A Catalog of Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On
by Dung Kai-cheung. Translated by Bonnie S. McDougall and Anders Hansson
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Pub Date 21 Jun 2022 | Archive Date 28 Sep 2022
Dung Kai-cheung’s A Catalog of Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On is a playful and imaginative glimpse into the consumerist dreamscape of late-nineties Hong Kong. First published in 1999, it comprises ninety-nine sketches of life just after the handover of the former British colony to China. Each of these stories in miniature begins from a piece of ephemera, usually consumer products or pop culture phenomena, and develops alternately comic and poignant snapshots of urban life.
Dung’s sketches center on once-trendy items that evoke the world at the turn of the millennium, such as Hello Kitty, Final Fantasy VIII, a Windows 98 disk, a clamshell mobile phone, Air Jordans, and cargo shorts. The protagonist of each piece, typically a young woman, is struck by an odd, even overriding obsession with an object or fad. Characters embark on brief dalliances or relationships lasting no longer than the fashions that sparked them. Dung blends vivid everyday details—Portuguese egg tarts, Japanese TV shows, the Hong Kong subway—with situations that are often fantastical or preposterous. This catalog of vanished products illuminates how people use objects to define and even invent their own selves.
A major work from one of Hong Kong’s most gifted and original writers, Dung’s archaeology of the end of the twentieth century speaks to perennial questions about consumerism, nostalgia, and identity.
"Dung Kai-cheung is Hong Kong’s greatest novelist."
"Dung Kai-cheung is the most prolific and imaginative Hong Kong writer of the past three decades. His A Catalog of Such Stuff as Dreams are Made On is a fascinating and singular literary meditation on how 'objects' and 'stuff' affect people’s everyday lives, create meaning, and contribute to cultural identity."
—Michael Berry, editor of The Musha Incident: A Reader on the Indigenous Uprising in Colonial Taiwan
"These half-allegorical sketches by a uniquely gifted Hong Kong writer bring to us a nostalgic mosaic of sights and sounds of material culture about a city whose cosmopolitan splendor is fast fading. It is even more heart-rending to read them in English today than some twenty years ago when these astonishing literary tidbits first appeared in the Chinese original."
—Leo Ou-fan Lee, author of City Between Worlds: My Hong Kong
"Dung Kai-cheung is Hong Kong's greatest living writer, and this new translation is a cause for celebration, giving global readers another path into Dung's unique, uncanny Hong Kong. May it help bring him the wider international readership that is long overdue."
—Antony Dapiran, author of City on Fire: The Fight for Hong Kong
"Modeled on a remembrance of the Song dynasty capital city after it fell to northern invaders in the twelfth century, these vignettes record dreams of a bygone (yet never quite gone) Hong Kong with wistfulness and humor, translated by McDougall and Hansson with accuracy and elegance."
—Lucas Klein, editor and translator of Words as Grain: New and Selected Poems of Duo Duo
"I read the 99 sketches with a mixture of dreamy fondness and rueful melancholy. Dung Kai-Cheung deftly captures the city at a time of fundamental change in a series of offbeat stories of consumer products, objects and people. One couldn’t ask for better translators than Bonnie S. McDougall and Anders Hansson."
—Tammy Lai-Ming Ho, editor in chief of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal
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Average rating from 15 members
A collection of vignettes that provide, through a nostalgic lense, a glimpse into '90s culture and especially into the way it influenced Hong Kong and its youth.
For a reminder or socioanthropological read on HK culture in the late 90s, this book of sketches lets you in on all the pop culture of that time as experienced in the many stories of HK youth in the book. Did you know how much HK was influenced by Japan in terms of movies at the time?
At the same time as it is a reminder of life as it was, it also brings about some nostalgia for those who have visited or followed the HK culture of that time. Yet, there is no deeper insights and at times the stories, while different, blend in with each other, hence only the 3 stars.
Honestly the pop culture references went a bit over my head, but this is the book someone else needs to read. Representation!
A charming collection of quickly realized little worlds that are often surreal. There's a lot of popular culture references that are thankfully explained in the headnotes which does offer unusually clear insights into 90s Hong Kong culture.
A catalog of such stuff As dreams are made on, this is my first time reading an Asian author from China. The book read like essays, shedding light on a part, trait, habit of the character. It makes for great travel reading.
I really enjoyed how each short story was like a glimpse into both aspects if life in 90s Hong Kong and quirks of the character we're following. It was a book with a voice that very much acts to give snapshots of life and people. I did enjoy it quite a bit!
Dung Kai-cheung has created a 90s Hong Kong miniverse with this book. First published in 1999, it has no less than 99 tales which the author prefers to call sketches, which I think is the most suitable description. Short as they are, the sketches offer a kaleidoscope of characters and storylines, and the book can easily be used as a guide for creating characters aimed at aspiring writers.
The stories were published shortly after the handover of the former British colony to China and the spirit of recent independence–the exhilaration–can be felt even if nothing of the kind is ever mentioned. Kai-cheung offers a playful peek into the consumerist inclinations during the late-nineties and the overwhelming Japanese influences on the Hong Kong youths.
Each of the stories starts from a piece of pop culture or consumerist trend, thus providing a glimpse into urban life. Some sketches focus on once world-trendy items such as Hello Kitty, a Windows 98 disk, Air Jordans, cargo shorts; others are more locally specific, invoking a popular band or TV show etc. The protagonists, primarily young women, are somehow shot with an obsession for the object or trend. The relationships they get involved with are often short-lived, just as consumerist trends tend to be. The situations are often fantastical and tragicomical. Dung seems to be critiquing the way we define ourselves through products, objects and trends, something that has taken a brand new dimension in the world nowadays. The feeling I was left with at the end of each piece, even when utterly comical, was one of void and alienation. And I think this was Dung's goal: to evoke feelings of emptiness by drawing attention to the pointlessness of searching for ourselves in tangible things. Which is exactly what 21st century consumerism is all about.
I read this with utter relish.
Thanks to Columbia University Press and NetGalley for my advanced digital copy.
I’m really enjoying short story collections where you can pick up and stop as you go. It reminds me a little of People From My Neighbourhood and it’s bizarre characters.
We basically see a mere glimpse (a couple of pages) of people living in 90s Hong Kong as they go about their lives. Some stories are more memorable than others but that’s okay.
There’s a lot of Japanese pop culture references that went over my head, but luckily they’re explained in the head notes. A good one to read when you don’t want to focus too much or follow a plot.
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