Book Reviews

Descent by C.H. Zhu

Genre Gay / Contemporary / Fiction
Reviewed by Ron Fritsch on 03-June-2016

Book Blurb

A young doctor from China comes to work in a small town in Maine. Why does he choose to be alone? What is he trying so desperately to escape?

A visit from a former girlfriend and a rendezvous with a stranger bring back the haunting question: Why is he always running away from love?

Back in Shanghai for a family funeral, Dr. Wu once again has to confront the disparity between who he is and who he is expected to be. How far will he and his mother go to protect their family honor?

This novel explores a young man’s struggle with his sexual identity under the immense pressure of a traditional Asian society that stresses family lineage and extols individual sacrifice.

Through the protagonist’s narration of his childhood memories, the book offers a glimpse of an old neighborhood that no longer exists in modern Shanghai. Dr. Wu’s reflection on his parents’ peculiar marriage also sheds light on how political turmoil in China’s recent history distorted ordinary people’s lives.

Take this intriguing journey with Dr. Wu. While his story is often uniquely Chinese, his struggle is common to people of all ages, genders, and cultures: how can we be true to ourselves? When can we all be free to be who we are?


NOTE: This book was originally published in September 2012. 


Book Review

C.H. Zhu’s Descent is a gem.

In 2003 Dr. Wu Rong, a Shanghai native in his early thirties working halfway around the world as a pathologist in Augusta, Maine, clearly prefers having sex with men. But he can’t refuse to marry a woman and have a traditional family. If he does, he’ll utterly destroy the hopes and dreams of his mother.

Although Descent includes its share of other colorful and unique characters, it’s all about Dr. Wu and the woman known only as “Rongrong’s mother.”

Western readers in 2013 might be tempted to dismiss Wu Rong and his wildly controlling mother as throwbacks to an era of homophobia we’ve come to despise. This would be a mistake. Both Wu and his mother, trapped in the plot of their story against their will, are deeply sympathetic.

The Maoists destroyed the fortune of the Wu family. As she lay dying, Wu Rong’s paternal grandmother arranged the marriage of his father (who seems to have been as “abnormal” in his desires as his son) to the impoverished woman from a farming village who’d become her nurse.

Rongrong’s mother, speaking of her son, says this to his father: “Everything we do is for him.” Wu Rong tells us: “Only through me could she look to the future.”

And the writing is consistently lovely. Wu describes the Taiwanese man who seduced him when he was 31 and still a virgin: “He resembled a protagonist in a children’s adventure series, a boy wandering through a marginal land, searching, digging, examining, and contemplating.”

Wu tells us: “I had always wanted to feel normal. I had always looked normal. Proper, polite, hard-working, and friendly.” He wanted something else, too: “To be left alone in this world.”

Although the end of this story shocks the reader in more ways than one, it seems entirely appropriate.

I’m grateful I’m not Dr. Wu, and my mother wasn’t his mother, but I doubt I’ll ever forget their story.




DISCLAIMER: Books reviewed on this site were usually provided at no cost by the publisher or author. This book has been purchased by the reviewer.

Additional Information

Format ebook
Length Novel, 172 pages/61480 words
Heat Level
Publication Date 06-April-2014
Price $4.99 ebook
Buy Link