The Road


Austin Coates

ISBN : 978-962-209-078-1

Literary Studies Echoes: Classics in Hong Kong Culture and History

July 2009

294 pages, 5.125″ x 7.75″

  • HK$195.00

Set in 1950s Hong Kong, The Road paints an evocative picture of comfortable colonial life, while at the same time presenting the local people with the shrewd understanding that the author had acquired as a District Officer in rural Hong Kong.

Perhaps the central character is the road itself, now easily recognized as the very real Lantau coast road. But in this novel, the road was an idea tossed off by the Acting Governor between cocktails in the course of a launch picnic. To Richard, the District Officer, the road was a challenge, something of his own to be achieved; an achievement, furthermore, that would spell progress for the Chinese villagers. To Richard’s wife Sylvia, an intelligent woman notorious for an ancient affair which she had publicized in a best-selling novel, the road was a new threat to a marriage already riven with complexities.

To the island’s villagers, who did not want the road or the changes it would bring, it was the end of a way of life and further evidence that the foreign devils were quite mad. And to the villagers’ more worldly kin, the road was a god-sent invitation to graft.

Austin Coates (1922–97), a former senior British civil servant in Hong Kong, Malaya, and Sarawak, left government service soon after completing this novel to pursue a professional writing career. Widely regarded as the most distinguished English-language author in Hong Kong, Coates remained a long-time Hong Kong resident, later dividing his time between Hong Kong and Portugal, where he died. Among his other books are The City of Broken Promises—a novel of eighteenth-century Macao—and two histories: A Macao Narrative and Macau and the British. All three books are also available in the Echoes series from Hong Kong University Press.

“In this novel Austin Coates offers a unique insight into the small world of Britain’s Chinese colony of Hong Kong in the 1950s. The Road shows us the brittle comedy of colonial manners; but at the same time the drama of the construction of a road, with its clash between ambitious modernization and entrenched tradition, emerges as something of an allegory of the building of a modern Hong Kong. Coates was an astute observer of what happens when cultures misunderstand each other, but also of what happens when they understand each other only too well.” —Douglas Kerr, Professor of English, University of Hong Kong and author of Eastern Figures: Orient and Empire in British Writing

“Affectionately yet acutely drawn, and written in a charming style that will resonate with discerning readers, The Road elegantly evokes rural and urban life and people from a vastly different, yet relatively recent, era in Hong Kong’s past.” —Jason Wordie, Hong Kong author and historian