A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers [Xiaolu Guo]


Green Tea

Hello book fans. Sorry it has been so very long since I touched base. I’ve been settling into a new job, and have basically just been really tired. It’s not much of an excuse, but it’s the truth. The thought of devoting brain power to processing print was just too much.

But I have my little brother (I say little, he’s 16, and taller than me these days…) to thank for my rejuvenated spirit. Thanks, Ben, for my birthday Kindle. It was too generous, and I’m sure you secretly really wanted to spend that money on PS3 games. You see, in April this year I was rushing to get ready for a party, took a step back from the mirror to check my makeup, lost my footing and stomped pretty heavily on my handbag. A sickening crunch reminded me that my Kindle was inside. A Kindle onto which I had just that day downloaded a new book: ‘A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers’ by Xiaolu Guo. The party in question was for my boyfriend’s birthday, so I had keep my chin up and act as though I hadn’t just destroyed one of my most beloved possessions.

So, earlier in December, I gleefully fired up Kindle 2.0, the aforementioned book with a name too long to keep writing out popped up, and it was just what I needed. It’s a short book, and is divided up into epistolary snapshots of life of the main character, Z, over a year or so. Initially I really had no patience for the ‘broken English’ style – Z is a 23 year old Chinese woman living in London and is trying in earnest to learn the language. A little like ‘Flowers for Algernon’, it always rubs me up the wrong way for a while when the narration is done using atypical spelling/syntax for whatever effect – in my mind it gets  a big red ‘DUMB’ stamp and I ready myself to move on to something new. I’m not sure that Guo was on point with the bilingual learning curve, with some inconsistencies in what had been ‘mastered’ at various points. And then there’s the fact that each diary entry starts with a relevant word and its dictionary definition. This, to me, is on a par with ‘Keep Calm and ________’ as a tiresome ‘creative’ choice. But, just as in ‘Algernon’, I came to be extremely fond of Z, and ended up unable to put the book down – even in my most weary winter post-work fugs.

One of my favourite things about the book was the character of the unnamed 40-something Londoner artist who Z falls in love with. He’s pretty much a classic hipster, and through Z’s eyes there is a beautiful ‘peeling of the onion’ – she is drawn to this cool, enigmatic older man, only to discover that under this ‘skin’ lie his neuroses, narcissism, and hollow artistic vision. As she spends more and more time with him, the discrepancy between how he wishes to appear and how he really is becomes greater and greater. He is supposedly an artist, but all of his work seems little more than a very self-aware attempt to craft a bohemian persona. As soon as he slips out of this self-awareness the bullshit goes with it, and he is revealed to be a pretty horrible guy – worse, a pretty dull guy. Guo beautifully make Z this naive character who finds beauty everywhere as she learns a new language, travels around strange places, and adapts to a foreign culture. The interplay between these characters made, for me, one of the most well-written relationships I’ve come across in years.

I’ve finished this and want something similar:

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. A corker of a book, currently forming a very brightly coloured brick in my Christmas tree of books.

What do you think?

I’m yet to come across someone in the ‘real world’ who has even heard of this book, let alone read it, so I would love to hear some other opinions. Let me know in the comments!

Until next time x


1) I mentioned that I have a book tree. It’s a true fact, and it looks flipping fantastic:


2) Special things are happening for brewandbook in 2014. Hint: a brand spanking new YouTube channel and a GoPro camera I got for my birthday may or may not be involved.

3) Given the way things have been, I think it’s safest if I make no promises about getting another post up before Christmas. Instead, I wish you the most jolly of holidays. Let me know which books are on your Christmas list!

Lots of love, and happy holidays.



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