Monday, December 17, 2012
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers by Xiaolu Guo
Zhung is a young Chinese girl who is sent to London for a year to learn English by her parents, factory owners, so that she can fit more easily into the new Chinese economy. She arrives with very little English, tossed into the ocean of new faces, words, meals, customs and cultures. Her most useful possession is her Chinese-English dictionary, which she uses incessantly as she tries to learn enough to maneuver through this foreign environment.
Her days are taken by attendance at the English language school; her nights are lonely since she knows no one and has no idea where she might go. Finally, she discovers the cinema and starts going there at night. She meets a man there and moves in with him within a week or two of their meeting date. She lives with him for the next year, experiencing England through his eyes and how he perceives the world to work.
Zhuang, or 'Z' as she comes to be known for convenience, finds the gap between how she has experienced the world and how her lover does to be extremely wide and difficult to bridge. To her, moving in with her lover means they are exclusive and that he will satisfy every need she has. To him, while he professes to love her, his need is for some space and time for him to pursue his relationships with his friends and even former lovers. Z has a difficult time understanding this. Their time together is marked by her attempts to get her lover to commit to only her, and to his withdrawal and anger at her attempts to restrict his life. Throughout the time, she learns more and more about the English language, but the English outlook on life continues to elude her.
Xiao has created an interesting novel. Each segment is started with a word from the dictionary, the definition of that word in a formal sense, and then how Z experiences what that concept means in this foreign environment. The reader is allowed to watch her grow and learn and to see how her culture differs from the one she finds herself in. This book is recommended for readers of modern fiction and for those interested in how people relate to each other.