Monday, December 14, 2015

China Mountain Zhang

Maureen F. McHugh
Completed 11/5/2015, Reviewed 11/10/2015
5 stars

This book is a collection of intertwining stories about life in a near future U.S where Chinese communism has taken over.  It follows the life of Zhang and some of the people who move in and out of his life as he tries to find himself career-wise and in his relationships.  He is an engineering tech, operating heavy equipment and he’s gay.  His journey takes him through his attempt to advance his education while trying to find happiness in a climate where he is considered a deviant.  The book is both moving and frightening.  Despite it being set in a mythical future, it’s a reflection of how difficult life was just a few years ago, and in places, is still today, for an LGBTQ or really, any person trying to find their place in the world.

What struck me the most about this book is how all the featured characters have low self-esteem.  For Zhang, it’s due to his career status and his sexuality.  For others, it’s a congenital defect making her ugly, a woman trying to make it alone on a Martian farm, and a man who’s lost everything except his daughter. Each person is trying to survive the difficulties of life with integrity and respect, but are often sabotaged by their own doubts and fears.  It’s something most people should be able to relate to, and I can particularly in my own current state in life.  It spoke to many of my own fears and the sabotaging tapes that play in my head. 

I really liked the form of the book.  It was basically a collection of short stories of each of the featured characters.  While they seem at first unrelated, they tie in together with Zhang’s journey, providing different peeks into the lives of people in this near-future dystopia.  Of course, what struck me the most was how not unlike the world was to our present.  People are still struggling, people are oppressed, and people make bad decisions.  But sometimes things come together and regardless of the circumstances, we can overcome our own self-destructive tendencies and eventually succeed.

The characters are all very likable, but my favorite was the tragic character of Zhang’s engineering tutor.  Zhang falls in love with this smart, confident man and they have a relationship.  It helps bring Zhang out of his loneliness while studying for his degree in China.  However, being gay is less tolerated there than in the U.S. and eventually the tutor succumbs to his own fear.  It speaks to the problems that many LGBT people still face today, struggling for societal acceptance as well as their own self-acceptance.  It’s still relevant and all too real for too many people.

I give this book five out of five stars.  I cared very deeply for the Zhang and the featured characters.  It’s one of the few books I’ve read recently where the characters really moved me.  

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