Pao, Paperback Book
4 out of 5 (1 rating)


SHORTLISTED FOR THE COSTA FIRST NOVEL AWARD I was just a boy when I come to Jamaica.

Kingston, 1938. Fourteen-year-old Yang Pao steps off the ship from China with his mother and brother, after his father has died fighting for the revolution.

They are to live with Zhang, the 'godfather' of Chinatown, who mesmerises Pao with stories of glorious Chinese socialism on one hand, and the reality of his protection business on the other.

When Pao takes over the family's affairs he becomes a powerful man.

He sets his sights on marrying well, but when Gloria Campbell, a black prostitute, comes to him for help he is drawn to her beauty and strength.

They begin a relationship that continues even after Pao marries Fay Wong, the 'acceptable' but headstrong daughter of a wealthy Chinese merchant.

As the political violence escalates in the 1960s the lines between Pao's socialist ideals and private ambitions become blurred.

Jamaica is transforming, the tides of change are rising, and the one-time boss of Chinatown finds himself cast adrift.

Richly imagined and utterly captivating, Pao is a dazzling tale of race, class and colour, love and ambition, and a country at a historical crossroads.


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This was another serendipitous find - having finished the book I was reading and not having my Kindle to hand i needed something to read on the journey home, and picked this up by chance as it was on special offer in Waterston'es at Trafalgar Square. It proved to be an intriguing debut novel from Kerry Young following the life of Philip "Pao" Yang who at the age of 14 flees from China in 1938 following his father's death. He and his mother come to live with his "uncle" Zhang who has already established a robust protection network within the burgeoning Chinese community in Kingston, Jamaica. Zhang is a committed adherent of Mao Zedong, and brings the young Pao up to believe in the necessity to display social responsibility, though this guidance is bolstered with immersion in the teachings of Sun Tzu.Pao grows up learning the ropes of protection, benefiting from the steady source of income but never forgetting the responsibility to help his "clients" when necessary. He falls in love with Gloria, a beautiful prostitute, though he marries Fay Wong, daughter of another senior figure within the Chinese community.The novel gives an interesting insight into Jamaican history (a subject about which I knew precisely nothing). Pao, despite his criminal activities, is essentially a very sympathetic character, and he takes great care of all of the people with whom he has any extended dealings.Very different to my normal reading material, but very enjoyable, too.