Chris Taylor is an old China hand, but he’s written a novel that turns many of the usual clichés about China on their heads. Far from being a turgid recitation about the country’s economic miracle and its attendant problems, Harvest Season focuses on the China that few of us know about, one of social and sexual freedoms that exist away from the centres of the command economy, and Taylor’s book is far more interesting for that.
Set in a bucolic little village, probably in Yunnan province, Matt, the Western narrator, is simply hanging around, wasting his life on drink and drugs, when Alex turns up, planning on opening a guesthouse for jaded and drug-addled Westerners. With Alex comes the mysterious A-hong, a Chinese woman who Matt falls for, hard.
The novel follows Matt, Alex, A-hong, Fei-fei and a number of other characters, both Western and Chinese, as they alternately party and fight while more Westerners appear in town, including a clueless bunch of New Age travellers who call themselves the Family of Light, and proceed to cause chaos by ignoring the delicate balance between Chinese and Western culture.
Eventually, the chaos bubbles over into the death of one of the characters, Chinese culture reasserts itself, and some sort of order is restored. But it is an order that has less of the Western, and more of the Chinese characteristics to it, so it feels in many way like a defeat. The valley that the village sits in is less pristine, less adventurous than before, and all the poorer for it.
Harvest Season has echoes of both The Beach and Lord of the Flies, and is sumptuously written, with passages of great beauty. Taylor is a talented writer, and reveals to us a China most people have no idea exists, one full of both personal freedoms and personal responsibilities. Apparently Taylor is working on a second novel: I’ll be awaiting it with interest.
Available in Kindle and paperback on Amazon.