Saturday, 2 June 2007

Book Review: A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers (Guo Xiaolu)

It's high time I caught up on my book reviews (And I don't mean the ones on the blog), so seeing that it's a weekend, let's get on with the program shall we?

And no, I'm not reviewing an actual dictionary...

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Title: A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers
Author: Guo Xiaolu (I refuse to write it as Xiaolu Guo because I know that's not how the name is properly pronounced...)

Synopsis (From Amazon.co.uk)
Z is a 23-year-old Chinese language student who has come to London to learn English. When the book begins she can barely ask for a cup of tea, but when language comes, so does love. As she gets to know British culture she also falls for an older English man who lives a resolutely bachelor life in Hackney. It's a million miles away from the small Chinese town she comes from, where her parents want nothing more for her than that she should follow them into the shoe business. Z learns about sex, humour, companionship and passion, but she also learns the painful truth that language is also a barrier and the more you know about it, the less you understand.


What I Liked:
  • The incredibly ingenius concept of writing the book like a Chinese learning English
    I loved the way the writing 'improved' as the book progressed.
  • I could relate to some of the things she went through
  • Simple and easy to read.
  • Quite funny too.
  • Some of the pet peeves Z had about the differences between East and West were very accurate too.

What I Didn't Like:
  • Might be a little confusing if you are not familiar with the way Chinese speak English.
  • It was a little irritating reading the (deliberate) grammar mistakes in the beginning. I thought I was reading PPS at times...
  • When you take away the novelty of the book's concept, the story really isn't much different from a normal fish out of water, coming of age book

Summary:

I liked this book mainly because I could relate to it. Not exactly in the whole learnign English part, but more the differences between English and Chinese language and the cultural part.

I've always been a fan of cultural differences and I've felt that cultural differences are what make this world fun. It would be one hell of a boring world if everyone were the same, dont' you think?

Anyway, the novelty of a Chinese writing an English book in the way a Chinese learns English is such a brilliant concept that I wonder why no one ever thought about it before (maybe no Chinese writer was ever good enough to write in English? Cannot be right?). It made for good comedy, and also a good vessel for hitting out at people who stereotype Chinese (or Asians, for that matter) into one group, and for pointing out how the Asians struggle to adapt to Western culture.

The best parts of book were her litle observations about the differences in culture, and why Chinese say one thing it means this, but English say that it means nother thing. Very astute observations, I thought.

Of course, once that novelty wears off somewhat in the end (when her English gets better, especially), then the book starts to be slightly less interesting, as it now comes to the comign of age of Z, and not so much her struggle to adapt anymore.

To tell the truth, I really liked the Chinese chapters (in which Guo writes in Chinese and then the translations appear on the next page. When I read the translations, I felt as though the meaning was less meaningful than the bit in Chinese, which actually made me curious about reading her stuff in Chinese (if there was a Chinese version).

This really is an interesting book, where the process of reading it turned out to be a lot more fun than actually trying to understand the story.

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