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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Dung Kai-Cheung

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To purchase Atlas

Title: Atlas
Author: Dung Kai-Cheung
Genre: Novel
Written: 1997, rev. 2011 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 174 pages
Original in: Chinese
Availability: Atlas - US
Atlas - UK
Atlas - Canada
Atlas - India
  • The Archaeology of an Imaginary City
  • Chinese title: 地圖集
  • Translated by Dung Kai-cheung, Anders Hansson, and Bonnie S. McDougall
  • With a Preface by the author
  • With an Introduction by Bonnie S. McDougall

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting representational take on place and history

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Japan Times . 2/9/2012 David Cozy

  From the Reviews:
  • "Readers pleased by cliff-hanging, nail-biting, page-turning adventure will not be satisfied with Atlas. Devotees of writers as curious as Borges, Calvino and Eco, will love this map of maps of an imaginary city." - David Cozy, The Japan Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Dung Kai-Cheung is from Hong Kong, and despite this work carrying the subtitle, The Archaeology of an Imaginary City, this is very much a (creative) take on Hong Kong. In part, of course, the subtitle -- and the work -- play with the fact that all places are, in a sense, products of our imagination: they become what we make of them. With its focus on maps and cartography, Atlas hones in on the representational, and builds off of that.
       Atlas is divided into four sections that move from the general and (more abstract) to the specific -- 'Theory', 'The City', 'Streets', and 'Signs' --, with each section containing a dozen or so short chapters. Using actual and invented historical documentation -- maps (which are described, not shown) and accounts -- as well referencing fiction (Borges and Calvino are, of course, favorites), Dung's book tries to (re)create a 'place'.
       Dung notes:

Our age is crammed with so much knowledge that no space for the imagination is left.
       Yet much as even Borges' proposed 1:1 mapping of reality is doomed to failure -- yes, there's a chapter on that -- Dung's approach suggests there is, in fact, room for imagination left. And the games go both ways: one amusing bit quotes from "Japanese fiction writer Hiroshi Inoue", who describes spending much of his childhood in the late 1930s and early 1940s "drawing maps of nonexisting places" on scraps of paper -- only to find:
It was only in the 1960s that I learned that there was such a place as Victoria, and to my surprise the map of that city happened to coincide with the one that the lonely and introspective child had inadvertently made up in his utter boredom. From then on I knew that a fiction writer's greatest nightmare is to discover that nonsense from his own imagination is actually true reality.
       In her Introduction, Bonnie S. McDougall emphasizes how widely neglected Hong Kong literature is, and tries to make a case for it; Atlas, so obviously and completely grounded in Hong Kong (as both reality and concept) can be taken as a quintessential work of it, and should in many ways serves as a good introduction to both the place and its literature.
       Dung is specifically concerned with that locale, but the book is also far more general in examining how we (re)create and represent place -- and, most notably, what is lost in that sort of translation (and interpretation).
       With its short essay-like chapters, Atlas is an intriguing work to work ones way through, with both humorous and thought-provoking descriptions and anecdotes. Worth a look, and worth engaging with.

- M.A.Orthofer, 21 April 2012

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Atlas: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Hong Kong author Dung Kai-Cheung (董啟章) was born in 1967.

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