English: A Novel
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English: A Novel

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3.19 of 5 stars 3.19  ·  rating details  ·  168 ratings  ·  45 reviews
A captivating coming-of-age novel in the tradition of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

During the darkest days of Cultural Revolution, a twelve-year-old boy named Love Liu wonders what life is like beyond the region of Xinjiang in China's remote northwest. Here conformity is valued above all else, and suspicion governs every exchange among neighbors, classmates, an...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published April 2nd 2009 by Viking Adult (first published 2009)
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Stephen
I would like to rate this coming-of-age novel more highly. The complex political world of the 1970s in the far western Chinese city of Urumchi is described here through the eyes of a young man who cannot quite understand the terrible, often cruel forces that swirl about him. For this young man, the study of English, guided by a teacher and mentor named Second Prize Wang, becomes an escape and provides a window on another world. Much of this is well done, and in some ways the horror of the cultur...more
Gerund
This novel presents a unique challenge for a translator: How to effectively render into English a novel written in Chinese about a young Chinese boy who falls in love with learning the English language?

Perhaps this is why Wang Gang’s English has not one but two translators. Martin Merz and Jane Weizhen Pan had their work cut out for them, from translating Mandarin and cross-language puns to smoothly indicating when characters switch languages.

The result, though patchy at times, is a compelling r...more
Diane
This book is set in the Xinjiang region of China, around the time of the Cultural Revolution. The book focuses on the relationship between a young male student and his English teacher. The English teacher carries himself like a gentleman, and the student admires and respects his teacher and tries to become a gentleman as well. Of course this is difficult during that time period when anything seen as bourgeois is criticized. I read this book slowly because I'd read it at bus stops and during meal...more
Kerfe
"Oh dreammaker, you heartbreaker..."

The song "Moon River" will always now make me think of Love Liu and his English classes in China during the Cultural Revolution; its wistful longing is echoed in the unrealized dreams, the deep deep loss of possibility, for these generations of Chinese.

"Where does our cruelty come from? did it fall from the sky? Were we just born that way?" Anxious questions hover over, weave through, Love Liu's childhood and coming of age. Here is another world where trust is...more
Eveline Chao
It was hard to really find myself engrossed by this novel because there was something strangely far-removed and distant about the narrator's tone. Then again I find this with pretty much every single Chinese novel I have ever read in English, so maybe it's something about the translation. There were times, however, when the removed tone really suited the narrator's alienated state of mind and the novel would sort of strike just the right chord of hopelessness and teenage angst and became quite a...more
Naomi
This novel is based on the author's own experiences growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution. The main character, Love Liu, is a boy who grows up in a remote area of China. This is both a story of growing up in a remote region of China during the Cultural Revolution, and the fear and poverty that was present throughout this time period, and a boy's love affair with the English language.

I wish I were able to read and understand Chinese, I'm not sure if this was written in Cantonese or...more
Jeanna
I read this book in French. Translated from Chinese. The central image: an English Dictionary. symbol of Western intellectual culture; of all that is conveyed by the term 'gentleman'... About a boy growing up during the Cultural Revolution .. about adolescence and impossible love and (sexual love, family love, friendship...) during a time of much repression. The opposite of the climate of freedom to grow and explore developed in the book I just read: A Face in Every Window by Han Nolan. Maybe du...more
DubaiReader
A bit rambling.

I was not aware, while listening to this unabridged audiobook, that the story is basically autobiographical. This goes part of the way to explaining the rather rambling style that didn't seem to be heading anywhere. The translation is excellent and the audiobook narrator was good but I'm afraid I was bored by about half way through the book.

The narrartive is set in the 1970s, in the Xinjiang region of China, in a small town known as Urumchi. Although there is an undercurrent of vi...more
Xavier Guillaume
Mar 03, 2012 Xavier Guillaume rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Those interested in China, those who can appreciate poetic beauty
I was looking in the library for a good book, when this one caught my eye. On the back it mentioned how it was one of the top bestselling novels in China, so I knew it must be good.

I didn't know what to expect, knowing absolutely nothing about the book, but I quickly learned it takes place in a part of the world that I knew next to nothing about. It takes place in the village of Urumqi, which if you look on a map is located in Northwestern China, almost near Mongolia. To the West are the Tiansha...more
Erin
This book is charmingly cruel, amusingly disjointed, illogically lovable. Set during China's Cultural Revolution (an event which, I obviously need to know something more about to make more sense of this novel in retrospect) it effectively sticks to the point of view of one very divided narrator and his weird friendship with his English teacher in a tiny cold town. At points, I found the narration frustrating to follow. It wanders all over the place, characters seem to act from mysterious motivat...more
Marsha
Love Liu has a strange relationship with his teacher, a man of slightly foppish tastes. Love doesn’t seem to care very much for his own home town, showing a fierce desire to be anywhere else and yearning for the elusive qualities of “compassion”, “soul” or being a “gentleman” which he thinks his teacher embodies.

At times lyrical, passionate, harsh, bitter and frighteningly cruel, “English” displays a boy’s struggle with his own burgeoning adolescence, his twisted longings and the awkward relatio...more
Uci
Sebagai orang yang setiap hari berkutat dengan kamus, benda satu ini sangat akrab dengan keseharian saya. Tapi bagi Love Liu, bocah dua belas tahun di Urumchi, wilayah barat China yang terpencil, kamus bahasa Inggris menjadi bagian vital dalam perkembangannya menjadi seorang laki-laki dewasa.

Tumbuh besar di tengah pergolakan Revolusi Budaya yang mengharamkan segala hal berbau asing, Love Liu jatuh cinta pada bahasa Inggris dan mengidolakan guru bahasa Inggrisnya yang di mata bocah itu merupakan...more
Gaby
I think the best word to describe my experience reading this book would be "weird". The book would dwell on strange kinds of things (a visit to the men's toilet, for example) yet skip over important events, like a murder. Some scenes were presented in an over emotional way I couldn't identify with, while others that should've had deep dramatic impact were either quickly passed through or oddly restrained and understated. The way characters behaved (particularly female characters) and their react...more
Sarah
Because the book is written both in the past and present, things were a little confusing as there was no established passing of time. I really enjoyed Love's voice, he was so enthrall long, I loved every page. His journey was so different from anything I'd read before. I thought that it was commendable that the author put in Love's errotic emotions and how he felt around girls. Overall I really enjoyed the style of writing and glimps into Chinsese culture.
Wally
Interesting novel/memoir of a Uighur boy growing up in Western China during the Cultural Revolution. The political pressure to conform is intense, and affects everyone in his village: parents, neighbors, teachers, other students. Repeatedly disappointed by his social-climbing architect parents, the boy attaches himself to his English teacher, a cosmopolitan young man from Shanghai whose greatest possession is a coveted English dictionary.

Interesting book, and a huge seller in China, even though...more
Sandra
This isn't the first fiction I've read set in the Cultural Revolution. It is not even the most bloody, but the brutality still comes through loud and clear. It is actually difficult to imagine oneself as any of the characters depicted because it is difficult to imagine a social milieu quite so terrifying and non-nurturing. If the story approximates the bleakness of Mr. Gang's own childhood, he is to be much congratulated for having survived the abuse with his humanity intact. The story rings tru...more
Betsy
I was hoping for a book that would knock me out like Balzac and the Little Chinese seamstress but I didn't get that. What I got was memoir/fiction that doesn't let me remain in the head of the teenage protagonist as the adult version of him in constantly intruding and the way he has the character respond to certain situations feels much more like the response of an adult than that of his younger self when he was actually living through the events he describes. Partly, this is a problem of transl...more
Laura
Told in a simple yet engaging style, English is the story of Love Liu's school years learning English in Xinxiang, China during the Cultural Revolution. It was compared in some reviews to Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress and so, of course, I'll have to read that next as well as go back and finish Vagrants. You'' notice I like to read several books in a row from a common locale or topic.

Still reading a chapter here and there in between other things. Not a story with a driving narrative th...more
Perrin Pring
This is a depressing and subtly disturbing book. Every time I picked this book up, I felt as if it weighed a hundred pounds. Filled with gross tales of spying on naked women, and finding joy at other's misfortune, I came away with not a better understanding of China's cultural revolution, but a deep disgust at what was normalized in China's culture during this time. What disturbed me even more was that in the author's note, Gang states that he wanted to write a book not focusing on the negatives...more
Melissa
Let's just say mostly everything in this book was unexpected. I went into it thinking it was a young adult novel. It definitely isn't. I enjoyed the characters and plot, but somewhere in the latter half, it became a push to the finish. I would recommend it because it's pleasantly quirky and gave me a different perspective on the cultural revolution in China. The only writing I've read about this time period has been from Yu Hua, whose books were also completed unexpected for me. Hua's writing is...more
kathleen
Interesting coming of age quasi memoir from the time of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
Tanja
I came across this book very shortly after having read 'The Vagrants', a book that I simply loved. Both are set in Communist China, in small towns in the country site. Both have their share of misfits, of small events leading to big consequences later on, of failed dreams and lives cut short. Both do a great job of bringing to life an era and culture that is as interesting as it is frightening, as familiar as it is strange. It is a good book, but in the immediate comparison, this novel did not l...more
Chin Hwa
It has a delightful premise: a young boy in a remote city in Northwestern China - Urumqi - falling in love with the English language during the cultural revolution. It's the boy's English teacher who inspires him. As an English teacher, how could I resist this book? However, the plot is not too consistent, jumping around a bit, and the characterization needs a bit more development. The book did inspire in me a great curiosity in Urumqi and Xinjiang province but I just wish it had opened my eyes...more
Meg
3 stars

This was a fascinating tale, but there must have been tone or something along those lines that was completely lost in translation for me. I felt disconnected with the narrator most of the time. Maybe forgive me, I've never read a book translated from Chinese before this one.

I didn't love it or hate it, but I feel glad to have read it. I think it was an important read for that period of time and history.
Kate
This coming of age book is really about the cultural revolution in China as told by the author. While a
"quasi" memoir he clearly didn't tell all, as he reveals in the afterward. The role of "English" i.e. the author's learning to read and speak English is quite interesting as to what it symbolizes to him and the others in the book, including his classmates, friends and of course the teacher. Definitely worth a read.
Amy Cook
I have definitely never read anything like it. The writer's style is so casual (or detached?) about a life that seems very depressing and events that are life-changing. It offers an extremely interesting insight into the life of rural Chinese during the Cultural Revolution, but it is also extremely depressing through and through. I'm glad I read it, but it wasn't a fun read.
Jenny
This is a coming-of-age memoir set in rural China during the Cultural Revolution. The novel is very much what you would expect it to b--a story of oppression, confusion and frustration. It was originally written in Chinese and translated to English. I think it must have lost something in the translation, the flow of the plot and language just seemed to be lacking.
Marjanne
I was expecting to like this novel better. While there were some insights into Chinese culture, the plot just didn't do anything for me. I'm not sure if I really understand the main character's fascination with his English teacher, or why the teacher favors him so much. The story was also confusing in places. I hope this authors other works are better.
Terry
I tried looking up the Chinese character equivalents of some of the words that seem to merit that sort of attention in the text, but I don't think that really helped in my appreciation of the novel. Still, it's a compelling tale, the characters are finely drawn, and I'll go looking for another from this sphere.
Kevin
I was disappointed. It was described as one of the top books of the year in China. Perhaps it was the translation, but the prose was very simplistic. Maybe that's how Chinese literature is - less emphasis on the words and more on the story or something else that doesn't come through with the translation.
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