of the future's cargo. Instead, Bonham House and its verandahs were later dismantled stone by stone and the stones carried purposefully to a room, while ruling men decided where they should be reassembled.

One hundred and fifty years later, the stones are still lying in the same room. No less than six different buildings have been erected and demolished on its old site, which once overlooked ships in a fresh harbour.

Nowadays of course the water is foul and no building is abiding. In Hong Kong it is believed that memory itself is dead, and that the past has no truck with the future. In the city of the new there is no room for ghosts and it is believed that history cannot follow you far. The colony's burghers have built a space museum to announce their faith in this belief, a splendid building situated on one of Hong Kong's most visible sites next to the harbour. Inside its strange timeless dome, visitors can make imaginary trips into space, into unplundered galaxies, to places with no human memory at all. At the museum's opening, a leading burgher announced with tears in his eyes: 'I hope to live to see the day when such space museums will be found in every district of our colony.'

As expected in such a place, its people live as if in perpetual fever, straining to arrive at the future. The present exists as a stepping stone only, a convenient spot to position your foot in readiness for movement. Indeed, the people of Hong Kong have a way of walking pitched slightly forward, as if leaning into a coming breeze. They picture themselves travelling unfreighted, unchased by earlier selves. Certainly they believe themselves unshackled from the past, from mothers and fathers, from memory. Around their heads the city of the new is in constant renewal, a permanent reminder of change. The concept of heritage has no coinage in a world proud to have no visible reminders of decay.

But even in Hong Kong the past has a way of rising up. The earth has a way of reminding you it has a memory, remembering seasons, the incipient leaf within the blackened twig, the tilt of its axis. The earth below the colony is in fact nothing but the past itself, layer upon layer upon layer. The triumphant city of the new is actually built on expired granite, a coarse crystalline rock particularly susceptible to disintegration and rot.

And do not forget that the very first of the city's buildings, a crude governor's residence built on a hill, was blown away at one stroke by the earth's breathing. This wind lifted ships of many tons high above the water, randomly dropping them onto city streets below. The governor's residence did not last the night, only the faintest outline of its foundations remained.

The rare stones of Bonham House escaped such a fate. They lie stacked in their cool forgotten room somewhere in Hong Kong, while once ruling men who considered them are long dead.

What is to become of the past's heavy stones, in a place which only acknowledges the future? What of memory, where does it go, in a city built on forgetting?

Copyright © 1996 by Susan Johnson

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