It’s Jeff’s first time being so far away from home, and he’s doing it alone. While he’s been to Canada and Mexico for brief visits, Shanghai is oceans away from anyone and anything familiar. It’s a whole different world filled more noise and color and people than he’s used to, and none of it in English. While getting thoroughly lost on his first day of work, Jeff meets Greg, a friendly Chinese man who happens to be headed in the same direction Jeff is supposed to be going.
On their walk, Jeff learns that Greg is a fellow Californian, even though he’s from San Francisco rather than San Diego. Desperate for a friendly face, Jeff quickly offers his friendship and is delighted when Greg accepts. Soon the two of them are visiting touristy places, cafes, and dumpling shops, and trying out all sorts of Chinese food… when Greg’s work isn’t getting in the way. Every time they’re together, there’s an urgent phone call or text or summons from Greg’s bank. The two of them barely have any time together and Jeff is only in the city for another week.
Jeff has already fallen for Greg and while he knows it’s different in China and that Greg isn’t able to be out, he does rather wish there was a chance for something more than handshakes and apologies. As the clock ticks down and the days fade away, Jeff decides to take one last, desperate chance at giving both of them a night to remember.
I chose this book for our International Week in our Reading Challenge Month because I am a longtime fan of Asian dramas, food, and horror movies. So, it seemed only natural to choose a book about an American falling in love while in China. This short story gives you only a hint of the complex and chaotic world of Shanghai, and it’s a quick, easy read that’s going to leave you feeling hungry when you’re done.
Jeff is a software engineer who is determined to be delighted with everything. He’s in a foreign city for the first time and when he manages to find some familiarity — in another man who speaks English, comes from California, and is easy on the eyes — Jeff holds on tight. While he is friendly with his co-workers, who he traveled halfway around the world to meet, he’s more interested in spending time with Greg than getting to know the men he’s only spoken to via Skype. He’s a little pushy and a little oblivious to some of the subtleties and difficulties Greg is dealing with by being gay in China, mostly because Jeff seems to neither understand nor care. Where he’s from, it’s okay to be gay.
Greg has moved to Shanghai to work in a very prestigious bank — one of the largest in the world — and, at a relatively young age, is a VP. It’s stressful and competitive, and he has to deal with his family’s expectations of marriage and children, as well as the frantic, intense pace of the bank. When he meets Greg, though, he realizes that he isn’t exactly happy doing what he’s doing. He’s also not able to be open with his family about who he is, and certainly not with his job, which he runs the risk of losing if it’s found out he’s gay.
I feel like there was the potential for a very interesting story here about the cultural differences between the two men, between what Jeff expected as opposed to what Greg was living. Instead, much of the story is their initial meeting, some descriptions of tourist locations, and their quick and easy friendship with a rushed ending and a tacked on happy ending that didn’t feel earned to me. There is a major life decision that comes out of things between them and there’s no examination of their relationship, no dealing with the enormity of these changes. While it’s certainly one character’s happy ending, I’m not sure if it’s the other’s.
However, this is a short story and most of the focus was on the growing friendship of the two men during their time in Shanghai, China. The mini-travel guide of the gardens and temples was fun, and with the love with which the author described the soup dumplings, I wouldn’t be surprised if Domani has been to Shanghai, himself. This was a quick, light, charming little love story, but it left me hungry for something a bit more substantial.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for International Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win a prize pack of some of our favorite International Books. Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by Dreamspinner Press (a Kindle Fire filled with Dreamspun Desires/Beyond books, plus a 3-month subscription!). You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on International Week here, including a list of all the books in this week’s prize.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.