Jan Morris (Penguin Books, first published 1988, reprinted with new introduction 2000)
Writing before the handover to the Chinese in 1997, Morris describes life as it was under British rule. While clear-sighted about the failings of empire, Morris mourns the passing of the frontier spirit she claims has all but disappeared. Her book is a hymn to the island colony, a cavalcade of colourful characters and an authoritative historical account.
When Heaven and Earth Changed Places
Ly Ly Hayslip (Plume, first published 1986)
Hayslip’s memoir of her childhood in the Central VietnamesevillageofKy Lais the story of many peasant families who suffered during the ‘American’ war. Sentenced to death at 14, for spying for the Viet Cong, she was raped instead, but managed to escape. Alone, she survived the years of war, eventually working as a prostitute, then left to live inCaliforniawhen she was aged 20. Her return, decades later, reunites her with surviving family members from both sides of the conflict.
Slow Boats to China
Gavin Young (Penguin Books, first published 1981)
For anyone who has ever wanted to run away to sea, Gavin Young’s tale of his journey on 23 boats and ships betweenGreeceandCantonis a lyrical ode to this leisurely mode of travel, while his sketches of locals going about their daily business make this account of theFar Easta treasure.