Reviewed by Beth Cummings
Xiaolu Guo is a native of China and has published several books there. This is her first novel written in English and was published hardcover in 2007, now paperback. She now divides her time between Beijing and London.
Like the author, the novel’s main character, Zhuang Xiao Qiao, is a young Chinese woman who spends a year in London to study English. The story is told as a series of journal/diary entries that are in part written to her British lover, a man she meets in a movie theater. In a rather unusual way, she moves in with him after misunderstanding the phrase, “be my guest.” She refers to “you” as this man.
At the beginning of the book, the writing is stilted, incorrect and confusing– just exactly the way a non-native speaker would likely think and write in her new language. She keeps a dictionary at hand all of the time and constantly looks up new words and definitions. She also as an insatiable curiosity and asks many questions. As the book progresses so does the sentence structure and Zhuang’s understanding of English and Western culture.
Guo’s re-creation of language learning is fascinating. The character of Zhuang is both naïve and wise. She shares her most personal thoughts and actions and readily explores the difficulties inherent in living in a new country with a new language. Zhuang also takes some time to travel by Euro-pass railroad through France, Germany, Spain and Portugal. Her impressions of these countries and the people she meets also offer a different perspective on Chinese culture.
However, this is not a book for every reader. I enjoyed it, but must note that there is a lot of very explicit sexual activity and talk in the novel. While it works with the context of the book, I’m sure it would be a turn-off for some readers.
Armchair Interviews says: Heed this reviewer’s specific comments; otherwise a 5-star read.
Author’s Web site: http://www.GuoXiaolu.com