Review: Initiation (A Harem Boy’s Saga, Part 1), by Young

This is really, in every respect, a most unusual story – and what’s more, it’s true! It’s the autobiography of the famous fashion designer Bernard Foong; and it’s certainly not your everyday career story.

A boy grows up in a wealthy Chinese family in Malaysia in the 1960s; his mother, after having had two boys already, wanted a girl, and Young happens to be so pretty and girlish that many people do think he is a girl. He gets to wear girls’ dresses, and he plays with dolls; and, as the years pass, he discovers his feelings for boys. His father is appalled at that and tries to make a man out of him by enrolling him in all sorts of martial arts courses – where he gets to know lots of handsome young men! Then he sends him to a private school in England – but what he doesn’t know is that this school has got ties with the secret organisation E.R.O.S., and with a different sort of school in Dubai, where they groom young boys to become harem boys for rich Arabs.

When Young, aged 12, is approached by the school, he decides to accept the offer to be sent to Dubai and trained there. He learns about the art of flirting, about tantra, about the Arabian way of life – and he falls in love with Andy, his ‘valet’, his ‘big brother’, who has been assigned to assist and instruct him. With him, he discovers what real love is all about.

They are sent to an Arab household, where Young serves both the master and his high society friends, and gives his daughters lessons in European fashion design. He’s become very interested in fashion, and when he and Andy get the chance to travel to Europe and learn about European culture, he gets to know the big designers in Italy and Paris, and decides he’ll embark on a career as a fashion designer himself.

This is the first part of the Harem Boy biography series, and it’s simply impossible for the reader not to be eager to read the next one. It’s just so beautifully written, with genuine feelings and a gentle humour, philosophising about love and relationships; and it takes us on a journey into a different, exotic world where laws and the way of life are nothing like we Westerners know.

Bernard Foong also describes in a very accurate way the long and slow development of the acceptance of gay rights – back in the Swinging Sixties, Young makes prophecies about gay marriage one day becoming legal. A fascinating, moving and also very entertaining story that will leave nobody indifferent who’s got any such thing as an open mind!

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