FRIEDLAND, Robert




Author Tags: Fiction

Richmond lawyer Robert Friedland is a two-time city councillor in Victoria who practices human rights and administrative law in Vancouver's Lower Mainland.

He was born in Brooklyn in 1947. According to his publisher, "Friedland has been the Sheriff of a Judicial District; an investigator for the United States Treasury Department; a Regional Director of the Alberta Human Rights Commission; Human Rights Advisor for Malaspina University-College; a two-term City Councillor in Victoria, British Columbia; and, Chief Lawyer for a group of seven First Nations in the Interior of British Columbia. He currently practices human rights and administrative law in Vancouver, British Columbia. He is a widely published commentator on the international, Canadian, and British Columbian political scene. His stories and short fiction have been published in the United States, Canada, England, and Japan in: The Fiddlehead (Canada); NeWest Review (Canada); CBC Radio,(Alberta Anthology, Edmonton On Stage, Vinyl Cafe); Raw Fiction (Canada); Stand (United Kingdom); The Petroleum Independent (U.S.A.); Entre Nous (U.S.A.); The Casper Journal (U.S.A.); The Abiko Literary Quarterly (Japan); CITR FM, the University of British Columbia's FM radio station (Canada); and, The Broadkill Review (U.S.A.)."

The heroine of Robert Friedland's The Second Wedding of Doctor Geneva Song Libros Libertad $20) is a sexually adventurous family physician who marries outside her Chinese culture. Her childhood friend Deri overcomes her upbringing in remote northeast China to become a devout Buddhist nun, a concubine and the most powerful woman of finance in Canada. Friedland's portraits of these two provocative women in contemporary B.C. are audacious, intelligent and fanciful, spiced with murder and sex--barely recognizeable as Canlit.

Although the main character has a traditional Chinese wedding in Friedland's sequel, The Tragic Marriages of Doctor Geneva Song (Libros $20), she has married outside of her race and culture. The characters from the first novel continue to wrestle with ancient beliefs and modern bodies.

A civil rights lawyer in Richmond, Robert Friedland has had two stories selected to be read on CBC's The Vinyl Café.

BOOKS:

Faded Love (Libros Libertad 2010)

The Second Wedding of Doctor Geneva Song (Libros Libertad 2011) 978-1-926763-17-0

The Tragic Marriages of Doctor Geneva Song (Libros 2014) $20 978-1-926763-30-9

[BCBW 2014]

Robert N. Friedland, The Second Wedding of Doctor Geneva Song
Review 2012



Robert N. Friedland, a former sheriff and now human rights lawyer based in British Columbia, Canada, writes like someone used to stating the facts. His declarative prose is somewhat reminiscent of Hemingway's, but his subject matter couldn't be more different. Friedland's writing style lends itself to the satirical tone of his linked tales about Dr. Geneva Song and her dominated and much older husband, Sam Victor. At times, however, the author offers a little too much explanation. The reader does not need to be told that Dr. Song is "intelligent, well-educated and successful in her medical practice" when introducing her character. That becomes clear quickly enough as we observe her seduction of Sam on the examination table and her strategic comparison of a drop of blood which lands on her finger to a ruby ring.

As a widely published commentator on the political scene in British Columbia, Friedland clearly has insights into the Chinese immigrant community of Richmond, B.C., the setting for his tales. He can write with authority about the Chinese underworld and "The Wave of Immigration of Single Mothers from China." However, at times, his knowledge proves a hindrance, especially when his detailed character backgrounds and declarative style make the book feel like a plot outline or stage directions for a play. The section "Sister Deri and the Ling Yen Mountain Buddhist Temple," which presents the title character's past in great detail, reads like a history text about Chinese immigration to British Columbia. Although Sister Deri ends up being a central character in the book—as both Geneva's "spirit sister" and Sam's concubine (at his wife's insistence)—we could have learned about Chinese immigration patterns gradually throughout the larger narrative instead of in one concentrated dose.

So where does the satire come in? Friedland's experience with the Chinese community makes his depiction of various characters—both Chinese and Caucasian—seem authentic. He portrays the gweilos (Cantonese for white ghosts) as the most laughable and pitiable—whether they are Pastor Larry who seduces the young Asian immigrants who come to him for help, or the bitter and ultimately dangerous Matthew Masterton, whose yearning for Geneva drives him to commit terrible acts.

Geneva's husband, Sam Victor, an ageing Jewish lawyer, has a tendency to submit to strong women often at his own expense. (The irony of Sam's family name, Victor, and Matthew's, Masterton, works well to highlight the weaknesses of both men.) While Friedland makes Sam's foibles clear, he also portrays him sympathetically. At one point, his love for his wife and desire to protect her reputation leads him to omit telling the police the truth about her rape. Sam will do anything to please Geneva, including sleeping with her "spirit sister" and allowing his father-in-law to name their twin boys. Yet Sam's satirically submissive history makes it credible that he would allow Geneva call the shots. Before marrying Geneva, he has two consecutive relationships with female Chinese gangsters, the first of whom wins him in a Mah Jong game. He also willingly allows the family name of one gangster to be tattooed to his buttock, a brand which instead of offending Geneva, titillates her.

As a young law student, Sam also marries a Japanese woman from Tokyo. While still in that relationship, he sleeps with her sister, who while not pushing the idea, doesn't object either. The theme of Asian women encouraging (or at the very least accepting) their husband's concubines occurs repeatedly throughout the book. While it is interesting that such relationships may still be culturally sanctioned in some contexts, it is not entirely clear why the author returns to so frequently to the subject. Does he want to titillate Western readers with the idea of exotic spouses who encourage their partners' to pursue sex elsewhere? Or is Friedland highlighting how the different "rules" of intimacy in one culture can be bizarre to an outsider?

The best writing in the book can be found in the sections, "The Kotaki Sisters—the Story of Sam's First Marriage," "A Letter from Japan" and "In Shizuoka." Here some of Friedland's prose is poetic, such as when Tokyo girl Kiyoko finally realises that "her period coincided with the full moon—mangestu" because in Edmonton, Alberta, she can actually see the sky clearly for the first time. Likewise, the descriptions of Japanese life are written in an evocative style, which moves beyond the dry prose of some of the book's other sections.

The erotic nature of Geneva's self-discovery and Sam's liaisons with a former Buddhist nun make for compelling reads, but so many of the relationships in The Second Wedding of Doctor Geneva Song appear based on mutual exploitation. Friedland's satirical take on such relationships seems to warn the reader: "Caveat emptor and keep your wits about you in the inter-cultural war of the sexes.", Libros Libertad Publishing, 2011. 158 pgs.

Robert N. Friedland, a former sheriff and now human rights lawyer based in British Columbia, Canada, writes like someone used to stating the facts. His declarative prose is somewhat reminiscent of Hemingway's, but his subject matter couldn't be more different. Friedland's writing style lends itself to the satirical tone of his linked tales about Dr. Geneva Song and her dominated and much older husband, Sam Victor. At times, however, the author offers a little too much explanation. The reader does not need to be told that Dr. Song is "intelligent, well-educated and successful in her medical practice" when introducing her character. That becomes clear quickly enough as we observe her seduction of Sam on the examination table and her strategic comparison of a drop of blood which lands on her finger to a ruby ring.

As a widely published commentator on the political scene in British Columbia, Friedland clearly has insights into the Chinese immigrant community of Richmond, B.C., the setting for his tales. He can write with authority about the Chinese underworld and "The Wave of Immigration of Single Mothers from China." However, at times, his knowledge proves a hindrance, especially when his detailed character backgrounds and declarative style make the book feel like a plot outline or stage directions for a play. The section "Sister Deri and the Ling Yen Mountain Buddhist Temple," which presents the title character's past in great detail, reads like a history text about Chinese immigration to British Columbia. Although Sister Deri ends up being a central character in the book—as both Geneva's "spirit sister" and Sam's concubine (at his wife's insistence)—we could have learned about Chinese immigration patterns gradually throughout the larger narrative instead of in one concentrated dose.

So where does the satire come in? Friedland's experience with the Chinese community makes his depiction of various characters—both Chinese and Caucasian—seem authentic. He portrays the gweilos (Cantonese for white ghosts) as the most laughable and pitiable—whether they are Pastor Larry who seduces the young Asian immigrants who come to him for help, or the bitter and ultimately dangerous Matthew Masterton, whose yearning for Geneva drives him to commit terrible acts.

Geneva's husband, Sam Victor, an ageing Jewish lawyer, has a tendency to submit to strong women often at his own expense. (The irony of Sam's family name, Victor, and Matthew's, Masterton, works well to highlight the weaknesses of both men.) While Friedland makes Sam's foibles clear, he also portrays him sympathetically. At one point, his love for his wife and desire to protect her reputation leads him to omit telling the police the truth about her rape. Sam will do anything to please Geneva, including sleeping with her "spirit sister" and allowing his father-in-law to name their twin boys. Yet Sam's satirically submissive history makes it credible that he would allow Geneva call the shots. Before marrying Geneva, he has two consecutive relationships with female Chinese gangsters, the first of whom wins him in a Mah Jong game. He also willingly allows the family name of one gangster to be tattooed to his buttock, a brand which instead of offending Geneva, titillates her.

As a young law student, Sam also marries a Japanese woman from Tokyo. While still in that relationship, he sleeps with her sister, who while not pushing the idea, doesn't object either. The theme of Asian women encouraging (or at the very least accepting) their husband's concubines occurs repeatedly throughout the book. While it is interesting that such relationships may still be culturally sanctioned in some contexts, it is not entirely clear why the author returns to so frequently to the subject. Does he want to titillate Western readers with the idea of exotic spouses who encourage their partners' to pursue sex elsewhere? Or is Friedland highlighting how the different "rules" of intimacy in one culture can be bizarre to an outsider?

The best writing in the book can be found in the sections, "The Kotaki Sisters—the Story of Sam's First Marriage," "A Letter from Japan" and "In Shizuoka." Here some of Friedland's prose is poetic, such as when Tokyo girl Kiyoko finally realises that "her period coincided with the full moon—mangestu" because in Edmonton, Alberta, she can actually see the sky clearly for the first time. Likewise, the descriptions of Japanese life are written in an evocative style, which moves beyond the dry prose of some of the book's other sections.

The erotic nature of Geneva's self-discovery and Sam's liaisons with a former Buddhist nun make for compelling reads, but so many of the relationships in The Second Wedding of Doctor Geneva Song appear based on mutual exploitation. Friedland's satirical take on such relationships seems to warn the reader: "Caveat emptor and keep your wits about you in
the inter-cultural war of the sexes."

by Kate Rogers

-- Cha: An Asian Literary Journal (Hong Kong), 2012