Love and Other Moods is a novel with a lot to say. The new book by author Crystal Z. Lee takes place in Shanghai, starting with the backdrop of the 2010 Expo and continues on for several years through that decade. This makes for a good introduction to all the various elements that make up Rising China in the 21st century. Ostensibly, the character of Naomi Fita-Fan is the main protagonist. The half-Japanese and half-Taiwanese character, who does feel like a semi-autobiographical placeholder for the author, is a sophisticated businesswoman who comes of age while maneuvering throughout this complex landscape.
However, the city of Shanghai itself is the true star. The book continuously pours over details describing the evolution of the megapolis, full of history and politics and food and culture. The detailed backstory of the human characters generally serves as part of the world-building of this setting. The family backgrounds, the infodumps, even the dating scene these figures find themselves in—it’s all about making Shanghai as real as possible.
Although much of this describes a very upper-class scene, almost a “Sex and the City” in Asia, there is also a dark underside occasionally explored. Mentions of prostitution and drugs appear from time to time, which can be shocking in its contrast. The main hardships that the characters experience range from questions of identity, such as prejudice against Naomi for being Japanese in China and for being Asian in America. There is also tragedy and even violence that permeates through the history of this Communist land, as the main love interest Dante knows well.
Towards the end, the book becomes more of a conventional story. A typical love story in many ways, as the protagonist comes of age and deals with the challenges that arise from growing up. The generational divides that make up family, such how to get along with a family and how to define one’s own, are an endless source of conflict. Through all the heartbreak and even (spoiler alert) children, the relationship between Naomi and her best friend Joss is still just as valued as the romantic side.
Love and Other Moods might be classified as “chick lit,” and female readership does seem to be the intended audience. That said, anyone would enjoy learning so much about modern China by way of this book, and it is a valuable resource in capturing that moment in time…
Crystal Z. Lee takes the reader on a dazzling tour of hyper-cosmopolitan Shanghai. Here, the city is not romanticized in the typical manner, but portrayed the way it really is: exciting, loud, dizzying, sexy, sometimes risqué but always authentic. Love and Other Moods expresses the truthful energy of Rising China over the past decade, which those who’ve been would instantly recognize, and those who haven’t will find fascinating. It’s one of the most international places in the world, where everyone has a story, and some of those stories are told right here in this novel.
Love and Other Moods is published by Balestier Press and is available on Amazon.com.