Friday, March 14, 2008

Another Good Book - A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers

I know this blog is starting to sound like a protracted book report, but I've been reading some really interesting books lately, and figured I ought to keep a record of them.

An unexpected benefit of my bi-weekly novel writer's critique group is that it meets in the main library downtown. I go to the library in my own neck of the woods almost weekly, because Sam and I have a standing date with Mother Goose on the Loose, a program for toddlers on Wednesday mornings, but our library and the main library are worlds apart when it comes to the new aquisitions section. Since I am now in the middle of editing my novel, and it gives me headaches, I have been doing a lot more reading in order to unwind. This week's recent acquisition (mine and the library's) is A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo.

This was one of those books that stays with you long after the last page is read. I find myself thinking about many of the ideas Guo explores: humor as a purely western concept, the luxury of "self", and the meaning of love in different cultures.

In China, "home" and "family" are the same word. And lovers don't need privacy or freedom from one another. When they make a home together, they are together mentally and physically.

I, like the main character Z, have traveled across the world and lived as a foreigner in several countries. I know what it is like to try to communicate, to experience the frustration of limited language, to live in an extended state of loneliness, with only freedom and self to keep me company. I can completely relate to her longing for love, and home, and family. To search for love in places that seem irrational and absurd. To wonder why relationships fail to bloom.

I have always wanted my independence from people, even the people I love, so it was interesting to read about a Chinese woman's perspective. In this novel, the main character Z makes her lover central to her life. She thinks she has everything because she has him. But because he is Western (British) he wants freedom and space. The two of them are in a constant battle to be understood, which makes for an amazingly powerful read.

It is certainly not the book to read when you are hormonal and feeling nostalgic. The relationship between Z and her lover was not unlike a couple of my own failed attempts at love. There is nothing so frustrating as being the one who loves and having the object of your affection turn tail and run for the hills. It happens, but it leaves you wondering "Was it something I said?" With age I have come to realize that even when two people speak the same language, many things are lost in translation.

The book is bitter sweet, but authentic, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. This is one of those books that will stick with you. You won't mind. I promise.

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