In the Province of the Gods
Recipient of the Creative Capital Grant in Innovative Literature
Kenny Fries embarks on a journey of profound self-discovery as a disabled foreigner in Japan, a society historically hostile to difference. As he visits gardens, experiences Noh and butoh, and meets artists and scholars, he also discovers disabled gods, one-eyed samurai, blind chanting priests, and A-bomb survivors. When he is diagnosed as HIV positive, all his assumptions about Japan, the body, and mortality, are shaken, and he must find a way to reenter life on new terms.
“In this subtle page turner, Fries helps reinvent the travel-as-pilgrimage narrative. He neither exoticizes nor shies away from the potential pitfalls of a western mind traveling abroad; instead he demonstrates how, through an all too rare open heart and a true poet’s eye, bridges can be built, and understanding deepened, one sincere action at a time.”
— Marie Mutsuki Mockett, author of Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye
"Deeply moving and exquisitely written, about many things—cultural and physical difference, sexuality, love, loss, mortality and the ephemeral nature of beauty and art. It is also a love letter to Japan, a country that embraced the author at a time when he needed acceptance the most. But perhaps most importantly, In the Province of the Gods is that rare kind of book that offers us a profound sense of what it means to be truly alive."
— Mira Bartók, author of The Memory Palace, National Book Critics Circle Award Winner
“Kenny Fries’ elegant, probing In the Province of the Gods reads like the log of an early adventurer charting a newly discovered land. Through the eyes of this most unexpected tour guide, history, sexual politics, disability and wooden fortune sticks are blended into a tightly written exploration of Japanese culture. Fries may be the guy on the journey, but we’re the ones making the discoveries.”
— Susan R. Nussbaum, author of Good Kings, Bad Kings, winner of the Barbara Kingsolver Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction
“Like the best memoirs, In the Province of the Gods reminds us of the genre’s twinned truths: first, that the surest way to discover the self is to look out at the world, and second, that the best way to teach others about something is to tell them not ‘what it is,’ but what it means to you. Fries’s deft, questioning prose is as full of compassion as curiosity, and his revelations about himself are no less compelling than what he learns about Japan."
— Dale Peck, author of Visions and Revisions: Coming of Age in the Age of AIDS
"Beneath the restrained tones there's also elation. . . . This unusual blend of travelogue and introspection manages elegance and rawness in the same breath."
"The memoir of a writer who traveled to Japan and found a new perspective . . . Fries documents how he came to terms with the country—as a foreigner, as a disabled person, and as a gay man."
— Kirkus Reviews
“In the Province of the Gods isn’t your typical AIDS memoir. . . . It’s also a book about living with a life-long disability, living in a unique and vastly different culture than one’s own. . . . Fries offers compelling insight into Japanese culture. 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, A&U Magazine
"An achingly beautiful and intricately-woven personal narrative. . . . Fries’ prose shines with a honed and brightly polished clarity—each phrase hangs heavy with meaning, reduced only to what is necessary, a world in of itself. . . .to read it is to experience what true literary achievement really means."
— Julia Bouwsma, Connotation Press Reviews
"Absorbing, moving and intensely human. . . . In the unsettled and often angry world of disability politics, Kenny Fries' memoir enters centre stage, projecting an oasis of calm and insightful enquiry."
— Michael Uniacke, Wordgathering
"A finely honed philosophical and autobiographical reflection on transcendence and self-acceptance."
— John Killacky, Vermont Digger