Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication Date: June 2008 (Reprint)
Format: Paperback, 304 pgs
24 year-old Zhuang Xiao Qiao, or "Z" to foreigners, left her home in China to stay in London to study English. With only a cheap suitcase and her "little red book" - a concise Chinese-English dictionary, she is set to learn English language and return home proudly with a new dream and a new hope instead of following her parents' path - making shoes in their little town, Wen Zhou.
As much as her willingness to learn English, she finds herself trapped by the cultural differences and the grammatical challenge that so often confuse her. On top of that, she feels lonely and hope for someone whom she can talk and share things with. She found that person in an Englishman she met in a cinema (a nameless character whom I thought would be better off with a name) and fell in love. But like her struggles living in London, their love is equally full of challenges as aside from their cultural differences, their thoughts and their passion for food (she loves meat while he's a vegetarian) are so different from each other, too. Her lover is more of a drifter and let nature decides his future while Z feels being together and plans are what make a couple closer. It is only the intimacy part that keeps them together. However, as the days go by they realise love is not enough to keep their relationship going. Their thinking and goals are different: He wants freedom, and she wants a future of them together. Readers, you should know where this ending will lead...
Written in Z's POV like a diary (with a dictionary-like format with words that portray her emotions/thoughts before a page starts), this book chronicles her journey into the West, her struggles in learning English language, her relationship with a foreigner and discovering her sexuality.
Z is a simple-minded woman who, like a toddler, explores everything with curiosity and always have full of questions. Her thoughts are sometimes naive but that shows how she is coming from a peasant family. Her lover, on the other hand, who once travels and enjoys company is now moving towards a life with peace and nature. He feels suffocated by Z's love and thinks a future is a future; there is no plan for it for who knows what would happen next. Z thinks a couple should work together for that future to come. Honestly I didn't know who was the one who'd failed this relationship but I did know they have came out of it a different person, especially Z; what she'd experienced has made her into a more mature woman.
I enjoyed reading this book but not as much as reading I Am China. Perhaps I have high expectations; but I think the characters here are not as strong and unforgettable as Mu and Jian in I Am China. That said, I will still check out other Xiaolu Guo's books but the question is, which title?
Note: This book was shortlisted for Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction 2007.