Timothy Mo Biography


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Two cultures meet in Timothy Mo’s life. He was born in Hong Konghis mother English, his father Chinese. When he was ten, the family moved to England, where he undertook a British preparatory schooling, then attended Oxford University to study history. Following graduation, he wrote reviews for The Times Educational Supplement and New Statesman. A bantamweight boxer, he also worked as a freelance journalist for Boxing News. He published his first novel at age twenty-eight.

Childhood in the British colony and frequent visits there after settling in England provided material for that novel, The Monkey King. Set in Hong Kong and nearby Macao during the 1950’s, the narrative focuses on Wallace Nolasco, a Chinese Portuguese man from Macao. A former Portuguese colony, the area shares mixed traditions from its Chinese citizenry and its European colonizers. Like his father, Wallace denies his Asian ancestry, considers himself Portuguese, and holds everything Asian in contempt. In Hong Kong, he identifies more with the British than the Chinese. There, he marries a Chinese woman from a prominent and extremely traditional family. At first he rebels against the household’s strict adherence to Asian customs, but after a prolonged struggle he accepts his dual heritage. In this novel and Mo’s second work, Sour Sweet, the cultural conflicts are tempered with humor. In Sour Sweet, Mo enlarges his scrutiny of...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

That Timothy Peter Mo is one of the most highly regarded of contemporary British novelists is supported by the prestigious honors bestowed upon his work, beginning with his first novel. Like its prototypical hero, Mo is a son of mixed parentage—his mother Barbara Helena Falkingham, his father Peter Mo Wan Lung. He was educated at the Convent of the Precious Blood School, Mill Hill, and St. John’s College, Oxford, which awarded him a B.A. in 1971, as well as its coveted Gibbs Prize. He won his next honor, the 1979 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, for his first novel, The Monkey King. This well-received work establishes both the subject and the essential style of all of his novels. Its focus is the cultural clash between East and West. Also marked by division is the author’s perspective, which falls between an ironic appraisal of human failing and a sympathy, even admiration, for the courage and resourcefulness of his main characters in coping with a world that is to them, in many respects, a foreign one.

Mo’s next novel, Sour Sweet, was shortlisted for the prestigious Booker and Whitbread Prizes, and it won the 1982 Hawthornden Prize. In it, a family of Hong Kong emigrants are newly arrived in London—not its most cosmopolitan part but a cultural backwater whose provincialism isolates them further. There is the clash between East and West again, but the emigrants establish only a tenuous link to the town’s Asian subculture, for the most part content to live largely as a world unto themselves. In an amusing twist of the old racial stereotype, all the whites look alike, especially to the family’s strongest member, the resilient Mrs. Chen.

Mo’s novels center on reconciliation, a theme unsuccessful only in his third novel, with tragic consequences that are more than figuratively monumental. In Sour Sweet, as in The Monkey King, this universal theme is well served, kept from cliché by the perspective of life seen as human comedy—Mo’s crowning achievement is a comic realism often likened to that of V. S. Naipaul. It is not merely the deft delineation of people and their language at which Mo excels; he also portrays their collision with a standard no human could possibly satisfy. All are subject to error, such...

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Facknitz, Mark A. R. “Timothy Mo.” In Contemporary Novelists, edited by Lesley Henderson. 5th ed. Chicago: St. James Press, 1991. Describes Mo’s efforts with skilled review of his first three books.

Ho, Elaine Yee Lin. Timothy Mo. New York: Manchester University Press, 2000. The first book-length work of criticism on Mo. Includes a short chronology, an opening chapter on theory, individual chapters on each novel, a survey of criticism, and a bibliography.

McGivering, Jill. “Timothy Mo Buries Hong Kong.” World Press Review 38 (August, 1991): 56. Provides a compressed but vivid picture of The Redundancy of Courage.

Ramraj, Victor J. “The Intertices and Overlaps of Cultures.” In International Literature in English, edited by Robert L. Ross. 5th ed. New York: Garland, 1991. An in-depth review of Mo’s writing skills.

Rothfork, John. “Confucianism in Timothy Mo’s Sour Sweet.” Journal of Commonwealth Literature 24, no. 1 (1989): 49-64. The viability of Confucian values as expressed in Sour Sweet is questioned.

Zhang, Aiping. “Timothy Mo.” In British Novelists Since 1960, Second Series, edited by Merritt Moseley. Vol. 194 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998. A comprehensive biography that analyzes Mo’s works.