SB Day!

I’ve been thinking about what to write about today; the subject is intercultural romance. A lot of American romance that is “intercultural” tends to be black-white. When I write intercultural, I mean East-West intercultural romance. I’ve read only a few romance novels that include Asian heroes or heroines. (Is Asian the correct term? Oriental is for rugs, not people, I know, but is there a better term to use?) Kim Welter Wong does a great job with an American-born Chinese heroine and part-Asian hero in The Dim Sum of All Things and Buddha Baby; the Rei Shimura mysteries by Sujata Massey show the life of a half-American, half-Japanese woman living in Japan, and her mixed feelings about her love interests, one a Scot, the other Japanese. I picked up but have not read Goddess For Hire by Sonia Singh, about an ethnically Indian, American woman living in Beverly Hills; I’m not sure what might happen there, in terms of significant other. Otherwise, intercultural romance seems pretty rare among American romance publishers. Hence, I was extremely excited to pick up an older Harlequin Presents* by Roberta Leigh, One Girl at a Time. The main character, Tansy, is a clothing designer on holiday in Thailand. While in a boutique, she criticizes the construction and material of the clothes. A man she believes is the manager overhears her critique and they quarrel. She leaves, a bit embarrassed about her lack of manners. Fast forward a few months: she has won a job designing a new line of clothes for a Thai company; it turns out to be his. The hero, Vin Makram, is dark haired and golden-skinned and slightly above average height for a Thai man. Due to a recent accident, he wears heavy, medical shades that obscure his eyes completely. Should’ve paid more attention to that, but it didn’t seem that important.They adjust to the unpleasant surprise of having to work together and get down to the business of revamping the family clothing boutiques. At one point, they even discuss the difficulty of intercultural marriages, acknowledging that the Eastern woman-Western man matches work better than the other way around, because Western women are too independent. She meets his family, who are an older Thai couple. Gradually the two fall in love. The fly in the ointment is the daughter of a business partner, to whom Vin is sort of engaged. Tansy doesn’t want to come in second in his life, but he won’t give the other woman up and won’t explain why other than to say that Tansy really is the woman he wants and he is NOT engaged. Machinations ensue; Tansy joins Vin and The Other Woman for dinner with a blind of her own. Except when she sits down at the table, Vin’s glasses are gone and she sees that he is not ethnically Thai, he is European, Spanish to be exact. Turns out that he was adopted by the Makrams after his father was killed saving one of the Makrams’s daughters. And he has family and land and businesses in Spain. The book goes on for a few more chapters, with a bit of a suspense subplot. Eventually all is revealed about why Vin kept The Other Woman around. But for me, the book really stopped that night at dinner, when Vin turned out not to be Thai.When I picked up the book at the library book sale, I bought it because it sounded so different. I was thrilled at the outset to be reading an intercultural romance, one written back in 1991, no less. I was utterly disappointed. There was an opportunity to have an intercultural couple; to show the initial steps of a relationship that would no doubt include the cultural issues that the characters themselves acknowledged. Instead, the hero turned into another Latin Lover, like the many Spaniards who populate HPs. I wonder: was the author afraid to take a risk like that? Was the publisher unwilling to have a hero of non-European descent? And how did Tansy not notice that Vin wasn’t Thai sooner? What the hell kind of glasses was he wearing that she couldn’t see at least the side/shape of his eyes? Even my granny’s medical glasses for ultraviolet treatment left some visibility of her eyes and the bridge of her nose.Anyway, color me disappointed and disgusted. Anybody have any recommendations for a real intercultural romance?*I can’t believe I’m admitting to reading HPs. Between that and the fact that I won the SB title by guessing Blaze Wyndham (perhaps the purplest prose I’ve ever read in my life), I’m about to lose any credibility I may have had with my romance-reading friends. They’ll never trust my book pimping again, knowing that I willingly read the occasional HP.

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