From veteran writer Elegant (Bianca, 1992, etc.), a novel that gives star billing to Hong Kong and the upcoming Chinese takeover rather than to the pair of lovers whose creaky love story is ostensibly its subject. Elegant, who's been bureau chief for both Newsweek and the Los Angeles Times in Hong Kong, reveals his great knowledge of the enclave as he vividly details neighborhoods, activities, and local types--crass billionaires as well as humble waiters. His affection for the place is equally evident as he describes the people's concerns in the months leading up to the end of British rule, an event unsettling the lives of all those still living there. To give these concerns a human face, Elegant focuses on the story of recently divorced American Lucretia Barnes, an artist, and Robbie Rabnet, the son of a Tibetan father and an English mother. Ostensibly a civil engineer, Robbie is also a Tibetan patriot working undercover for the exiled Dalai Lama. Robbie and Lucretia meet on the street and soon become friends. Lucretia, who'd once enjoyed all the luxuries Hong Kong offered the wife of a leading lawyer, is now teaching part-time and painting while she decides whether to stay on after June 1997. Robbie, though deeply smitten, is not exactly candid with her, something that Lucretia discovers only after they've become lovers and Robbie announces that he has to go to Tibet on family and political business. Though nearly killed in a brush with the Chinese army, he comes back resolved to make a life with Lucretia--even if it means compromising his Tibetan roots and not marrying the bride his family had chosen for him. But the lovers, like Hong Kong itself, are doomed: A metaphor for our times, their schematic tale can only end badly. More a work of political punditry--admittedly sound and persuasive--than a lyrical celebration of love and romance.