Review: A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers

Xiaolu Guo
I’d wanted to read this book for a while, so picked it out of my reading list and gave it a go. I’d read quite a few reviews where readers had said they found the ‘Engrish’ language in which it’s written patronising, and off-putting. To me, it wasn’t too hard to hear Z’s voice in my head and it made sense – it wouldn’t have been the same story without it.

If you’re unaware, the story comes from inside the head of ‘Z’, a twenty-three year old Chinese girl who comes to London for a year to study English. I have a good friend who’s story is similar to Z’s, and was reminded of her a lot – which I think helped me to understand how Z sees Western life. Throughout the book she addresses ‘you’, her 40-something English lover, with whom she lives in London.

I disliked ‘you’/him; the drifter who hates being in the city, hates being around people, and doesn’t have the balls to go after what he really wants until right at the end of the book. While I can understand while Z stays with him – her understanding of love being radically different to his – it surprises me that he doesn’t ask her to leave at any point, and turn to complete solitude. I was even expecting Z to return from her 5 weeks around Europe to find him having left the house.

I finished reading the book over a week ago now, and since then, this article on the BBC caught my attention: China’s ‘leftover women’, un married at 27′. Reading this article backed up my beliefs that there is such a different view of love from the Eastern and Western cultures – for Z, she is looking for the man who will look after her and provide for her. While Z does not share the ‘I am not worried’ attitude of the women in the article, she’s certainly under the same parental and cultural pressure, which is shown clearly at the end of the book where she returns to China, but moves out of home and works in Beijing.

By the end of the book, however, Z seems to still believe that she and ‘you’ are the right lovers for each other, but just with bad timing. I’m not so convinced. The characters seem too different to me to make it work – whichever age they’re in. And if it’s not working, then it’s not the right kind of love. I did enjoy how the differences between Z and ‘you’ in love were mirrored in language, with Z always questioning and needing more from ‘you’.

Altogether I did enjoy the book, although I found it darker (I’m not sure if this is the right word, but there were more issues inside) than I was expecting. It seemed like quite a short read to me, but the story weaved it’s way well and tied it up at the end with a glimpse into what happened next. If like me, this story has been on your radar – or you’ve never heard of it – it’s definitely worth a read.

Next I’m going to be reading ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn – don’t forget to keep checking out my reading list and passing me your recommendations as I’ll check out pretty much anything!


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