Graudin, Ryan. The Walled City. Little Brown and Company, 2014. $18.00. ISBN 9780316405058. 424 pgs. Ages 13+. P8Q7.
This book really captured my imagination, largely because of the fascinating setting. Dai, Jin, and Mei Yee are three teens who, for different reasons, find themselves in trouble in Hak Nam, the Walled City. The storylines of the three characters become connected, and in the end, they depend on each other for their survival. In the book, Hak Nam (which translates as City of Darkness) is a mysterious, dark, and dangerous place. It is a slum area which is physically walled off from Hong Kong itself, and is run by violent criminal gangs. The book takes the readers into a world of prostitution, drug use (opium and heroin), and violence, including a rape and murder. However, the description of the worst scenes isn’t terribly graphic. Sensitive readers will understand what is happening, however, and the book could be disturbing. Dai, Jin and Mei Yee need to get out of the Walled City- there is a real feeling of urgency as the book progresses to get them out before all is lost. At the end, the storylines come together and we understand how the three characters came to be in this dark place, and why there is such pressure for them to leave. I was left wanting more- more description of the place and more development of the characters. This book could have been developed into one of those thousand page epics. Despite this, it was a satisfying read.
As I said at the beginning, the best part of the book, for me, was the setting, which lead me to investigate Hak Nam. It was a real place- Kowloon Walled City filled a 6.5 square acre area and was home to almost 33,000 people living in buildings up to 13 stories high, until the 90’s when it was demolished by the Chinese government. It had no real government; neither Britain nor China really wanted to take it on, so just left it to run itself. Besides the criminal syndicate (the Triads), the Walled City was a home to unlicensed factories and clinics (especially dental for some reason). Along with all of the darkness and despair, there was a huge amount of creativity and innovation present in this place, and the anarchic system somehow survived.
If you’re interested in learning more, I found some great sources of background information: a youtube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dj_8ucS3lMY) , and two websites: http://gadling.com/2009/11/04/dim-sum-dialogues-kowloon-walled-city/ and
May 2015 review by Carol Schramm.