intense sensations

Posts Tagged ‘Xiaolu Guo

Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous YouthTwenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth by Xiaolu Guo
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I think Xiaolu Guo has a problem with narrative. That’s why she likes writing in fragments. I wonder what her films are like. It’s possible to make films without having to explain anything. In a novel, if this is a novel, you can’t really get away with that for long. Which is probably why this nearly-novel is very short.

One of the things I didn’t like is that it jumps around in time without being clear about the chronology. Just when did this little 17 year old from a sweet potato farm get her laptop and mobile phone? The references to such things as email, VCDs and DVDs are extremely confusing, especially if you have spent any time in China during the last 20 years and know what was available when.

Because of the chronological confusion, I think it does very little to illuminate life in China in recent years, although some passages, taken in isolation, are an accurate depiction of how life was at certain points in time. These isolated vignettes just don’t hang together as either a consistent narrative or as an accurate historical record.

This English version is the work of two translators, an editor, and Xiaolu Guo herself, who rewrote it after it had been translated. The result is 20 vignettes in very short sentences that are highly polished, brittle and self-conscious. Some of it is quite poetic but much of it irritated me.

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A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for LoversA Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My boyfriend (who is English and reads the Guardian) gave me this book. My flatmate (who is Chinese and reads Grazia) borrowed it without asking. That’s the trouble with talking to your flatmate about books. This week she’s gone off to Austria with my copy of Candy (by Mian Mian) because I made the mistake of telling her how much I was enjoying it.

Back to this one by Xiaolu Guo. I avoided it for a while because it’s written in bad English. My boyfriend found this cute but it’s not good for me. I am very imitative and when I read bad English I start writing it. When I did start reading it, I read a chapter aloud to my flatmate and we were both in hysterics. When I looked for it next it was gone.

In my flatmate’s absence, I raided her room and retrieved it so now I have finished it and can write a review.

It’s about a Chinese woman (called Z) who comes to England and has a romance with an English man (who reads the Guardian). As their relationship develops, her English improves, she learns how to be naked, have sex all day, use a condom, and, most importantly, because of the nature of an English man’s love, to masturbate. She also learns that love means different things in Chinese and English, which is true. English people say they love each other when they mean they are fond of each other. Chinese people would rather not say it but instead demonstrate it through a lifetime of devotion.

The narrative is a bit disjointed but original. It takes the form of a notebook containing entries on words Z is learning. The bad English (which improves) is not always quite how we Chinese write English but it is often close. Some of the notes on language are very insightful. I disagreed with some of them and sometimes Z’s innocence struck a false note, becoming merely a rhetorical device.

The ending is moving. Maybe it will make you cry.

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Books by Vanessa Wu

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