Karla S. (Dana Point, CA)
"How can we be friends if we don't communicate?"
This book is about how isolated each character feels when they are unable to communicate with one another. An explosion tore apart the Li family and they had to rebuild, learn how to live with loss, grief, betrayal and redemption. Beyond the family there is portrayed the culture clashes between the immigrants, expats, and the Shanghai population. This first novel shows Ruiyan Xu to be a gifted novelist who understands her subject. I hope we soon find other books by this author. This book is one I could not put down until I finished the last page.
Jane A. (Lakeport, Ca)
The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai
I felt that this was going to be a good book, and I wasn't disappointed!
I take 'communication' for granted, and it was fascinating to see how this story developed in a small family for whom this essential tie was disrupted when the head of the household was afflicted with 'bilingual aphasia'. The author handled the telling in a detailed, yet gentle manner, and each facet of the story compelled the reader to go on to the next.
I found the writing to be quite good in itself.
I will definitely recommend this book to my two book clubs!
Andrea L. (Cottonwood Heights, UT)
Received for review from Bookbrowse First Impressions Program.
This is a beautifully written novel exploring the intricacies and dependency humans have on language and how their limitations can project into daily choices. The characters are well developed and layered with subtlety, and the story proceeds at a comfortable pace. Xu's style is lyrical and full of imagery and symbolism.
Unable to return to life as he knew it, Li Jing, turns to the most welcoming option available to him after a freak accident robs him of his ability to speak Chinese. Rediscovering his life through the English language he knew as a child alienates him from his wife and child, and cripples his ability to function in his city and his formerly successful life.
Unable to express himself with the nuance and subtlety that is integral to the Chinese language, Li Jing is attracted to the unsubtle but comprehensible American doctor who has been brought over to treat his Aphasia. She is the antithesis of his wife Meiling, fire to ice. And as he is drawn to her nurturing warmth, he becomes more and more alien to his former life.
Li Jing must make a choice: to live in utter isolation while his frighteningly competent wife charges ahead; or escape to a situation where he can communicate his needs in English and leave his family, language, and culture.
Virginia W. (Cloverdale, CA)
Loss of a common language
Captivating novel about how the loss of a common language in a marriage affects the relationship. Li Jing, injured in an explosion, loses his ability to speak Chinese and withdraws from his wife. He reverts to his first language, English, which Meiling, his wife, does not understand. Meiling does not want to show how her husband's injury has affected her. Both restrain their emotions and remain inscrutable to one another. Dr. Neal, an American neurologist, establishes an emotional connect with Li Jing and helps him express himself in English. Tensions increase between these three characters and suspense ensues regarding how these tensions will be resolved. The book interested me throughout. I think coping with such a serious injury would be difficult in any culture.
Susan B. (Rutledge, MO)
some goodness, ultimately disappointing
Other than some well-turned phrases and compelling images, I found this novel disappointing. The characters seemed unsympathetic, their actions and words weren't believable, and I didn't feel the deep sense of another culture and locale that can redeem similar otherwise faulty books for me. Throughout I kept hoping that something would click, that it would start to feel more coherent, satisfying or meaningful, but it never did. Because I did enjoy some of the language I would give this author's second novel a try, but I would be hard-pressed to recommend this one.
avid (Springfield, IL)
I felt like I was reading a college English assignment, in which the student has been instructed in the mechanics of writing, but just hasn't mastered the nuances of making a story interesting to the reader.
Nothing about this book captivated me; the characters were shallow and inconsistent, and the underlying theme regarding the loss of language was unbelievable. If such a syndrome exists in which a person can be injured in such a way as to maintain the ability to understand but not speak his primary language, while regaining fluency in a language he hasn't used in 20 years, that fact needs to be illuminated in the book because it's just too incomprehensible to buy into otherwise.
If you can get past the effects of the injury, you still need to tolerate characters who behave in improbable ways and a meandering plot that doesn't satisfy, along with an amateur writing style.
I would not recommend this book.
Barbara H. (Alexandria, VA)
The book is haunting, sad and lovely. The descriptions of Shanghai are enlightening.
I really enjoyed the book at the beginning. It was interesting to learn about the differences in languages and about aphasia. However, I soon grew to dislike the ponderous descriptions of just about everything.
Xu brings up some interesting ideas and writes well about the claustrophobia of loneliness and the fear of a new city, a new life. The extent to which language makes the self is a fascinating topic. Yet sadly this novel doesn't work; whatever usually transforms a well-planned, sincerely conceived piece of writing into something worth finishing was missing. I only read to the end because I had agreed to write a review.