Mary O. (Boston, MA)
the haunting way language taunts us
This is a debut novel that paints a very haunting picture of loneliness, love and pain. The sing song lyrical quality of the prose reads almost like poetry. It evokes emotional isolation from page one and captures you until you finish the last page - I couldn't put this book down! It truly shows how silent and verbal communication, language and culture bond people together and painfully break them apart. A great debut for a highly talented author -
Therese X. (CALERA, AL)
The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai
Communication is taken for granted in modern life, but what if a person suddenly loses the ability to respond in their own language, despite understanding the conversation? In the grand Swan Hotel in Shanghai, workaholic businessman, Li Jing and his father, Professor Li are drinking tea when a gas explosion rips the place--and their lives--apart. A shard of glass enters Li Jing’s forehead and when doctors try to communicate with him, he can only utter syllables in a strange language: English, Jing's first language, learned during childhood in Virginia before the family moved to Shanghai. Li Jing has spoken Chinese ever since. He courted his beautiful wife, Meiling, with all the beauty of the language, and now she can no longer communicate with him. Her icy tone of disappointment causes him such grief, he refuses to look at anyone who comes into his hospital room. In desperation, Meiling agrees to engage an American neurologist, Dr. Rosalyn Neal, who specializes in his condition: “bilingual aphasia”. Dr Neal has her own personal difficulties and this offer seems not only a chance for research into her field of study, but a well-needed challenge. She underestimates the consequences, however, especially the fact that she does not know a word of Chinese! Her initial days in this teeming city are so well described in the novel, a sense of buzzing, nonverbal “claustrophobia” affects both her and the reader.
In this beautifully written novel, the concept of language goes beyond mere conversational abilities. Language permeates everything: behavior, traditions,even personal relationships where words were formerly not necessary. Meiling’s impatience with her husband’s continuing disability, her son’s confusion with the change in his family, and this gregarious American neurologist’s constant stream of English keeps Li Jing mired in the language he has no use for and pushes Meiling farther away weakening the bond between them. When Li Jing’s business partners question her about his return, she is determined to keep his real condition a secret and takes his place, learning the business language of stocks, bonds and profits in order to keep the company afloat which depended on her husband’s former charisma and easy way with difficult customers. Again, communication is the key factor. One single action, a terrible explosion and one man’s disability causes many lives to fracture as a result of the loss of his “language of Shanghai”. Author Ruiyan Xu’s first novel is a marvelous, multifaceted journey into the world of language and human communication as well as the lack of it. Many rivulets of change combine to make and remake lives, and this could happen to any one of us.
DawnEllen J. (Riverside, CA)
Lost and Forgotten - hardly!
"The Lost and Languages of Shanghai" is a hauntingly beautiful tale through which author Ruiyan Xu explores the subtle nuances of language and the role it plays in culture, identity, and relationships. When an accident severs Li Jing from his ability to speak Chinese, he is forced to communicate only in his nearly forgotten childhood English. Although physically able to recover, Li Jing's ability to interact with those around him is irreparably damaged. Li Jing and his beloved wife Meiling are trapped in their separate prison houses of language, to use Fredric Jamison's metaphor, unable to break through the walls of silence that now engulf them. The magic of this remarkable work lies in Xu's ability to capture the interior monologues of the characters in ways that engage the reader in their painful struggle to communicate that which they feel deeply but have no words to express.
The reader feels the anguish of Li Jing and Meiling because she, too, longs to cry out to them both and communicate what the other is feeling; but she too is mute, separated as she is from them by the construct of the reader/character relationship. Xu skillfully weaves flashbacks of the couple's relationship into the ongoing story of the way in which their inability to communicate with one another bifurcates their relationship and forces them to follow separate paths in search of new identities. More insidiously dangerous than the English-speaking doctor who threatens to come between them, is language, which inserts itself as a character in its own right. Language is vividly portrayed through the sensory imagery of an author who fully understands the power of the medium with which she works, but who also understands the power of love to overcome the insurmountable.
Marci G. (Southern New Jersey)
Loss of Language... Loss of Self ?
As a nurse working on an acute rehabilitation unit, I was very drawn to the book. I cared for a stroke patient who lost her ability to speak English but could communicate in her primary language. Fascinating!!! To read this beautifully written book that merges science and the heart so well. The frustration of all parties involved is palpable. I was also drawn by the parallel between Rosalyn's sense of isolation and Li Jing's. Who are we if we are taken out of the context of our daily lives ? Successful business man, father, son, husband...
Mary B. (St Paul, MN)
Lost ad Forgotten Languages
I enjoyed the book very much. The characters came to life through the narrative. Ms Xu' writing is very descriptive and involving. One can feel the rain and humidity as she writes about it. One can feel the emotions the characters are experiencing. I was sorry when the book ended as I wanted to know what else would be happening to the characters, as they had become people I cared about. On a side note, the jacket cover is beautiful!
Samantha H. (Golden, CO)
Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai
This is a fascinating story, that showcases how our lives and culture are completely dependent on a common language. I started this book on an airplane, and became so absorbed in the narrative that I nearly missed the beverage cart. The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai is very well written, and the characters are well developed. I became completely wrapped up in Li Jing's struggle to rejoin his family, having lost the one thing he needs to succeed -- the ability to joke, fight, and express his love. I highly recommend this book. I think it would be a great title for a book club to open up discussions on how language is vital to our lives and the world around us.
Barbara S. (Glen Ellyn, Illinois)
The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai
In the Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai, author Ruiyan Xu weaves and unforgettable drama that begins with a critical accident resulting in bilingual aphasia causing communication complications between all touched--family, doctors and friends. An intense read of a never-to-be-forgotten tale. I highly recommend this novel.