Book Review: The Goddess of Macau by Graeme Hall

The Goddess of Macau, by Graeme Hall, is filled with a tapestry of language that pulls me into worlds and cultures unfamiliar to me in many ways. However, as I ponder these eight powerful short stories, I am struck more by the commonality of human emotion and connection that reaches across cultural divides. Hall reminds me that while our differences make for a richly woven world, full of variations and wonder, it is also important to remember the human hopes, dreams and fears that connect us all together.

There’s always time for Tea

“I watch as the pearls unfold in the water and a fragment of jasmine petal drifts amongst the unravelling leaves.”

A Short History of Chinese Tea, Graeme Hall, The Goddess of Macau

Lei-Wai is hopeful. She is trusting. She reminds me of my own youth and the idea I had that somehow everything might unfold neatly, with bad thoughts being far from my mind. This is what we have in common, this human kind of naivete and the memory of straddling girlhood to womanhood with so much hope.

It’s hard for me to imagine being part of an arranged marriage and though I don’t pass any judgment on it, it’s simply beyond my experience. When we are introduced to Lei-Wai in A Short History of Chinese Tea, she is being introduced to her future husband. This meeting is brief and Lei-Wai is careful to make sure she does all the right things, behaves in just the right ways to make this match successful. She is serving tea and it strikes me that she is the petal not quite opened, drifting amongst those that have already unravelled and are deciding her life path.

Hall is clever in the telling of this story. Throughout we are introduced to different kinds of teas and they pair with the stages of Lei-Wai’s life. Her situation moves from bad to worse as the jasmine pearls unravel and open. In this way, she is steeped in her own experience, becoming stronger the longer she steeps in hot water.

Time changes, Lei-Wai changes and her tea preferences change. Though she goes through difficult circumstances, each passage is brief. Hall doesn’t dwell in the morbid details, but gives us just enough to put together this story. In this way, I’m sipping on the prose and thinking about how my own life has unfolded and how I’m drinking tea that I never thought I would enjoy as a young girl.

The More You Know

“I was being overwhelmed by the future, deafened by the fates of those around me.”

An Apartment on Coloane, Graeme Hall, The Goddess of Macau

An Apartment on Coloane addresses the complexity of human desire to want and need to know about the future in the humble setting of an old man’s apartment. This man is what he calls ‘the real deal’. He can see into the future and people come to him for answers. What is striking from the outset is the fact that although the apartment has been pared down to very few possessions, the mind of the narrator is crowded with not only the future but memories from the past. This deft juxtaposition highlights the human struggle to hang onto things and let go of things in both a material and emotional way.

Our narrator is tired and coming to the end of his life. He is careful to tell us that his attempts at living a ‘normal’ life have been thwarted by this special gift that he has to see into the future. I’ve often thought that it would be nice to know certain things, but maybe I only think that because it is the good and hopeful things I wish to know. With so much uncertainty in the world right now, it would be tempting for me to make a deal to know certain things like: when will the pandemic end? or what will be the outcome of the 2020 US Presidential election?. In truth though, I’m only prepared to cope with certain answers to those questions. The old man is also clear with us: he often gives bad news. He states that often people only come to ask for answers when they are in doubt. And usually, that doubt comes from a gut feeling that something is wrong. Some people call this intuition.

On this particular day in the story, Miss Choi comes to see him for answers about her mother’s illness. While the old man has a clear code of conduct that says he will not lie to his clients, he is also careful about how much he tells them. How much do they want to know? Hall crafts the story so that we move back and forth in time, from memories to the future, to the present. This incredible, compact tale ends with a twist that connects the past to the future and in the end we are witnesses to psychic inheritance that transcends time.

In Conclusion

The Goddess of Macau by Graeme Hall is full of surprising insights packed into characters, places and emotions that are unforgettable. Though we may all live physically far apart and experience different cultures, Hall brings forward the idea of a human culture and connection that serves as a bridge instead of a divide. These stories kept me captivated and moving from one page to the next and I was sorry to see it end. I hope to be able to read more from this talented author!

The Goddess of Macau, by Graeme Hall is currently available to order through Fly on The Wall Press.


About the Author

GRAEME HALL lived in Hong Kong from 1993 to 2010 and still keeps a close connection to the city. His first novel was set in Hong Kong and Shanghai over the period 1996/97 and most of his writing comes from his love of that part of the world. Graeme first visited Macau in 1993 and he quickly became fascinated by the oldest European settlement in Asia.
He has won the short story competitions of the Macau Literary Festival and the Ilkley Literature Festival, and his writing has been published in anthologies by Black Pear Press and the Macau Literary Festival. He is an active member of the Leeds Writers Circle whose members have been a constant source of advice, support and encouragement. Graeme lives in Calderdale, West Yorkshire with his wife and a wooden dog.

About the Publisher

FLY ON THE WALL PRESS is a social enterprise company and a not for profit publisher, based in Manchester. We publish high quality anthologies on pressing issues, chapbooks and poetry products, from exceptional poets around the globe, with socially conscious themes.