A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo

The first thing to note about this book is that it is not a dictionary!  I mention it, because reading reviews on Amazon, I noticed that some people thought that it was, which was why they bought it.

The book is narrated by ‘Z’, a 24 year old Chinese girl, who is sent to England by her parents, to learn the English language.  Inevitably, she learns far more than just the language, and discovers much about the differences in the English and Chinese cultures, as well as learning lots about herself.  It is written almost in a dictionary format, with headings for different chapters being new words or phrases she has learnt, which generally have a tenuous link to the events of that chapter.

The book is written in deliberately bad English (which does improve, as Z spends more time in England, and learns the language).  The first half of the book is rather charming, and we do see things which we are used to and take for granted, through Z’s eyes.   

She falls in love with an English man, and the culture clash causes a few difficulties in their relationship.

Unfortunately, about halfway through the book, it started to lose it’s appeal.  Both Z and her boyfriend are irritating and selfish characters.  I found myself wanting to shake Z, and tell her to get a grip!!

I think it is a shame that Z seemed only able to define herself by the way men felt about her.  Indeed, she had no interest in female friendships or bonding (there are barely any other female characters in the book, and those that are, are peripheral characters).  Undoubtedly, Z’s language and understanding of a foreign culture advanced, but I’m not sure that she advanced emotionally very much at all, which is a pity.

An interesting idea, with some flashes of brilliance, but overall, I would say that this book was a wasted opportunity.

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