A boldly rendered—and deeply intimate—account of Hong Kong today, from a resilient young woman whose stories explore what it means to survive in a city teeming with broken promises.

“Hums with the thrill of being lost in this massive, haunted, mythologized, neon city, yet finding oneself in the end.”—Hua Hsu, author of A Floating Chinaman

Hong Kong is known as a place of extremes: a former colony of the United Kingdom that now exists at the margins of an ascendant China; a city rocked by mass protests, where residents rally—often in vain—against threats to their fundamental freedoms. But it is also misunderstood, and often romanticized. Drawing from her own experience reporting on the politics and culture of her hometown, as well as interviews with musicians, protesters, and writers who have watched their home transform, Karen Cheung gives us a rare insider’s view of this remarkable city at a pivotal moment—for Hong Kong and, ultimately, for herself.

Born just before the handover to China in 1997, Cheung grew up questioning what version of Hong Kong she belonged to. Not quite at ease within the middle-class, cosmopolitan identity available to her at her English-speaking international school, she also resisted the conservative values of her deeply traditional, often dysfunctional family.

Through vivid and character-rich stories, Cheung braids a dual narrative of her own coming of age alongside that of her generation. With heartbreaking candor, she recounts her yearslong struggle to find reliable mental health care in a city reeling from the traumatic aftermath of recent protests. Cheung also captures moments of miraculous triumph, documenting Hong Kong’s vibrant counterculture and taking us deep into its indie music and creative scenes. Inevitably, she brings us to the protests, where her understanding of what it means to belong to Hong Kong finally crystallized.

An exhilarating blend of memoir and reportage, The Impossible City charts the parallel journeys of both a young woman and a city as they navigate the various, sometimes contradictory paths of coming into one’s own.
“Karen Cheung is an amazingly good writer whose precise observations about Hong Kong puncture the gauzy clichés about mahjong and milk tea. In The Impossible City, she has produced an edgy, highly personal memoir about a generation living in cage-size apartments and confronting tear gas, electronic surveillance, cultural confusion, and depression as they witness the disappearance of the city they call home.”—Barbara Demick, author of Nothing to Envy and Eat the Buddha

“With her radiant prose and incisive reporting, Karen Cheung renders modern-day Hong Kong with evocative detail in The Impossible City. The word protest lingered in my head as I read Cheung’s words about coming of age in her constantly shifting city under the precarious specter of authoritarianism. There is an unmissable passion and intelligence in this story as Cheung weaves together cultural criticism and memoir, insisting that Hong Kong—her Hong Kong—is worthy of our close attention and love.”—Kat Chow, author of Seeing Ghosts

“In a book that should appeal to young protesters everywhere, the author eloquently demonstrates how ‘it takes work not to simply pass through a place but instead to become part of it.’ Hong Kong is in dire straits, and Cheung brings us to the front lines to offer a clearer understanding of the circumstances. . . . A powerful memoir of love and anguish in a cold financial capital with an underbelly of vibrant, freedom-loving youth.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Reflecting on the multivalenced reality of life in Hong Kong, journalist Cheung’s debut leaps from one charged historical moment to the next to capture ‘the many ways a city can disappear, but also the many ways we, its people, survive.’ . . . A riveting portrait of a place that’s as captivating as it is confounding.”Publishers Weekly