Nostalgia is a Strange Thing

I was hugely honored to have been asked to write the forward to IMPRINT 19, the Hong Kong Women in Publishing Society’s annual anthology—a terrific collection of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and artwork by the Society’s talented members. Ironically, well before the virus prevented me from returning to Hong Kong this spring, nostalgia and the idea that we can’t go back was already on my mind.


My mother Isabel in Hong Kong, ca. 1951

“Memory believes before knowing remembers.”—William Faulkner

Nostalgia is a strange thing. Its Greek roots nostos (“return home”) and algos (“pain”) express a tender longing to go back to our origin, suggesting that “home” is magically suspended in time, intact and embracing, so long as we can physically get there.

Yet history has proven that we usually can’t go back, and the reason for leaving home in the first place was because it had changed, or was about to change, irrevocably. What nostalgia doesn’t address—or perhaps we choose to ignore—is the likelihood that our home is no longer there as we knew and loved it. Perhaps this is why it hurts so: not just the unrequited yearning in looking back, but the admission that “home” has been lost beyond recognition.

As fire burns and glass shatters across our hometown, is it wrong to feel nostalgic about Hong Kong even before its next transformation is complete?

Women of WiPS, please keep writing about our beloved city—whether your words delight or distress, these are the memories that we will one day cherish.