Crystal Boys – Hsien-yung – what our group thought

Some were captivated, others were bored.

This book has evocative descriptions and exotic place names. Some were disappointed in it because it didn’t seem to have any development nor tension, no beginning, middle and end, while one member suggested that Chinese story-telling is different in that it is cyclical, more interested in continuity and in how characters relate to each other.

For some, it read like a teenage diary with one event after another, with loose ends and no closure (like real life?). Cliches like a ‘rumour that spread like wildfire’ and poor vocabulary (which might be the fault of the translator) like ‘bundle of washing’ being mentioned five times in one paragraph.

We encounter real despair (‘What difference if a woman like me lives or not?’), poverty and disease. In a society so conscious of family, one main character is unable to go to his own father’s funeral because of the shame he has bought on his family. The characters never talk about their family backgrounds but look after each other with compassion, like a surrogate family.

We encounter folk religion and superstition, where the mother of a gay man thinks that his birth was a punishment for a previous life or because she prayed to a goddess for a daughter but she must have had a cold and misheard and where incense is offered to the Buddha for his dead mum.

In a charming reference, by rent boys to old guys: antiques ‘the older they are, the more valuable they become.’

Although we are in a strange, alien world, there is a passing reference to The Beatles and we do well to cast our minds back to Western gay literature of the 1970s.  It wasn’t terribly good, on the whole.

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