A rising percentage of immigrants to New Zealand are those coming here ‘to be gay’. Contrary to their homelands we now have a reputation as a country where it is acceptable and safer to integrate with society. In effect they are sexual refugees, sometimes fleeing persecution and punishment but more often just wanting to live their own lives freely. During the Bush era we had Americans arriving here and more recently those from Asia and India. Recent legislation on marriage and adoption will certainly reinforce this perception.
Yan’s novel tells this story of the first year in Auckland from the viewpoint of a young Chinese man, Dave, venturing into the Western world and adapting to NZ’s way of life while exploring his own sexuality. Largely autobiographical, it is in an interesting format of numbered scenes and slug lines indicating interior or exterior locations similar to a screenplay. It’s also reminiscent of a journal or diary thus providing a progressive structure to the work.
It begins with the flight to NZ and ‘Over A Year’ completes the circle back to Auckland airport.
As the author says in his ‘Throat Clearing’ chapter he gives no guarantee of ‘richly textured’ writing but promises an emotionally charged story told in an honest manner. Indeed the English used is sometimes idiosyncratic but actually this adds to the authenticity of expression.
Along the way we meet the Kiwis he stays with, those he encounters socially, studying and working, and glean an insight into his perceptions of our way of life filtered through Asian thoughts. It’s not all plain sailing and Dave finds that he has to modify his expectations and dreams to fit with the reality of quotidian life in order to survive in this foreign land. We see ourselves reflected in his images.
We also follow his struggles in developing a philosophy of life – as we all do as part of the maturation process. Our experiences and learning are moulded by our environment and background as he discovers. Culturally there is a lot of pressure in Asian and Eastern societies and families to marry and have children and Dave flirts both with the idea and with a heterosexual relationship. A temptation he eventually resists to be true to himself.
There are amorous adventures too as our lead character finds his way through the gay world and meets the man with whom he can find mutual satisfaction. We have all experimented sexually and socially and now, in NZ, Dave has the freedom to do so.
Overall this is an interesting read. We had the ‘birth’ of Western gay writing around fifty years ago in America with groups such as the Violet Quill and in Europe with the likes of Christopher Isherwood, Auden et al. Perhaps Yan is at the forefront of a new wave of Eastern gay writing that will expand our horizons.
Let’s hope so.
Reviewed by Richard Galloway
‘Over A Year’ is available in hard copy at Unity Books in Auckland or for ebook formats contact email@example.com