It is Just That Your House is So Far Away
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Divorced, approaching forty, Jeff Mott leaves his ex and young daughter behind in Canada and travels to China. He starts teaching in a small town north of Beijing, and meets a young woman, Wang Bian Fu, and falls in love; however, as they get to know each other, Bian Fu’s family life and emotions seem increasingly more complex and disturbing. Their relationship becomes dominated by the walls and back alleys of Beijing, where they find humiliations, surprising differences, and barriers. They become engaged. Jeff discovers that there are many ways of being the foreigner in China, the outsider, not all of them savoury. As he teaches his students English, his students teach him that there is much more to being Chinese than language. Classroom spies, things you don’t say, peasants, villages. Above all, there are manners and rules. And then he learns the truth about his Chinese fiancée, a truth concealed behind her considerable deception. Jeff, his heart divided, has to make a choice, and flies back to Canada, promising to return. Bian Fu promises to solve the barriers to their marriage “in a Chinese way.” Separated, the lovers continue to plan, through their heated and awkward long-distance telephone calls, and through the Chinese characters, the ancient poems and proverbs, mangled in Jeff’s fumbling words. As they head towards marriage, Jeff wonders, is it Bian Fu that he loves? or China? or is it that he has imagined both of them as he wishes, not as they are? As Confucius says near the end of the novel, “It is not that I do not love you, it is just that your house is so far away.” Poignant, ironic and searchingly funny, It is Just That Your House is So Far Away delivers a Beijing love story and a vision of 1990s China on the edge of globalism.