Evanescent Isles

From My City-Village


Xu Xi

ISBN : 978-962-209-946-3

Literary Studies

May 2008

124 pages, 5.5″ x 8.5″

  • HK$110.00

An unusual book of quirky essays, some deeply personal. Xu Xi writes from within, of Hong Kong’s vanishing culture and sensibility as it transforms itself into a space that is 21st Century China. She zooms in on her own life in the city: on family, friends and a professional history as both business executive and author, on moments that offer wry observations of the shifting world around her. She casts her eye on films, pop stars, public transportation, and muses on the political, without losing sight of the distinctly apolitical culture that evolved through a history as the former British colony and Chinese “Special Administrative Region” after the 1997 “handover.”

Like letters to a dying lover, the tone shifts—at times comic or nostalgic, at others angry or despairing, at still others in raptures of delight—in a voice that is utterly Hong Kong. There is no other book like it.

Xu Xi ( is one of Hong Kong’s leading English language writers. She is the author of six books of fiction and essays, including Overleaf Hong Kong: Stories and Essays of the Chinese, Overseas and the novel The Unwalled City. She has also edited several anthologies of Hong Kong writing. Recent awards include the inaugural Man Asian Literary Award shortlist, an O. Henry Prize Story, the first English language Writer-In-Residence at Lingnan University, and the Bedell Distinguished Visiting Writer at the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program. She is on the prose faculty at Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing, and also teaches writing internationally at various universities. A Chinese-Indonesian native of Hong Kong, she inhabits the flight path along New York, Hong Kong and the South Island of New Zealand.

“Hong Kong is too fast-changing a place, too disparate and too uncertain a place to be pinned easily to the page, but Xu Xi manages to fit her Hong Kong into an eclectic, perplexing and deeply personal account of her home city.” —Justin Hill, author of The Drink and Dream Teahouse

“It would be wrong to label Xu Xi’s Evanescent Isles a memoir. She is more cultural anthropologist and traffic cop standing at the diasporic intersection of the most exciting city in the world—Hong Kong—as political idealism, capitalism, economic tsunami, and linguistic imperialism converge on her, and there she is, waving her pencil with confidence and compassion.” —Shawn Wong, author of American Knees

“If you know and love Hong Kong and want to know and love her more, read Xu Xi. Her brilliant riff on the ‘city-village’ that is also her life moves through changing moods and times in a place of desire, dream and disappearance, sparkling, alert, searching—a real literary pleasure.” —Nicholas Jose, Chair of Creative Writing, Adelaide University; Judge of The Man Asian Literary Prize

“I’m impressed with Xu Xi’s essays. Her observations break new ground, frequently surprising the reader with her original perceptions. At the same time this new venture helps me better understand all the work of this well-known story-teller and to understand her unique and original perspective on Hong Kong.” —Leung Ping-kwan, author of Islands and Continents and Travels with a Bitter Melon

“In Xu Xi’s indelible memoir, she captures, in exquisite detail, the evanescence that is Hong Kong. Here, the fortunes of the island and Xu Xi’s family rise and fall together as the personal and political intertwine. This journey into history, class, culture, and place is urgent, insightful, and beautifully written.” —Sue William Silverman, author of Love Sick and Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You

“A respected and important voice in contemporary Asian fiction, Xu Xi proves her mettle as a canny and au courant essayist and observer of THE postmodern city, flitting back and forth in time and memory, filling in the minded gaps and reclaiming territory both new and old, as she casts a restless and nervous gaze over a beloved and exasperating city that she can and cannot call home, before the next tall building or shift in policy threatens to alter the view once again. Like Pico Iyer, Xu Xi can rightfully claim to be a ‘World Citizen,’ but unlike Iyer, she can also claim to be a citizen of a World City, Hong Kong, perhaps the poster city for the 21st century.” —Robin Hemley, Director of Nonfiction Writing Program, University of Iowa