A concise Chinese-English dictionary for lovers by Xiaolu Guo (Vintage)

concise chinese

“Usually the man says a thing, and the woman questions it.”

AN easy, very literal conceit: young Chinese girl meets middle aged white Englishman. Be my guest, he says. And so she moves in with him.

Unfortunately for her he turns out also to be a bisexual drifter cum sculptor with commitment issues. Each chapter has its own marker word to describe their affair and her learning English with different stilted nuances for Chinese and English, so the first chapter is Alien. Standing in the queue at Heathrow the sign says Alien and Non Alien:

“I am alien, like Hollywood film Alien. I live in another planet.”

Where she is all feisty, warrior-traveller from enlightened China, he is a bit wet. In fact he is very wet. It is a book about misunderstanding. He wants to read the Guardian and she wants to practise her English. The stereotypes are inverted, he is the one who gets objectified. She gets the interest in pornography, has lesbian dreams, while he, symbolically, moulds body parts in the bath.

“I met you; a man was born in the year of Rat. A rat never has a stable home, like me, born the year of the goat. Two unstable animals…”

There are some funny plays on the English: “‘That is your clitoris’, you tell me. ‘Liquorice?’ I found there the colour of my sex is brown. I never know the colour of my sex before”.

I also liked “peterfiles and perverts”.

All this is set on a timetable, not her biological clock but running down her visa in time to master English and win him over before she gets deported and/or ostracised at home…The ending is quite touching.

It says the characters are not real (but the love is) but you wonder…


About drewsmith28

Words, words, words...
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