As someone hoping to get a novel published, it’s only right that I occasionally read a book from a writing friend, blogger or an otherwise beginning author who’s in a similar boat as myself. The book I’m talking about today is written by Ray Hecht, a fellow blogger who grew up in the United States but has been living in China since 2008. So it feels appropriate that his first novel is about the clash of Western and Eastern culture and how it affects different people differently.
South China Morning Blues is best described as a drama, with a touch of romance thrown in. Normally I don’t read this genre, but the subject does sound interesting and considering a couple of my stories take place in China, this book kind of doubles as research. There is a lot to like about how Hecht explores culture shock in this book.
The main focus of this book seems to be on southern Chinese culture and how different people see it differently. There’s a culture shocked ESL teacher and an aspiring model, both from North America, a businessman with questionable ethics, a talented young artist, a journalist and a number of other characters to offer different perspectives on their environment. Their lives interweave in interesting ways and toward the end, most of them intersect at a party in Hong Kong. In some ways it’s kind of a dark book, delving into themes of drugs, sex and to a lesser extent, greed, but by no means is this book depressing. Each of these characters feel fully developed, and each of them (save for the businessman) change over the course of the story.
My only real complaint is that it sometimes takes a while to figure out whose perspective you’re reading. The book is written entirely in first person perspective. Normally this works very well, especially when these characters are dealing with their personal struggles, not to mention showing different perspectives in some of the situations where they meet, but whenever there’s a chapter break or an interlude, it switches perspective and isn’t always clear to who’s. The characters do have their own unique voice and perspective, but some are more easily recognized than others.
Being someone who’s never been to China and doesn’t read too many dramatic novels, I don’t feel like I can say much more. That said, I enjoyed reading this, and would recommend South China Morning Blues to people interested in looking into Chinese culture, but would rather read fiction than non-fiction. It could also be an interesting read to those who have experienced culture shock themselves, even if their experience has nothing to do with China. Has this convinced me to read more drama books? Probably not. I do like my fantasy, science fiction and thrillers, but I would read another book from Hecht. Is there a chance this book will influence my own writing? Well, when I do another draft for my pieces that take place in China, I’ll probably at least flip through this book as a reference.
Also Hecht has a blog that talks a lot about China, whether it’s the art events he visits, some interviews he conducts or just amusing Engrish signs. Check out his blog here.