The Kitchens of Canton
by Isham Cook, 2018
This novel was so heavy on the sexual body fluids I expected it to make my Kindle wet and sticky.
In all fairness, the book's not just sex. There's really weird time travel, too.
Was I reading Robert Anton Wilson? Maybe early-period Tom Robbins, perhaps Kurt Vonnegut in one of his more excessively weird moments? No, it was Isham Cook, Anglophone writer based in China, with a book of time-traveling weirdness that I’m not going to pretend I fully understand after just one reading but I will say I found weirdly entertaining.
Our hero is Jeff Malmquist, a semiotics professor (not, as people persistently misunderstand, a “semi-automatics professor”) who finds himself bouncing around time and space. He finds himself in a late-21st-century USA where the locals stockpile guns, paranoid about the ‘pedos’ they believe are lurking around every corner. Then there’s a 22nd-century America that’s become a Special Administrative Region of China following societal collapse -- too much paranoia about ‘pedos’, which was being stoked the whole time by foreign governments eager to see the USA tear itself apart.
Even more bizarrely, Jeff is unwillingly transported to an “Ancient Rome” theme park for rich Chinese pleasure-seekers, staffed by actual Italians who are also actual slaves. And finally, Jeff also finds himself in actual Severan-era Ancient Rome. In all of these locations, a large amount of sex happens, in very large quantities. With a special appearance by the Roman Emperor Elagabalus.
There’s a lot of untranslated dialogue in Mandarin, Cantonese, Italian and Latin, which effectively conveys Jeff’s sense of panicked uncomprehending confusion towards the kaleidoscoping alienness that he finds himself hurtling through. Why is he bouncing back and forth through time? Does it have anything to do with this T-shirt that combines cutting-edge smart clothing technology with… bizarre bad English?
I’ll end this post here -- except to say that this is the sort of narrative where I could probably connect the dots quicker if I were high when I read it. If that statement attracts you to this book -- if the author names I tossed off above for comparison purposes attract you to this book -- if the combination of ancient Roman decadence and modern political satire attracts you to this book… then by all means give this book a try.