I joined a book club!
They read books about China, and up for discussion was Dream of Ding Village by Yan Lianke, which is about the AIDS scandal in rural Henan province in the 90s as a result of unregulated blood selling in China. Think - ambitious and uninformed villagers setting up blood banks in rural China, reusing needles, collecting blood in plastic jugs. The book is fiction, Ding Village is fictional, but the story is very sad because you know that it is all too real. In fact Yan spent years researching and interviewing people in Henan before writing the book.
The writing is so-so, simple, choppy, repetitive in its use of cliche metaphors over and over. He wrote, as he said so himself after the book was published, "not the best novel, but the saddest one."
What stands is the one romance in the novel - between two villagers who are suffering from AIDS and have been living in the quarantine for the infected, the old schoolhouse. They fall in love and cause a big to-do in their village, as they were both previously married to uninfected spouses. Their love prevails and they finally co-habitate in a house of their own, as if they were a normal couple, only to suffer a Romeo-Juliet type of demise. There is a spark of idealism, romance, fantasy in the middle of so much horror, death, and tragedy.
But, I guess when you think about it, that's ultimately what Romeo and Juliet (and possibly every romance ever) is really about.