A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers is a novel by Chinese-English author Xiaolu Guo that is written in an interesting format – a diary written by a Chinese woman newly arrived in England and clearly not proficient in English. But as the book progresses, the woman’s English improves substantially over one year as she takes classes, moves in with an English lover and struggles to understand a different culture, society and lifestyle. There are some interesting cultural insights and clashes as the Chinese protagonist sometimes has frank and provocative discussions with her English lover, who in contrast to her improving English and knowledge, gradually becomes more melancholy and jaded. I didn’t find it the most stimulating of reads and let me say it is not the most cheerful of books.
The England-based Guo is considered one of the best Chinese writers in English, having been named by Granta as one of the best English young novelists in 2013. Like Ha Jin, she also writes in English. I saw her at a panel at the Beijing Bookworm literary festival earlier this year where she touched on the challenge of writing in a different language (English for her) from your own.