I had never heard of Beijing Comrades when I purchased the book but there was something about the novel’s description that caught my attention. Before I share with you what the story is about, let me give you some history because the way the story came to be known is slightly notorious. Bei Tong is the pseudonymous author whose real-world identity remains unknown since the story was first published in 1998 as an e-novel. The Translator’s Note in my copy said it is among mainland China’s earliest, best known and most influential contemporary gay novels and after finishing the nearly 400-page book I can believe it.
This may be one of my favorite gay novels of all-time
The love story – because that is what it is – opens in Beijing in 1987 and chronicles the on again, off again relationship between Chen Handong and Lan Yu. Handong is a narcissistic businessman from a well-connected family and Yu is a poor student who moves to Beijing to attend university. The novel is extremely sexually explicit and generally such books don’t capture my attention, but his novel is the exception to that rule. The story couldn’t exist without the sexual nature of their relationship. In many ways it is the glue that keeps these two together and provides fodder for the ups and downs, fights and making up.
The book’s opening lines read, “He’s been gone three years now. A thousand days and nights and each time I close my eyes there he is before me, the person I see in my dreams.“, so I’m not spoiling anything by telling you that the ending isn’t a happily ever after but it doesn’t matter because it touched me in a way that few stories ever have. A few times while I was reading the story, I thought to myself, here we go again – another fight or another make up sex scene – but now that the novel is over and I’ve put the book down I wish there was another hundred pages so I can continue to read about this complicated couple who so clearly loved each other but often times were their own worst enemies.
NOTE: If you decide to purchase this book, look for the cover I’ve shown above and the copy translated by Scott E. Myers. Over the years there have been several translations and some of the previous translations have watered down or edited the graphic sexual content. I can’t imagine this book having the same impact it did for me if I read such a redacted or toned down translation and for that reason I suggest you get this copy: Beijing Comrades by bei tong and translated by Scott E. Meyers.