PRAISE FOR A LOVER’S DISCOURSE
“Unlike Roland Barthes’ book by the same name, Xiaolu Guo’s A Lover’s Discourse is a love story as a genuine dialogue, not only between lovers, but between languages, cultures, and philosophies. Swift, astute, and funny, the novel explores large and urgent questions about the familiar and the alien, the original and the copy, and the blur between and metamorphoses from one to the other. The narrative magic lies in the fact that the although the tale flies high, it never leaves the ground of the everyday, the particular, sometimes messy, reality of the book’s ‘me’ and ‘you’two travelers who struggle to make a home somewhere between them.”Siri Hustvedt, author of Memories of the Future
“A fiercely intelligent book whose exploration of the philosophy of identity is trenchant and moving.”Kirkus Reviews, starred review
PRAISE FOR XIAOLU GUO
“The novels confirmed Guo, who is also a film-maker, as an astute and challenging innovator, slipping between word and image, documentary and fiction, as restlessly as between languages.”Guardian on A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers
“Xiaolu Guo’s literary voice remains a breath of the freshest air imaginable.”The Independent (UK) on A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers
“Gripping. . . In evocative, captivating prose that reads like fiction, Guo brings to life her lifelong struggles against the chains of poverty, gender, and censorship . . . A rich and insightful coming-of-age story of not only a woman, but of an artist and the country in which she was born.”Kirkus Reviews on Nine Continents
“A memoir to compare with Wild Swans for a new generation . . . Utterly compelling . . . The book is often shocking in its descriptions of violence and deprivation, but Guo also writes with wry humour . . . She writes superbly about her struggle to escape the constraints of gender, poverty and state interference. This extraordinary memoir will enhance her burgeoning reputation.”Ian Critchley, Sunday Times (UK) on Nine Continents
Noted British writer/filmmaker Guo (I Am China) follows up the memoir Nine Continents with a novel documenting the relationship between an unnamed couple. In London during the initial period of Brexit, a newly arrived Chinese scholarship student working on her dissertation about artists in China who can produce counterfeit artwork in three days for about $50 meets an Australian German man, a landscape architect, at a book group. The two soon become lovers and move in together. What follows is a flowing work, narrated by the woman, that details their three years together through a series of their conversations. What adds to the work's realism is the depiction of the young woman having to struggle to communicate her thoughts owing to her inability to fully comprehend British English metaphors while also translating sayings from Chinese to English. VERDICT This beautifully told and gently introspective story of a young couple touches upon a host of relatable topics, from cultural and generational differences to socioeconomical perceptions and relationship issues between genders. Readers will have much to ponder, and book groups especially will appreciate.—Shirley Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA
Two lovers merge their lives, but not their identities, across boundaries of culture, nationality, and ideology.
The unnamed narrator of this novel in epistolary fragments is a young woman from a rural town in Southern China who has come to London to pursue a Ph.D. in visual anthropology in the winter of 2015, just prior to the Brexit referendum. Both her parents have recently died, and she doesn't know whether to attribute her loneliness to her identity as a foreigner in Britain, to her newly orphaned status, or to another more essential part of her nature she comes to understand as “distance pain, an ache or a lust for a place where you want to belong.” Her desolation is somewhat ameliorated when she meets the you to whom these fragments are addressed—a landscape architect she meets picking elderflowers on a picnic organized by mutual friends. “The elderflower picker,” as she terms him, turns out to be another culturally displaced person, the child of an Englishwoman and a German man who grew up on the east coast of Australia before moving to Germany in his late teens and to England as an adult. Their relationship quickly develops from this chance meeting to a full-blown love affair, co-habitation on a houseboat in the London canals, parenthood, and travel to German farmland, Australian tourist towns, and an enclave of tradesmen in Southern China whose job is to reproduce great works of art for sale on the open market. Modeled after Roland Barthes' structuralist masterpiece, also titled A Lover’s Discourse, Guo’s latest meditation on the nature of belonging asks many of the same questions as her earlier works—Can language create identity? Can love create a home? Are the differences between cultures, genders, nationalities, and personal ideologies what pull us apart, or are lifelong conversations, even arguments, about these things what help us understand what it means to truly be together?
A fiercely intelligent book whose exploration of the philosophy of identity is trenchant and moving.