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Books newlight on 28 Feb 2007 06:18 pm

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers
by Xiaolu Guo
Xiaolu Guo's A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for LoversI have to admit I didn’t read the whole book. I borrowed a copy from my friend but only had enough time to have a quick glance. I read the beginning when the protagonist Zhuang Xiaoqiao is on a plane to the UK, some bits in the middle, including an excerpt appeared on The Times, and the last several pages. So this is not a review, rather my impression on this book.

The plot is simple. Zhuang Xiaoqiao, a young woman comes to the UK to study English, with little knowledge of the country, and the language. She meets an artist in London. They becomes lovers and she moves into his flat in the rough side of London. She explores the culture, language, and sex through him. She feels increasingly lost when she knows better about the English (in the broad sense) and decides to go back to China. The circle ends. The story is narrated solely from the Zhuang Xiaoqiao’s point of view, using a dictionary-like structure, hence the book title.

I admire the author’s attention to small details and the ability to convey the subtle messages. I quite like the absurdity and surrealness, which could be the results of I only read bits of it though. Zhuang Xiaoqiao is sensitive, fragile and yet quite determined. Probably not so likable but she seduces us with her
vulnerability and curiosity. I won’t be able to say anything about the story-telling and how well the use of a dictionary-like structure, but I was hooked into the story within the short time I had the book.

The problem for me though, is the device Xiaolu Guo used throughout the book, the ‘delibrately bad English’ Zhuang Xiaoqiao supposedly speaks. I can see it is intended to highlight the cultural difference, and to reflect Zhuang Xiaoqiao’s feelings from curiosity, confusion to a cultural limbo state she had experienced. However, that didn’t work for me at all, instead it consistently distracted me from following the story. I can’t help but keep thinking why Zhang Xiaoqiao is making such and such basic gramma mistakes yet at the same time using some sophiscated words and expressions that didn’t match the English level indicated – common for pupils learning English in China. Although it’s perfectly possible there is someone who speaks and writes English that way, and perhaps there is no such distraction for a native English speaker, the ‘delibrately’ part of the device became too obvious to me, which undermines the believability of the character. To manage the ‘bad English’ throughout the book and to change the writing style and volcabulary graduately without looking unnature is very difficult. I feel this book would be more enjoyable without having this device.

6 Responses to “A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers”

  1. on 18 Apr 2007 at 11:03 1.LinkChinese UK News » A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers made the Orange Broadband Prize shortlist said …

    [...] A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers tells a story of Z, a Chinese woman comes to UK to study English, using the format of a dictionary and delibrate bad English to reflect the perspective of the protagonist (some comments). [...]

  2. on 13 Jul 2007 at 01:33 2.Feng said …

    another typo, vunerability -> vulnerability :D

  3. on 17 Jul 2007 at 18:07 3.newlight said …

    You are quite right on this one.

  4. on 21 Jan 2008 at 20:14 4.LinkChinese UK News » A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers on BBC Radio4 said …

    [...] Woman’s Hour Drama is broadcasting five part radio adaptation of Xiaolu Guo’s novel A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers. The story is told by the protagnist Z, a young Chinese woman coming to London to study English, [...]

  5. on 08 Jan 2009 at 06:53 5.ena said …

    u know, i was googling this book(trying to download it) when i came across ur site.

    I was browsing this book in the foreign language bookstore in shanghai.. and I was pretty hooked. I flipped through the first few pages and jumped to the ending(kind of wanted to see how the english is at the back of the book,ha). The bad english part is pretty pretencious, especially after u’ve read the last chapter. One year(in the last part the main character says she left China for a year) and achieveing that kind of progress is just too amazing to believe. The grammer mistakes made in the start seemed kind of awkward but nevertheless efficient in conveying the author’s portrayal of the story. perhaps that’s the beauty of this book.I can’t deny my amusement at the errors or the deny suspicious attempt of the author to grab attention with a gimmick like this. whatever it is, she did it, cos i liked it.

    Her transformation with the language and mentality will easily ring a bell with any students overseas or expats.

    with that said,i’d continue my quest :)

  6. on 03 Mar 2009 at 08:12 6.Alexwebmaster said …

    Hello webmaster
    I would like to share with you a link to your site
    write me here preonrelt@mail.ru

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