Monday, January 13, 2020

Book Review: The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

I have conflictual thoughts about The Bride Test, by Helen Hoang. I've read excellent reviews about the author, this book and I have The Kiss Quotient on my TBR list. The author herself is affected by Asperger syndrome as the main man character of the book, Khai Diep and the idea to instrumentalize literarily this form of autism, particularly in the context of a relationship is excellent.
This aspect is one of the things I've liked the most about the book: the fact that it raises awareness about living with Asperger and building healthy normal relationships. It describes persons with Asperger as different, but not awkward. There are individuals that are brilliant in their studies, overperforming at work, but with a different way of thinking and processing emotions. Someone with Asperger may need more support and being in a relationship with someone may raise specific issues especially if the terms of the relationship are not clearly stated and eventually a therapeutic advice is required, but it is not impossible or not desirable.
This part of contextualizing Asperger syndrom was my favorite one and I've learned a lot while reading this book.
On the other hand, the overall setting of the book turned me completely off. The future partner of Khai Diep, Esme Tran is brought from Vietnam by the ambitious Khai's mother for an arranged marriage. I've already mentioned in a previous post how popular the arranged marriages are as literary topics, regardless the culture. This time, I got introduced to the Vietnamese customs - not that there are too many differences anyway. Khai's mother went especially to Ho Chi Min to find a potential candidate for her son, luring the women with the hope of getting moved to America. Esme Tran was cleaning toilets, was sleeping on the floor in a small apartment together with her mother and grandmother and her child out-of-the wedlock. She accepted to go through the 3-month trial of trying to seduce and marry Khai Diep, being brought directly to live in his house although they never met before. How desperate you can be to leave your daughter for three months in order to live for three months with a stranger that maybe you will marry once the trial is over.
This approach destroyed any empathy for the positive representation of people with Asperger. In the end, Esme is succeeding to finish Standford University, not before she almost accepted to marry Khai brother in order to be able to apply for Green Card and remain in the USA. And there are many other ackward moments in the story when Esme Tran is shamelessly assigned the attitude of a gold digger or at least of a woman ready to use some sexual favors for getting what she wants.
I can understand that there are such situations in real life, many more than I can imagine. I do not try to criticize from my middle class white Western European position. However, there is not the kind of 
characters I want to deal with, both in literary and real form. I am more interested in women who struggled, lost the struggle or did something better using their circumstances. Those are the kind of stories that resonate with my upbringing and principles and there is nothing to change here. 
I will probably read the Kiss Quotient in the next days, but I have no expectations though.

Rating: 2 stars

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