Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Xiaolu Guo, serves up a tantalizing dish of dream and pickled seaweed in her new novel,"A Concise Chinese-English dictionary for Lovers."
"A concise Chinese-English dictionary for Lovers," by Xiaolu Guo is an excellent first novel. Guo serves up a tantalizing dish of dreams and pickled seaweed in her portrait of a young Chinese student in London, pursuing love, language and fine cuisine.
Both love and language are equally incomprehensible in Guo's postmodern reality that strips sexuality down to essentials and sentiment to satire. With her little Chinese-English dictionary in tow at all times, Guo's character pursues the same enigmatic and elusive language of love, that leaves all of us bewildered.
Guo's earthy and intellectual prose is reminiscent of the late Marguerite Duras with a splash of Colette. The novel's blend of satire and poetic meditation has a startling ability to ask existential questions without artifice.
Within a few days of arriving in London, the student casually appropriates a worldly, older bisexual lover. The narrative difficulties of this avant-garde relationship are obvious and the erotic fruit discovered, is as random as a ripe pear falling from a tree near the Metro. The young woman enters the discourse of sensuality and sexuality as candidly, literally and without preconception as she enters language.
As the the relationship falters, the student is sent away, on a five week train trip to other European cities for the purpose of experiencing aloneness. This novel is not only about a Chinese student coping with twin difficulties of language and cultural interpretation, but about disconnects that we all experience between feeling, thought, language and love. It has been a while since I have discovered such a gifted young writer.
Four Flower Petals