South of the Clouds offers a fascinating, intimate portrait of China by telling the story of an American man who ventures into its hidden realms---romance, politics, the criminal underworld, and Tibet. As he matures from a wide-eyed student into a journalist and a seasoned observer, he develops a passion for uncovering secrets, about China and about himself.
The author navigates his way past forbidding walls to peek inside the dark corners of Chinese society, relying on a remarkable collection of friends and acquaintances who help guide the way: an embittered policeman in Xian, a gay professor in Shanghai, and a Buddhist monk in Tibet, who presides at an ancient burial ritual where the corpse is carved up and fed to wild vultures.
The Tiananmen Square massacre, people smuggling, and the Falun Gong movement are among the political and social upheavals that the author explains as he witnesses China's uncertain road toward capitalism and its place in the modern world.
Along the way, the author wrestles with his own cultural identity, his sexuality, and his spiritual bearings. He finds an erotic outlet in the Chinese "Sauna Massage" and a stirring emotional connection with Jin Xing, a brilliant choreographer and China's first openly transsexual citizen. Ultimately, he discovers the answer to lifelong questions on a mountaintop in Tibet.
Seth Faison, with a subtle understanding of Chinese culture, brings past and present events to life in a thought-provoking account of this mysterious nation and its people.
In 1984, when Faison first went to China to study, the country was just recovering from the Cultural Revolution, and a "big nose" like Faison was quite the oddity. Still, Faison was sociable, chatting up everyone willing to talk. After a brief stint as a cub reporter at the Hong Kong Standard, he was assigned to Beijing in 1988, in time to cover the crisis of Tiananmen Square in the spring of 1989. Having become a China expert of sorts, Faison came back to New York and, after covering the Golden Venture sinking, returned to China in 1995 as the New York Times's Shanghai bureau chief. While Faison tells the big stories with a journalist's economy just enough background to refresh one's memory, coupled with an eye for telling details it's the smaller, more personal stories that enthrall. When he describes his midnight forays to the sauna massage spas at his hotels, or his love affair with China's leading choreographer, a notorious transsexual, it's hard to stop reading and it's not because he shares any prurient details. Readers will become very fond of Faison his frank doubts about his masculinity, his willingness to wonder about his attraction to Chinese women and, yes, his longing for spiritual depth. An inspiring personal journey, an informative cultural exploration Faison's memoir works on many levels. Photos. Agent, David Black. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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St. Martin's Press
September 08, 2004
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