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  • Articles by Mary

    I am China by Xiaolu Guo

    In Village of Stone protagonist Coral describes her journey from poverty and abuse in a small fishing village to drab urban comfort as an adult in modern China.  In A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers  protagonist Z explores the gaps and connections, cultural and linguistic, between  England and China through her relationship with an English lover and her progress in writing and speaking English.  Both books illuminate larger truths with a light touch through the thoughtful and often funny reflections of the main character.  In I am China author Xiaolu Guo both abandons the first person heroine and overtly goes for the big story.  As the title suggests, this book is about politics.  The characters are a young Chinese couple, a poet and a punk musician, who are used to represent their county.  


    The story is described as the product of Iona, who translates the couple’s  journals and whose own life becomes part of the narrative. There are strong British place references, north London streets, bars, and restaurant and Scotland’s Isle of Mull.   France and Switzerland are also briefly viewed. The  problem with the work is that none of the characters are substantial enough to carry the burden that is overtly given to them. And the journals which form the core of the narrative become self indulgent and repetitive.   Iona, in particular, is not credible and the punk musician Jian is so lightly drawn that much of his behaviour is simply inexplicable.  


    The reality of human rights in China and the experiences of young Chinese dissidents is an important story but sadly this book doesn’t tell it.  By making a front on approach Guo fails to meet her ambitions.  Lets hope she returns to the stories she tells so well and lets the reader make the inferences.  


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