Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Made in China: The Great Wall by Z. Allora


Title: Made in China: The Great Wall
Author: Z. Allora
Purchase at MLR Press
Purchase at All Romance eBooks
Cover Artist: P.L. Nunn
Genre: Contemporary, BDSM, yaoi
Length: 244 pages
Formats: epub, mobi, pdf, print

There's no gay in China so what's the drummer of Made in China supposed to do about loving his male best friend when his family thinks he's engaged to the girl next door?

Jun "Styx" Wong's heart and mind battle to determine his destiny. His mind tells him to be a good Chinese son and marry the girl his parents chose, but his heart longs for his best friend, Jin, and life with their new band. "Jun" means honesty, but he's not even honest with himself. A quest to eradicate his feelings for Jin nearly ends his life. Styx's near death serves as a wake-up call for Jin, whose blond hair--legacy of his German father--marks him as different. Jin harbors secrets of his own. His experiences prepare him to take the drastic measures needed to help Jun overcome the walls surrounding them. Because there is no gay in China...

WARNING: This story contains a scene of dangerous sexual practices.


Review:

This book is a wonderful step away from what we’d consider contemporary romance—it is, but in China where we don’t understand how differently people think until we’re invited inside their heads. Where the problems and the solutions make perfect sense within a framework Z Allora helps us understand.


Being a good son and maintaining the family are duties Jun has been trained to from the earliest age, even though his desires run to his friend Jin just as long. He grows up dreaming of being “Styx” the rock and roll drummer, who is free to love whom he wants, and even gets a taste of this life. He knows how limited his freedom is, though, which both makes him seize opportunities and shrink from them, lest the pain of losing his paradise grow too large.

A lot happens that Styx never talks about, and Jin doesn’t mention either; they do a lot together without ever discussing what they do or what it means to them. So much sexuality is buried here, not only between Styx and Jin, but Jin’s job at the spa hints at a huge gay sex trade cloaked in euphemisms. When a more openly gay couple moves into the large apartment the two share, Jin and Styx have an in-your-face example of men loving men. (The Chinese real estate market is another subject where the author slides information in.) Indigo, who speaks Mandarin learned from books and whose words do not always mean what he thinks they do, grew up in the US and is baffled by the more repressive society. Li, his lover, is equally baffled by Indigo’s definition of a relationship.

The four of them coalesce into a band, later joined by a lead singer who brings his own stresses to the group. His story arc seems to be just beginning, so if there’s a sequel, I will be very happy to see what happens next for all of them.

I was depending on a happy ending, and the author does not disappoint. Styx’s return to being Jun Tai the dutiful son is coming at him like a freight train, and while we knew what would make everyone happy, how to achieve it was less clear. The author has a very good understanding of East meets West, though, and provided a solution this Western reader could see as perfect given the dynamics of East.

The setting is vivid, especially since the four young men have the opportunity to play tourist in the capital—they live in a “small town, only nine million” and relish the evidence of their heritage. The interconnection of family is strong too—uncles provide for nephews, fathers and mothers plan for sons, and grandfathers provide reality checks. Western medicine is poisonous and likely to backfire; the ancient methods help more.

The language of the book is a little formal, and actually has a flavor of Pearl S. Buck after the first chapter. The story starts in third person, switches to first person and stays there long enough to give some backstory, and then switched back to third person in the same character’s head, which was a little jarring.

This step into another culture was a wonderful love story, full of swirling undercurrents and the opposition of what Styx could have vs what he wanted—and what I wanted was for him and Jin to be happy. See me smile. 4.5 marbles


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