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Paperback, 456 pages
Size: 129 x 198 mm
Sep 2007 (Asia)
Sep 2010 (North America)
Price: HK$95 /
inside this book
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Television is My Lie
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Bookazine (Hong Kong)
Hong Kong On Air
by Muhammad Cohen
As the Hong Kong handover boom fizzles
into the Asian economic bust, a young American couple's marriage and
careers tumble into a maze of television news, betrayal, high finance,
and cheap lingerie.
TV news veteran Muhammad Cohen's engaging, often hilarious novel
captures the mood ahead of the July 1997 handover when Hong Kong
reigned as the centre of the universe, a multicultural melting pot
bubbling with pure gold. As the Asian crisis abruptly ends the party,
mainland China emerges, eclipsing Hong Kong. For everyone whose job or
business falls under China's lengthening economic shadow, Hong Kong
On Air presents a fresh angle on how it all began. For media
watchers, Hong Kong On Air broadcasts the backstage secrets of
television news the way The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
illustrated the dark side of comic books.
For newspaper reporter turned TV producer Laura Wellesley, the
morning show at Franklin Global Networks Asia means going to bed before
dark and swallowing the first rule of broadcast news: the anchor is
always right, especially when it's American-born Chinese egomaniac Deng
Jiang Mao. The station's fortunes and Laura's outlook improve with the
arrival of Peter Franklin, the 28-year-old son of FGN's billionaire
founder. But Franklin's eye falls on mainland-born graphics drone Pussy,
Laura's control room nemesis, and a butterfly emerges from the web he
For Laura's husband Jeff Golden, the production line for his Golden
Beauties lingerie runs through a cagey mother minding their stores on
Long Island, cookie tins stuffed with cash smuggled over the border, and
hot tubs in Hong Kong's Jewish Community Club and mainland brothels. Cut
out of his own multi-million dollar deal, Jeff's consolation prize is
Yogi, a Japanese banker with a yen for "Jew food" and men
raised on it.
During Hong Kong's pre-handover boom, FGN Asia becomes a hit, a star
is born, and mistakes are easy to overlook. But the economic crisis
ripens relationships for treachery, creates opportunities for revenge,
and moves China centre stage, triggering a great leap forward for some,
a long march to failure for others.
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"In this irreverent
comic novel, The World of Suzie Wong meets CNBC's Squawk Box,
and sweatshop lingerie proves a harsh mistress. Hong Kong On Air
is a multicultural comedy of manners, a witty, gritty backstage look at
intersecting worlds during extraordinary times that all can relate to,
no matter where we live."
Tracy Quan, author, Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl and
Diary of a Jetsetting Call Girl
recommend the book as an antidote to non-fiction accounts that are
superficially consistent because the rising tide has covered up the
contrary evidence. The contradictions are still down there, they still
affect the surface waters, and they will be crucial the next time
trouble comes... Go out and buy this book for a fun read, for the sex,
for the characters, for the cynicism, for the language, for Asia or for
journalism. Or take one from column A and one from column B. But read
Aaron C. Brown's
"...a truly hilarious
satirical novel that reveals many of the mysteries taking place behind
the set in the fast-paced world of television reporting."
Jewish Times Asia
novel Hong Kong On Air pierces the crazy world of morning
television, where there is no such thing as stress, the anchor has an
enormous ego, there is lots of running around at the last minute and
somehow every day Laura manages, by the seat of her pants, to put the
programme out... His book at times is hilarious."
Annemarie Evans, Sunday Morning Post
comic romp through the frenetic world of television news at the time of
Hong Kong's handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997."
Asia Times. Chinese-language version
"It is often
said that expatriates in Hong Kong can be divided into two groups: those
who have arrived in the last 10 years or so and the ever-shrinking crowd
of 1997 handover holdovers. ... Hong Kong
On Air is a fun read, particularly for expats who may find more than
a little of themselves and people they know in its pages."
China Economic Review
Author Muhammad Cohen
was asked by Lonely Planet to report on the
Ubud literary festival, where he met such leading lights as Kiran Desai.
Read his thoughts on the
Cohen appeared on
Bloomberg TV with presenter Bernard Lo.
Watch the seven-minute interview online
Muhammad Cohen made
the TDM evening news in Macau following the launch of Hong
Kong On Air at Bookachino. Watch the three-minute segment on
with quick-repartee dialogue and richly larded with TV newsroom jargon
and local patois, Cohen mercilessly and cannily nails many of the
cultural foibles of both expats and local Hong Kongers."
fast-paced novel takes the reader along for an exciting ride of
betrayal, high finance and cheap lingerie, while also giving the reader
an insider's look at what really goes on behind the newsroom's closed
"For local readers,
Hong Kong On Air is a great way to remember what life was like when
our fair city was the centre of the universe, and see that while some
things have changed, Hong Kong's uniqueness hasn't."
a book that manages to encapsulate everything that was Hong Kong during
that crucial time, and immediately afterwards, in the case of the Asian
Macau Daily Times
betrayals, coincidences and other twists and turns add up to an
often-raucous comedy of errors, including much of good, laugh-out-loud
"Hong Kong is no
longer at the center of the universe and it is time to redefine itself,
according to American-born TV news veteran Muhammad Cohen. Speaking
ahead of the release of his first novel, Hong Kong On Air, which
looks back at the media frenzy during the 1997 handover, Cohen said the
city needs to find out what is unique about itself..."
Cohen was interviewed
on RTHK Radio 3 by Phil Whelan.
Listen in via the archive
"I would have been unhappy, had it not been for the copy
of Muhammad Cohen's Hong Kong On Air that came my way thanks to
Pete Spurrier of Blacksmith Books. My 15 minute bus ride was soon
transformed. Autocue, studio crew, harassed producer, prima donna
anchor, under-dressed starlet, gosh, the life I imagined I'd barely
stepped out of was leaping out of these pages. Autocue, panel, charts,
crosses, everything was so alive that I barely noticed I was past my bus
and medium-sized publishers are blossoming in Asia, which is
great news for writers here. Check out the website of Blacksmith Books
these guys are on a roll. I cant wait to pick up their latest
production: Hong Kong On Air by Muhammad Cohen. Its a novel
about a couple working in the TV media during the late 1990s, written by
a former TV station staff member. I met the author some years ago, and
look forward to seeing how this insightful writer turns his hand to
fiction. Besides, who can resist checking out a book by someone whose
very name appears to be culturally impossible?"
Mr Jam's Diary
A frenetic, obsessive, compulsive tale
of people from all ends of the world who converge on a congested,
self-absorbed epicentre of political upheaval. Muhammad Cohen's tale
about the chaos in the lives of players during Hong Kong's handover in
1997 brought back many memories to an old hat TV anchor like myself, who
lived through that moment in history... it's uncanny how much of my own
dysfunctional life I saw in his prose. Bernard Lo, veteran Hong Kong news presenter
"Hong Kong On Air captures the
soaring pulse of Hong Kong ahead of the handover and China's rise from
the crash that followed. It reveals timeless truths about television
news as seen from the hot seats on both sides of the camera. Muhammad
Cohen is a darn good writer. His sharp insights and pointed wit will
change the way you look at news anchors, bankers, 28-year-old heirs to
media empires high on nicotine gum, and Japanese food."
Lorraine Hahn, broadcast journalist
It's a pleasure to welcome Muhammad
Cohen to the fraternity of old China hands. If you've never set foot in
the Pearl River Delta, Cohen is the perfect guide to a landscape that's
at once completely unique yet fully integrated with the world. If you
know the region and its unique slice of Chinese culture, you'll have a
deeper appreciation for Cohen's sharp eye for the local scene. His cast
of Chinese and expatriates is alluring and exotic, yet completely
accessible and wonderfully human. Network boss Peter Franklin stands out
as the model son of a media mogul.
In Hong Kong On Air, Cohen is the first to make the literary
connection that it wasn't the handover but the Asian economic crisis
that was mainland China's coming-out party. Combining real history and
captivating characters with insider knowledge of media, finance and
mainland manufacturing, leavened with cynicism, wit and genuine heart,
Hong Kong On Air is the great American Hong Kong handover novel.
Laurence E. Lipsher, past president, American Chamber of Commerce of
the Pearl River Delta
"Muhammad Cohen was a well-placed insider
during the tumultuous Hong Kong handover. Only a thin veil separates his
account from what really went on during that historic time."
Dalton Tanonaka, veteran Asia journalist
"Three, two, one... A witty, clever and
all-too-accurate peek at personalities in a (barely)
functional television station. Hong Kong On Air is as much One
Country, Two Systems as it is One Great Read, Two Thumbs Up."
James Chau, television news anchor