Friday, August 6, 2010

A Concise Chinese-English ...

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

Husband bought this for me as a present to read when I finished all my talks last term. I waited with anticipation to read it and started it the night I was finished. It looked great, as well as potentially interesting and personally relevant to us (with him being Chinese and me Caucasian). It had good reviews on the cover, etc. I was looking forward to a bit of fiction.

It started well – written in poor English by Z (actually Zhuang, but no Westerners can pronounce her name) as she first arrives in England for a year of language study. It’s her thoughts in English, even though she can’t write in English well yet. I really enjoyed reading these early chapters. Each chapter is based around a word in the dictionary which she used to translate all the English to Chinese. I really liked this, it was a clever idea – the writing continually improves through the book as Z’s English improves and she learns and understands more about living in London.

Then she meets a man. Which all seemed good to start with. Except she is 24 and he is 44. And he is bisexual. And a commitment phobe. And unimpressive on so many levels.

So what started out so promising just ended up being annoying and depressing.

Such as shame, I was so keen to judge a book positively based on its cover. So sad to be so disappointed.

[As an aside, it reminded me of a book my mum bought for me as a teenager about a man who worked in a zoo with an orangutan (or perhaps other monkey). For a daughter who loved animals and was contemplating being a vet, it seemed a perfect choice. However, it turned out that that it was actually about the man developing a very intimate relationship with said primate. Opened my eyes to some perversions of nature, and horrified my mother that she had chosen such a book!]

So, as they say, “don’t judge a book by its cover” – either with a positive judgment or a negative one – you have to actually read the book!

(Husband just finished reading it and contrary to me, he quite liked it, because it was a story of her trying to find and understand herself in a foreign country. That's probably sums up some of the differences in the way we read books. When I read for pleasure, I want a good story that preferably ends well. I can appreciate the literary qualities but that does not mean I will enjoy it more. Also, he is less critical than me!)

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