Golden Boy Memories of a Hong Kong Childhood

Martin Booth




Trade Paperback

352 Pages


Request Desk Copy Request Exam Copy
At seven years old, Martin Booth found himself with all of Hong Kong at his feet. His father was posted there in 1952, and this memoir is his telling of that youth, a time when he had access to the corners of a colony normally closed to a "Gweilo," a "pale fellow" like him.

His experiences were colorful and vast. Befriending rickshaw coolies and local stallholders, he learned Cantonese, sampled delicacies such as boiled water beetles and one-hundred-year-old eggs, and participated in vibrant festivals. He even entered the forbidden Kowloon Walled City, wandered into a secret lair of Triads, and visited an opium den.

From the plink-plonk man with his dancing monkey to the Queen of Kowloon (a crazed tramp who may have been a Romanov), Martin Booth saw it all—but his memoir illustrates the deeper challenges he faced in his warring parents: a broad-minded mother who embraced all things Chinese and a bigoted father who was enraged by his family's interest in "going native."


Praise for Golden Boy

"[Booth] has written an extraordinarily happy book, filled with hilarious set-pieces and pulsating with Hong Kong's vibrant street life. Unlike monochrome Britain, with its dull diet and pinched economy, Hong Kong offered color, variety and adventure."—William Grimes, The New York Times
"It rises far above private memoir. It is a vivid recreation of a lost time and place, and a quite unsparingly candid portrait of a marriage in disarray . . . Golden Boy rings true from first page to last."—Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post
"One of the most original and engaging memoirs of recent years. Personal, witty, and true."—The Times (London)

"[A] wonderful memoir [with] such pace and power."—Sunday Telegraph (London)

"Highly evocative. As a sharp-eyed, sensitive child of a vanished Hong Kong, Booth earns his nostalgia."—The Daily Telegraph (UK)
"[This] marvelously appealing memoir charts an enchanted few years of boyhood in post-war Hong Kong. Escaping from dreary old 1952 England on a boat bound for Hong Kong, Booth's mother whispered to him 'Aren't we the lucky ones?' And they were—their next few years on the island would be marked by such color and life as they'd never seen back in Blighty. Happy chance that Martin's father, an Admiralty civil servant, had been posted there; happier chance that he had a job that kept him out of the house all day, sparing his vivacious, fun-loving wife and intrepid son of his gloomy presence. Booth shares vivid scenes from 50 years ago, of a Hong Kong still slightly sleepy after the war, a place where a boy could wander the teeming streets unaccompanied for countless hours, and run across a cobra or a porcupine in the more rural pockets. Young Martin threw himself into the local culture, going fearlessly as far as his legs would take him—to local markets, mountainsides and even the lawless quarter run by the local mafia, where Booth was taken under the wing of a young thug who revealed their opium dens, brothels and secret meeting rooms, and then made clear what would happen to the boy if he ever told of what he'd seen. Through conversation and friendship with other friendly locals, young Booth also learns about the war, the conflict between the Japanese and the Chinese, the tactics of the communists and the fate of the hustling refugees who filled the Hong Kong streets. The author also learns what kind of a man his father is (not a very nice one), and what a woman of quality his mother is, exploring their relationship from the eyes of the child he was, interpreting it with the knowledge he has now. Warm and vivid, bursting with life and energy, this is a valentine—but a clear-eyed one—to a particular place and time."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"In this genial, absorbing memoir of life in Hong Kong during his civil servant father's three-year (1952–1955) post there, British poet, novelist and popular historian Booth recreates a time of wonder and recollects Chinese culture as absorbed by a fearless seven-to-nine-year-old boy. Booth makes the newness palpable as he evokes his first experiences with the taste of coconut juice, the glow of phosphorescent plankton and a rocky rickshaw ride. While his conservative father shies away from local culture, impromptu expeditions with his intrepid mother lead to a fortune teller, a leper colony and a Buddhist monastery. With innocence, insouciance and something close to a street urchin's freedom, young Booth soaks it up—a monkey ambush, a funeral procession, a typhoon, an opium den in Kowloon's Walled City—all the while stuffing himself at dai pai dong (street food stalls), hanging about the squatters' encampment, learning Chinese and spending time with characters he was warned to avoid—experiences he drew upon in his later work. No matter that the protagonist is a mere nine-year-old at the memoir's conclusion; this is a pitch-perfect, captivating tale for grownups."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Golden Boy
1PORT OUTFIFTY FEET BELOW, MY GRANDPARENTS STOOD SIDE BY SIDE. IT WAS A warm spring day, yet my paternal grandfather, Grampy, wore a grey trilby with a black band and an overcoat buttoned to his neck. From far off, he looked like a retired Chicago mobster. His wife wore a broad-brimmed Edwardian hat decorated with faded feathers and wax flowers, which, even at that distance, gave the impression of being on the verge of melting. Her mound of white hair being insufficiently dense to retain her hat pin, every time she craned her neck to look up at me, the hat slid off backwards and Grampy
Read the full excerpt


  • Martin Booth

  • Martin Booth wrote the nonfiction histories Cannabis and Opium and the novel Hiroshima Joe, among many other books. He began this memoir of his childhood after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2002 and died shortly after completing the manuscript in 2004. An internationally known, Booker Prize-shortlisted novelist and writer, Booth was considered an authority on everything from the history of Chinese organized crime syndicates to the conservation of the African rhino. Opium: A History is regarded as the definitive book on the subject, and he is the author of eight other works of nonfiction, eleven novels, and five works of children's fiction.