The price of development and the burden of loss
It is 1987 and three years since Britain signed the Joint Declaration agreeing to hand over its last colony, Hong Kong, to China in 1997. With that declaration comes the promise that the city will remain unchanged for fifty years. But upheaval is already happening in Diamond Hill. Once the ‘Hollywood of the Orient,’ it is now a shanty town and an eyesore right in the middle of a glitzy financial hub. Buddha, a recovering heroin addict, returns home to find the shabby neighborhood being bulldozed to make room for gleaming towers. Buddhist nuns, drug gangs, property developers, the government, and foreign powers each have itchy palms, and all want a piece of Diamond Hill. Kit Fan’s hard-hitting and exhilarating debut is a requiem for a disappearing city, as well as a meditation on powerlessness, religion, memory, and displacement.
1. Did you get attached to any of the characters more than the others? Was there a particular character whose fate you felt more invested in? Why do you think that is?
2. Or did the characters remain complex and somewhat unknowable to you? If so, why do you think the author chose to portray them like this?
3. What role do you feel drugs played, or religion, or capitalism in the downfall of Diamond Hill, and how did these roles overlap?
4. What do you imagine will happen to those who have been displaced?
5. Can you think of any other areas, perhaps closer to home, wherever that may be, that are also being bulldozed out of the landscape? Does the pattern appear to be the same?
6. What would you say are the main themes of Diamond Hill and how are these portrayed?
7. The book is rich with the atmosphere and bustle of 1980s Hong Kong—could you feel this? Were there any particular scenes or details that stood out to you or that stick in your mind?
8. Can you imagine Diamond Hill’s glitzy past? What do you think happened in the time between its “Hollywood of the Orient” heyday and the present in which the story takes place?
9. Imagine Diamond Hill as a microcosm of Hong Kong: what role does colonialism play in the novel and how does it connect to the changes happening in the city?
10. Could Buddha have done anything differently, in his relationships with Quartz, Boss, Audrey Hepburn, or the Iron Nun, for example? Could he have changed or saved anyone? Should he have?
11. Do you think Buddhism is important to the characters and the shanty town? Why? How does Buddhism shape the novel’s structure and narrative?
12. Who do you think is Boss’s mother? Does the question of motherhood matter to any characters, the novel, and perhaps Hong Kong?
13. How do you imagine Boss’s future in Hong Kong or somewhere else? Why does the idea of leaving the city matter so much to her?
14. And what will become of Buddha? Do you think he has made peace with his past? Was he right to do what he did at the end? Has he perhaps saved himself?
15. The final chapter is called “The Awakening of Insects”—why do you think this is? Is this an optimistic title? Does the book have an optimistic ending?
Praise for Diamond Hill
“Shifting between the austerity of the convent and the squalor of the shantytown, Mr. Fan creates a textured, unsettled portrait of a territory facing a decisive ending…The dark drama that unfolds is an elegy to that vanished vanishing world.”
Wall Street Journal
“Fan’s evocative debut portrays a Hong Kong in transition…Fan brings poetic language and moving tributes to descriptions of the lost neighborhood…the novel’s aching beauty makes an effective argument for remembering.”
“Fan deftly mixes the sacred with the profane, often on the same page. Just when you decide there’s no room for holiness amid the wreckage, you realize there may in fact be no other option.’’
“Raw and authentic Hong Kong. Writing at its best. This book is exceptionally good.”
CHRIS THRALL, bestselling author of Eating Smoke
“I enjoyed Diamond Hill very much. It’s fantastically evocative of a time and place, full of vivid images but never at the expense of story. A hugely impressive first novel.”
DAVID NICHOLLS, bestselling author of One Day and Us
“Kit Fan’s admirable debut novel Diamond Hill gives us the heart and soul of Hong Kong. Fan captures, with profound empathy, the temporary and precarious nature of the city. His motley crew— a former heroin addict, Buddhist nuns and prostitutes who have fallen from grace, a teenage gangster girl who runs a triad drug operation, among others —inhabit their Kowloon village before time destroys it. They are familiar figures who embody the very contradiction of being a 香港人 regardless of class, culture or even race. Despite disappearance and destiny, memory preserves the city’s past along with the Cantonese language in all its rich expressiveness and slang. We look forward to more from this author.”
XU XI 許素細, author of Habit of a Foreign Sky, The Unwalled City, Dear Hong Kong, Insignificance: Hong Kong Stories
“An extraordinary book. I can’t remember reading something so terrifying, amazing, moving, and complicatedly fascinating. The characters brand themselves immediately and we know them completely and not at all. The interweaving of the political and the private is startling. It makes such a complete world and shows you how precarious complete worlds are.”
ADAM PHILLIPS, author of Attention Seeking and Becoming Freud
“Diamond Hill is dramatic yet subtle, global yet local, historical yet contemporary, and in Kit Fan’s hand the world, its character, and the politics of Diamond Hill soar majestically.”
SHARMAINE LOVEGROVE, publisher