Who would believe that reading a novel written in deliberately bad English could be as uplifting an experience as this? But Xiaolu Guo, writing in English for the first time, has pulled it off in a novel that has the potential to be as successful as "A History of Tractors" in Ukranian or "Lost in Translation". Her narrator, who calls herself Z because no one can pronounce her name, is a 23-year-old Chinese language student who has come to London to learn English. When the book begins she can barely ask for a cup of tea, but when language comes, so does love. As she gets to know British culture she also falls for an older English man who lives a resolutely bachelor life in Hackney. It's a million miles away from the small Chinese town she comes from, where her parents want nothing more for her than that she should follow them into the shoe business. Z learns about sex, humour, companionship and passion, but she also learns the painful truth that language is also a barrier and the more you know about it, the less you understand.
Written in short chapters, each the definition of a word, this is a brilliantly clever book that pokes fun at England and China, explores the endless possibilities for misunderstanding between East and West and paints a portrait of a relationship that everyone will understand, no matter what their nationality.
Shortlisted for Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction 2007.
Xiaolu Guo was born in 1973 in a fishing village in south China. She started publishing poems and short stories when she was 14. At the age of 18 she went to the Beijing Film Academy to study film. She went on to publish five books in China, novels and essays, before being selected for a scholarship to study Documentary at the UK's National Film and TV School in 2002. Since then she had lived in London (with periodic returns home to China) where she has been writing novels and making films.