The good: A fun read for the train journey with a unique voice.
The not-so-good: Now I need to read the full novel (A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers)
Why I chose it: I like book series and I like cute pocket sized books.
Year: 2017 (full novel 2007)
Publisher: Vintage (Penguin Random House)
Setting: London, UK
Rating: 9 out of 10
Readers of my blog will know that I simply cannot resist a book series due to prettiness, matching-ness or just because they are labelled a series. The Vintage Minis series takes extracts of work from a writer on a particular subject, and bundles them all up very nicely in a slim paperback (which is also sold at a nice price of $7.99 AUD). I recently had a dilemma of wanting to use a fashionable handbag and having a public transport commute and this book took up the challenge very nicely. (No, I wasn’t going to read on my phone).
I have read Xiaolu Guo’s novels before (I Am China) but I was captivated by the start of Language, which reads as a handwritten note on a single page: ‘sorry of my English’. I am a sucker for notes, pictures, letters or any kind of insert in a book. The chapters also start with an English word and the definition. This is apt as the story is told by Zhuang, who has moved to London from China at the request of her parents to learn English. Their aim is for her to become the international contact for their shoe factory. Zhuang is not overjoyed at this, particularly on landing when she finds the West is nothing like books or movies. It’s nothing like her dictionary either with funny requests and sentences that don’t make sense. She feels like she is only just surviving in a world that is the complete opposite to what she is used to with sentences focusing on the wrong parts and strange foods. But then she meets a man at the cinema, who teaches her about patisseries, plants and love…
Language is a condensed version of A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers. Reading this only makes me want to read the full book more – I don’t care that I’ve read some parts, I just want to know more about Zhuang’s story. (And is that truly the ending?) I loved how she tells the story in her disordered, broken English which sometimes makes more sense than ‘proper’ English. It’s easy to get into the swing of her way of telling things and interesting to see her perspective on things like scones and manners. Zhuang is charming, easy to like and it’s wonderful seeing her grow through love and improving her English.
I’m definitely planning to seek out more of these Vintage Minis – a great way to try a new writer, explore a familiar writer’s unread works or to slip into a bag for extra reading time.