In the Province of the Gods
by Kenny Fries
University of Wisconsin Press
Reviewed by John Francis Leonard
The AIDS Memoir” is an important document in our history. In the Province of the Gods isn’t your typical AIDS memoir, however. Although its author remembers and pays tribute to the many friends he lost in the worst years of the plague, this piece deals with a more contemporary recollection of his own diagnosis as HIV-positive. No one actually dies, but the author does come to terms with his own mortality and with the ramifications of having to take the HIV medications that now extend our lifespan. He does this from a unique perspective, with singular personal insight and an ironic sense of humor. It’s also a book about living with a life-long disability, living in a unique and vastly different culture than one’s own, and his search for someone to spend his life with.
The book centers around two extended stays in Japan, where he researches attitudes and traditions dealing with the disabled. Before the first trip, his relationship of eighteen years is at its end, during his return to the U.S. He is diagnosed with HIV shortly before leaving for a second stay on a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to complete his research. On this second trip he begins his regimen of HIV medication and meets the man he will eventually marry.
He quickly realizes that, while at home he is an outsider due to his disability, in Japan he is an outsider because of being a foreigner as are the other expatriates he befriends. It is not only a relief, but puts him in a unique position to observe. Fries documents and offers compelling insight into Japanese culture and thinking but realizes one important thing. Sometimes, the Japanese just think differently without an explanation that makes sense to an American. Regardless, he illustrates the traditions and the mindset of a unique culture, beautifully providing much insight. This is where Fries’ talent as a writer is most apparent. Perhaps from a lifetime spent on the outside looking in, he shines in his understanding of and his perspective on the human condition.
John Francis Leonard is an advocate and writer, as well as a voracious reader of literature, which helps to feed his love of the English language. He has been living with HIV for thirteen years and he is currently at work on his first novel, Fools Rush In. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.