China still claims to be a communist country, but for 30+ years it's pursued capitalism with a ferocity that is matched only by the US, especially in Shanghai. The central conceit in Ruiyan Xu's novel reflects the inevitable confusion that has resulted from this post-Mao sea change; the freak accident that befalls Li Jing not only speaking English, but essentially *becoming* American. And this is the fear that grips China, even as it enjoys the benefits of a prolonged economic boom - how to do capitalism without becoming a nation of JR Ewings. If Li Jing loses his language, does he also lose his quintessential Chinese-ness? And exactly how can that quality be defined?
After that neat set-up, the novel becomes overly complex and discursive, and could probably lose a good 20% without suffering much. But I always prefer a noble failure to a generic novel-by-numbers, so The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai comes recommended, with reservations.