Last week I read a new China novel, River Dragon Sky (Signal 8 Press, 2012) by Justin Nicholes. Set on a college campus in Henan, Nicholes’ book centers on five fascinating–and very realistic–characters:
* Zhuan He–a female student who excels in English debate
* Feng–a professional martial artist and Zhuan He’s live-in boyfriend
* Kal–an American of Russian extraction who teaches at the university and studies under Feng; he’s also secretly dating Zhuan He
* David–an American missionary/teacher at the university who teaches Feng English; he’s secretly dating Zhuan He, too
*Junping–a fortune teller and arsonist who thinks Zhuan He is the daughter he abandoned almost two decades earlier.
Nicholes’ characters seem alive and multi-dimensional, and his writing is sophisticated and poetic. I’ve never stepped foot in Henan, but felt like I was there when I read his novel, whether it was in the overcrowded dorms, the barebones noodle stalls, or the stuffy gym.
The story is not without tragedy and betrayal. Although Feng seems obsessive and outdated, I grow to appreciate his character as the story develops. In fact, he turns out to be more sympathetic than the American men. I also like how Nicholes goes into the backstories of all the characters, especially Zhuan He’s three love interests.
I can’t wait to read more from Justin Nicholes (www.justinnicholes.com).