True Story: My Memoir Pissed Off A Male Book Reviewer
When I started writing my memoir, Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair With China Gone Wrong, I began networking with authors who wrote books set in Asia. I imagined developing solid friendships with a group of supportive authors. There’s a Chinese saying, huxiang bangzhu. It means “mutually helping one another.” That’s what I pictured.
Fast-forward six years. My memoir was being published and I arranged for review copies to be sent to authors I’ve gotten to know through social networking or in person. I knew I couldn’t expect rave reviews just because we have a connection or because I had given their books five stars on Amazon and Goodreads. But for the most part, I had been extremely pleased with the feedback.
Well, except for this one guy.
A couple years ago I met another writer through social media. Unlike most of the authors I’ve connected with, this one is a man. He said if I helped him promote his work, he would return the favor when my book came out. It sounded like a good deal to me. Huxiang bangzhu.
The man, who I’ll call Joe, recently got in touch to ask when would be a good time to post his review. I was grateful that Joe seemed anxious to get the word out and also that he said he enjoyed my book. But one night last week, I received another message from him that was downright strange: Joe proposed giving my book a poor review to stir up controversy. What the fuck? was my first reaction. My second was much milder: I decided I would let it go because I didn’t want to be an author who micromanaged my reviews. Furthermore, that is how I, like most girls and women, are taught to act in the face of confrontation: let’s not start a scene.
But it still didn’t sit well with me. Because he had asked for my consent before publishing it, I suggested that a poor review might not reflect well on him. People might not understand that he was just doing this to create publicity for me (and — yes — for himself). He brushed that off and explained that he was going to write from the “male point of view.” The male point of view? My memoir is about marriage to an emotionally abusive Chinese man. What’s the male point of view of that? Joe, who is not Chinese, continued that my memoir is going to upset men.
Other men, including people I actually know in real life, have read Good Chinese Wife and not one of them has mentioned anything about being offended or upset. So let’s run through some of the issues in my book and see how they might offend men.
- Porn. My former husband, Cai, watched a lot of porn. I didn’t divorce him because of it, but mentioned that our honeymoon kind of sucked when he was more interested in watching Japanese porn than he was in being with me. Did Joe think I was calling out men for watching porn?
- Sex workers. Cai liked to talk with sex workers when we stayed at hotels in China. I have no proof that he ever used their services, but he enjoyed conversing with them. Again, I didn’t divorce him for this reason. It’s just something that made our trips to China a little awkward. Again, I’m unclear how this would upset men. It’s not like women don’t know about it.
- Trich. On my 26th birthday, Cai gave me the gift that keeps giving: an STD. I wrote about not being able to concentrate at work because this trich made it so uncomfortable that I would run off to the bathroom every hour to wipe? Perhaps Joe didn’t like to read about the symptoms women get with Trich while men are—thank goodness—asymptomatic. That could make a guy squeamish, I admit.
- International child abduction. Where to raise our child was actually something Cai and I had discussed before we married, so he knew my stance on it and I was pretty sure he was in agreement. That all changed several years later, when he started talking about sending our son to live with his parents in central China for, oh, five or so years. In the end of the book, I wrote about taking drastic measures to keep our son in the United States. And that’s what drove me to divorce Cai. I can see how this story would upset men. On the other hand, if they’re good fathers and husbands, it’s usually a moot point.
I learned many lessons from the story I tell in my memoir. And now I’ve learned another: when it comes to huxiang bangzhu, be careful whom you work with. Just when I was starting to feel like I wanted some distance from Joe, he relayed some good news. He had the go-ahead from a freebie newspaper to review my book. The editors wouldn’t stand for a fluff piece, he explained, so he would have to be tough. He would have to give “the male perspective.” I didn’t reply.
Then Joe started hounding me for an image of my book cover. Again, I ignored him. (The image can be found online.) But every time I turned on the computer, I started to feel anxious that I’d find another message from him on e-mail or Facebook. I had seen his angry comments on poor reviews of his work, and I realized I had been tiptoeing around him for quite a while. I didn’t like being put in an uncomfortable position by a fellow writer, someone whose own career I’d helped in good faith.
Now I’ve blocked him from all social media. I’m not sure if and when this review will come out. He will write whatever he plans to write; I can only hope his readers understand he doesn’t speak for all men, offering “the male point-of-view,” but only speaks for himself. Whatever he writes is now beyond my control, as it should have been in the first place.
Susan Blumberg-Kason’s memoir, Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair With China Gone Wrong, will be published on July 29 by Sourcebooks. Susan blogs about Asia, books, and raising multicultural kids at SusanBKason.com. She lives with her husband and three children in a sleepy Chicago suburb.
[Image of a book via Shutterstock]