A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers
By Xiaolu Guo
Completed January 13, 2012
Zhuang Xiao Qiao is a young Chinese woman whose parents send her to London for a year to perfect her English. Born to peasants who rise to wealth, Zhuang is sheltered but curious, and she journals her new words throughout her year in England. Early during her stay, she meets a man 20 years older than her, who becomes her lover, and her ‘dictionary” transforms into an ode to their relationship.
The romance between Zhuang and her lover is hot and romantic at first, and she quickly learns more about English words and customs. She learns more about her lover too, and she realizes that he’s a torn individual – a homosexual man who is lost in the city. Zhuang struggles to learn how she fits into his life. It would have been interesting to read chapters told from the lover’s standpoint, but as it is, we get an eye- and earful from Zhuang. Zhuang’s never been in love before, and it becomes apparent that her Chinese ideals are on a crash course with her Western lover.
I like how A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers was structured. Each chapter begins with an English word, and Zhuang chronicles how she learns about the word’s meaning in the context of her new life. Zhuang is very observant and sometimes funny. I grew tiresome, though, of Zuang’s relationship and her suffocating ways with her lover. It wasn’t a healthy relationship, and as the book ended, I hoped that both characters would move along in their lives.
All in all, I liked A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers. It offered a interesting glimpse at the Western world through a Chinese person’s eyes and shed light on Chinese culture that I wasn’t aware of. If you have patience for the love affair and sexual explorations, then this book would be an enlightening read for most fans of literary fiction. ( )