THE MEMORY OF A FACE
By Ansh Das
Published online 2011
Can we love someone we don’t really know? Almost certainly, but if we can, is it not just a part of a person that we think we love? Maybe we can even love just an appearance, even the memory of face, rather than what is real. Old questions, perhaps, ones which face us all and can never be authoritatively answered, but perennially interesting ones, and now made much more central to affairs of the heart in these days of adopted online personalities and fabricated chat room IDs. Can we ever be sure just who the object of our affection really is? And if we can’t, should we not be frightened of what lies beneath?
These are questions at the heart of Ansh Das’s first novel, The Memory of a Face, appropriately self-published online in 2011. Diano (a boy whose androgynous if typically Hong Kong name should alert us to the shifting sands beneath this tale), lives with Summer, a girl friend whose disposition matches her sunny name, and Cute, appropriately a hot young gay guy of multiple affairs. Diano is uncertain in the objects of his love, certain only that, unlike Cute, perhaps, whose desire is gratification, he wants to love and be loved. Like most of us, though, he suffers vicissitudes of luck and judgment in his pursuit of this aim. When he finds what he thinks he is seeking in Andy, a boy in Shanghai, it is only to rapidly lose him, for Andy mysteriously disappears, and becomes what Diano fears may just be only a memory of a face.
What has happened to Andy, how he is brutalized and betrayed, even by those who claim to have his best interests at heart, and how Hong Kong’s gay history brings he and Diano back together again, is the sub-text of this story, one which takes us across the cities of the China of the 21st century and immerses us in their gay culture. The places, sights, sounds and smells of today’s Hong Kong permeate this book. As does its chat room, twitter and SMS culture, for the tale is told using the techniques of all of these, and readers of this novel whose lives are lived in these ethers will segue effortlessly into the medium of this tale.
The changes blowing through Hong Kong’s cyber culture are reflected in its growing openness to diverse sexuality. Shades of orientation and gender slip and slide up and down Kinsey’s spectrum in this tale in some shocking ways. Diversity is still hard to take, sometimes, and though we may recognize that it is there, the heartbreaks that its complexity can bring ensure this will never be a comfortable subject. It is one that fascinates this novelist. Which should not surprise, as Ansh Das in real life is one of the leading lights of the commercial diversity organizations that are bringing change to this city, and spends much of his time working for the people he is writing about here. The profits from this novel, as an example, are all donated to the campaign in Hong Kong to fight homophobic bullying in schools.
Whether this is a novel with a happy ending or no, and how the major and minor characters (for there is a myriad of supporting cast in this book, each here with his or her own tale to tell us) weave their lives around each other, I must leave you to find out for yourself. But if you love Hong Kong and if you have left your heart even a tiny bit ajar for love to enter, you will enjoy this tale of finding love and through it something true about the identity of one’s self and of the object of one’s love.