I just finished reading Maureen F. McHugh's China
Mountain Zhang, which received an editor's choice
notice from the New York Times Book Review as well as
rave reviews from Robin McKinley and Norman Spinrad.
However, while I did think it was well-written, I
wound up being a little underwhelmed.
The book posits a future where Communist China has
taken over the United States, and the hero is a
half-Chinese, half Latino gay American who studies
engineering. The Communist prejudice against gays is
very much in place, rendering him a furtive outsider.
There is also pro-Chinese prejudice that causes Zhang
to conceal his Latino heritage.
One thing I found distracting was McHugh's habit of
altering viewpoints every other chapter. Zhang's story
is the main thread, but alternating chapters are told
by other characters who (mostly) have a brief
intersection with Zhang at some point. It seems to me
the author could have found a less awkward way of
incorporating this material and unifying her book
The basic thrust of the book has people working hard
and slowly improving their lives. We see some of the
influence that others have on Zhang, including an
unattractive foreman's daughter he is coerced into
dating, a refugeee/repairman who gets Zhang to
consider systems in a new light, a boyfriend who makes
Zhang happy for a time but then commits suicide as his
secret is about to be exposed.
Unfortunately, not only do I think that McHugh renders
the Communists in far too kind a portrait given their
history, but the conclusion seems limp as well. Zhang
discovers he really likes teaching, though he risks
his future by delivering a brief "Marx was wrong" (no
duh) lecture, and finishes the novel trying to form a
company that is also a community with his now highly
marketable skills. Life-like perhaps, but hardly a
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