A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu GuoI picked up this book in my local bookshop last Sunday. It was a toss up between this one and a Philippa Gregory novel Wild…something…

I loved the way this book started. “Sorry of my English.”

Zhuang is a Chinese language student who arrives in London to attend an English language school in order to get ahead in China.

The book begins in broken English: “Is unbelievable, I arriving London, ‘Heathlow Airport’. Every single name very difficult remembering, because just not ‘London Airport’ simple way like we simple way call ‘Beijing Airport’. Everything very confuse way here…”

Broken but charming, her language is quite poetic: “Immigration officer holding my passport behind his accounter, my heart hanging on high sky.”

Xiaolu Guo’s insights are also really interesting and sometimes funny: “People say ‘I’m going to go to the cinema…’ Why there two go for one sentence? Why not enough to say one go to go?”

I felt inside her skin as she tried to make sense of the alien Western world and as she comments on the differences learning learning learning about her culture.

Now I suppose the title should have given it away… after all “for lovers” is a pretty big hint, but I was surprised at the amount of sex in this book. It’s not confronting, just… surprising. But it makes sense as part of the novel, for this innocent from China is not only discovering the Western World but also herself, her sexuality.

I really enjoyed this novel. It’s very cleverly written. Zhuang’s English gets better and better throughout the book. And as her language gets better, so does the depth of her insight.

My favourite expression is her description of the English sun while she’s in Portugal: “They got a real sun here in their sky, not like in England. English sun is a fake sun, a literature sun.”

Right on the money!