A young American journalist is in Hong Kong primarily to write a society gossip book about the Soong sisters, three Chinese women with incredible lives. It is 1940, and war is very much on the horizon, although the frivolous society of the British colony seems largely oblivious of the rumblings around them and is totally unprepared for the Japanese invasion.
The book is split into three parts. Part One covers the time before the invasion in which Stevie Steiber, the journalist, meets and falls in love with Major Harry Field, a British intelligence officer. Also onto the scene comes Jishang, a Chinese publisher who owns a political magazine. Part Two deals with the invasion itself and the terrible fate of the local people while Part Three ends the story in America.
All characters, other than the Soong sisters themselves, are fictitious but well drawn, and the time in which they lived is real enough, coloured by politics, corruption and drugs. I knew very little about Hong Kong and the way it was affected by the events of 1940-45, and I have to confess that Part One tended to drag inasmuch that I ploughed on more from duty than enthusiasm, but once the action started it got more and more ‘unputdownable’.
All in all a good read, but be prepared to persist if you don’t know much about Hong Kong politics in the 1940s.