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The Impossible City: A Hong Kong Memoir

by Karen Cheung
Hong Kong is known as a place of extremes: a former colony of the United Kingdom that now exists at the margins of an ascendant China; a city rocked by mass protests, where residents rally—often in vain—against threats to their fundamental freedoms. But it is also misunderstood, and often romanticized. Drawing from her own experience reporting on the politics and culture of her hometown, as well as interviews with musicians, protesters, and writers who have watched their home transform, Karen Cheung gives us a rare insider’s view of this remarkable city at a pivotal moment—for Hong Kong and, ultimately, for herself.

Born just before the handover to China in 1997, Cheung grew up questioning what version of Hong Kong she belonged to. Not quite at ease within the middle-class, cosmopolitan identity available to her at her English-speaking international school, she also resisted the conservative values of her deeply traditional, often dysfunctional family.

Through vivid and character-rich stories, Cheung braids a dual narrative of her own coming of age alongside that of her generation. With heartbreaking candor, she recounts her yearslong struggle to find reliable mental health care in a city reeling from the traumatic aftermath of recent protests. Cheung also captures moments of miraculous triumph, documenting Hong Kong’s vibrant counterculture and taking us deep into its indie music and creative scenes. Inevitably, she brings us to the protests, where her understanding of what it means to belong to Hong Kong finally crystallized.

An exhilarating blend of memoir and reportage,
The Impossible City charts the parallel journeys of both a young woman and a city as they navigate the various, sometimes contradictory paths of coming into one’s own.
in Memoir, Biography and Storytelling
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Published February 2022

Random House

Hardcover, 352 pages

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“Through [Cheung’s] graceful writing . . . we learn about Hong Kong’s many different worlds and social strata, and her struggles to find her place. . . . Her lyrical book is part diary and part love letter to her hometown.”—The Washington Post