I read The Walled City as a dystopian novel. Of course, I did. The novel has all of the elements of a world that has undergone some serious change that leaves society in a state of primitive chaos. However, when you get to the end of the novel, it turns out the story is based on a real place in Hong Kong.
The Kowloon Walled City (via The Daily Mail) was demolished in 1992, but while it existed it housed 33,000 families-- a stunning 50,00 residents within 0.010 sq. miles. Photographs of the city look like it could have been from the imagination of a science fiction writer, and you can see more pictures if you check the link above or visit Greg Girard's website (Girard collaborated with Ian Lamboth in photographing the city for five years before it was demolished.) While it existed, Kowloon City was the most densely populated area on earth.
What I considered to be world building as I read the novel was not simply from the author's imagination.
Although not a dystopian novel, the setting could easily pass as a dystopian world. The walled city of Hak Nam (based on the Kowloon Walled City) is the home of three young people: Dai, Jin Ling, and Mei Yee. The story is revealed from each of these three perspectives, and we gather information as the three lives intersect.
It is a tense novel, set in a dangerous and gritty city within a city, populated by the desperately poor and run by gangs. As I was reading, I was horrified by the conditions of Hak Nam; of course, I was thinking the entire time that this was an imaginary world, a dystopian setting. The plot and characters may be fictitious, but the world Graudin describes existed. A stranger than fiction experience, even if the reader doesn't realize it at the time.
The characters feel authentic: Dai, a young man who hopes to make a kind of amends and return to his own world; Jin Ling, a courageous young woman, scarcely more than a child, is on a mission to rescue a beloved sister; and Mei Lee, sold into prostitution, and initially, grateful that at least she is in a higher-class brothel, but who gradually finds herself surprised to be hoping for freedom.
The stories and intersecting goals of these three characters make compelling reading.
read in july; blog post scheduled for
Suspense. Nov. 4, 2024. Print length: 448 pages.