This story is about a Chinese man who suffers a head injury, as a result of which he loses the ability to speak Chinese, finding himself only able to communicate in English.
The success of this book for each individual reader is determined by how much that reader cares about the 2 main characters - the doctor and the patient. Both have faults but are not unlikeable. I also found their situations very believeable. The problem was that I didn't care what happened to them. I did finish the book but several times I was tempted to put it down.
What kept my attention was the lovely writing with the descriptions of life in Shanghai - this is wonderfully written, providing an evocative picture of both expat and local life in the city.
It is a well written book with a beautiful atmosphere - more time should have been spent on the characters.
This book is based on one of the more fascinating ideas that I have seen in recent literature and an idea that has particular resonance with me given my job as an ESL lecturer. The protagonist of the novel loses his ability to communicate in his native language through a freak accident and has to communicate in schoolboy English. There are enough reviews giving the content for those interested in this book. For me the important aspect of this book is the way that language is seen as a barrier to communication. Having lived abroad I know the feeling of not being able to express anything more than the most basic of thoughts and it is here, for me, that the strength of this novel lies. I got the impression that this book is aimed more at women than at men. Certainly, my wife loved it and raced through the pages, whereas I struggled in places. Having said that I thought it was a really interesting departure and a book well worth checking out.
After he is injured in an accident in Shanghai, Li Jing wakes up unable to speak Chinese. Instead he has reverted to English, the language of his childhood, which he spoke until he was ten when his father took him from his home in America to live in China. His wife Meiling is horrified, and asks his hospital to find a specialist to cure her husband. Dr. Rosalyn Neal arrives from America, recently divorced and hoping to escape from her problems for a time. But as her friendship with Li Jing grows, it begins to cause problems in his already strained relationship with Meiling.
This is an eloquently written book, which explores the way that language is vital in building and maintaining relationships, and without it isolation can ensue. Li Jing's situation parallels that of Rosalyn Neal, as both are trying to reclaim a normal life in China, without being able to speak the language. This leaves both characters struggling to fit in, and carry out day to day tasks such as shopping and ordering food. The book emphasises the otherness and impenetrability of the language for outsiders, which I found interesting having previously studied Mandarin. The story also paints a vivid picture of Chinese culture and the city of Shanghai. Rosalyn has difficultly settling into her new home: the heat and humidity, the traffic, the bustle, the food are all so different. It is only when she meets a group of ex-pats that she begins to feel at home, ironic given that this group of Westerners themselves are outsiders in Shanghai. Rosalyn's status as outsider is highlighted in one scene where she goes out for the day with Meiling - shopping, to a spa, and to see an orchestra. Rosalyn delights in the markets where the clothes are cheap and fake branded, and revels in the attention her exoticism brings, whilst Meiling is aloof and considers the doctor's tastes to be crass.
Initially Li Jing and Rosalyn have a difficult relationship. After he realises that he can no longer speak Chinese, Li Jing shuts down, refusing to speak at all. He feels distanced from his family, in particular Meiling, who speaks no English. Once the high-flying boss of a finance company, Li Jing is trapped inside himself, able to understand Chinese, but not able to answer the questions of those around him. With her husband unable to look after the family, Meiling is forced to take over the business, her resentment growing as she has to put her own life on hold.
The three central characters in this book all have difficultly connecting in one way or another, but at times I found it hard to sympathise with their choices, which often made their situation worse. Rosalyn in particular acts selfishly; she is a decent woman, but as Meiling observes at one point, she is in a foreign country and has the freedom to behave however she wishes, knowing that she will soon return home to America, leaving her Shanghai problems behind forever.
There are a lot of complexities to this story, it is very cleverly rendered and for a story about language, or the lack thereof, is full of beautiful and detailed descriptions. It is a fascinating portrait of Chinese culture, and its differences from the West. I gave this 3 stars because I didn't find the story as moving as I would have liked, and at times I struggled to like the characters, but there are many reasons to read this book, and I imagine many people will love it.
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.
on 31 December 2015
I'll admit that the book makes the reader think about the importance and intimacies of language, and finds a lot of ways to do this. It also highlights how damning or compelling it can be to have someone who either encourages or discourages self-sabotaging behavior when your in crisis. So, I can't call the book crap. But I found it painfully over-written (as if a book about language can't be comprised of simple, straight-forward words and sentences—pretentious), slow and boring and I disliked almost all the characters almost the whole time, Rosalyn especially.
on 4 July 2014
I found the book enthralling, the characters engaging,but the ending disappointing. The poor therapist- one of the central characters- is sent back to the USA and we hear nothing more about her. The married couple have lost their relationship, the company is sold and the flat is exchanged for an inferior one. Maybe the author plans a sequel?.
Ruiyan Xu's first novel is excellent. As the tag line "what happens when love is lost in translation?" hints at, it has more than a little in common with the 2004 movie "Lost In Translation", but this is much more than a copycat story.
Roles are reversed as Rosalyn, an American medical student, is summoned over to Shanghai to help businessman Li Jing whose injuries during an earthquake leave him unable to speak. Effectively you have three central characters: Rosalyn struggling to adapt to Chinese culture and loneliness, Li Jing unable to cope with his inability to communicate, and Li Jing's wife Meiling who struggles to run Li Jing's business whilst lying to clients about his condition.
All three main characters are compelling and believable, but importantly, all three are not necessarily always likeable, and clearly none of them are the hero of the story. It's obvious that not all of them will get what they want and as the story unfolds it's hard to decide whose side you are on.
The drama unfolds at a nice pace. After the initial earthquake prologue things move slowly at first as each character is introduced. The "Lost In Translation" comparison is strongest here, especially as it at first feels like nothing much is going to happen (much like the movie). However the action soon accelerates, drama unfolds and the comparisons fade away. A Taylor's description of the chapters as vignettes is a good one. Though the story-telling approach in itself is not ground-breaking, it has been done with definite skill.
The ending does feel a little bit rushed, but is thought-provoking and unexpected, in ways I can't explain without spoiling it.
I'll be looking out for Ruiyan Xu's second novel with interest- especially since "Lost In Translation" didn't have a sequel...
A slightly unusual love story set in modern day Shanghai before, during and after an earthquake.
A book that makes you think as you read it, a little like a Chinese meal but with vignettes instead of dishes, most work, some don't but they are all of interest. The characters are very well drawn, and you want to know what happens to them, even the peripheral ones. The language the author uses is good to, in both character feeling, I mean not to `slangy' or too cleaver or too contrived, just seems to fit the scene and characters and it's easy to imagine people acting, talking and reacting this way for real, sat opposite you almost :-) Which is odd really as the main character has problems with speaking and language almost from the very start of the book.
I liked it a lot, and once again it's difficult to say much more without giving the plot away so if the above and the dust jacket wet your appetite I'm sure you won't be disappointed.