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A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers
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A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers

3.43 of 5 stars 3.43  ·  rating details  ·  3,225 ratings  ·  463 reviews
When a young Chinese woman, newly arrived in London, moves in with her English boyfriend, she decides it’s time to write a Chinese-English dictionary for lovers. Xiaolu’s first novel in English is an utterly original journey of self-discovery.
Paperback, 354 pages
Published March 27th 2007 by Chatto & Windus (first published 2007)
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Jason Pettus
(My full review of this book is much longer than GoodReads' word-count limitations. Find the entire essay at the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [].)

So first, a confession from my personal life that is relevant to today's essay; that like many others, I too once fell in love with someone while on a foreign trip, in many ways precisely because it was a foreign country and she was a foreigner within that country. And like many others, it wasn't just simple lust that ma
Things I liked:

1)The title of this book, which is named after an actual Chinese to English dictionary.

2)Z's unintentional humor, like--"I not understanding what she saying. Mrs. Margaret have a neatly cut pale blonde hair, with very serious clothes. Top and her bottom always same colour. She not telling her age, but I guessing she from 31 to 56."

3)Z's language reflections, like--"I thought English is a strange language. Now I think French is even more strange. In France, their fish is poisson, t
Lately I’ve been obsessed with stories about impossible loves, those unrequited, betrayed, or starcrossed loves. I read books about two characters who’d die for each other but somehow cannot live for each other. I watch romantic movies with endings that are never happy, often sad, if I’m lucky hopeful. And I ask my friends about their loves and their friends’ loves and their friends’ friends’ loves: have any of them found someone and had it work out? has anybody found a love that is possible?

I w
MJ Nicholls
A bleak romance tale between a Chinese student and an arrogant vegetarian van driver, narrated in oddly distancing Engrish. Like Guo’s other künstlerroman Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth, it paints a painful picture of immigrant life abroad, and kicks One Day so far up its sanctimonious arse, one can barely glimpse Anne Hathaway’s goofy grin from Ursa Minor. The style is slightly similar to Palahniuk’s Pygmy, though this came first, and the humour is less bourgeois satire, more Chairman Mao ...more
I completely identified with this book because it brilliantly captures the feeling of immersing oneself in a foreign language and culture. What happens when you begin to fluently speak, live and love in another language is fascinating. What the author conveys so well here is how the beliefs impregnated within the language alter how you interact with people and conduct relationships.

I loved Z and her practical wisdom. Her 5 week solo travel stint through Europe in many ways felt eerily similar t
brian tanabe
What a beautiful little book. What a tragic love story. What a sexual coming-of-age tale. What a narrative on the Everyman being a broken man. What an account of the cultural differences between the east and the west. What an illustration of an asian woman in western society.

This is a powerful book about love in a modern relationship told through a captivating narrative.

In the beginning and in the end it is a love story -- a very sad love story but a completely realistic love story, a true lov
This is a charming and surprising book, but one that is also very frustrating to read (which is both a compliment and a complaint).

Note: It's best to read this book in the voice of someone struggring with Engrish. If you do so, it becoming easier adopting the tone and the mindset of the protagonist. (In my immigrant-raised habit of taking what is said and written with entire seriousness and my snobbery about proper grammar and pronunciation, I was initially offended by the author's choice to wr
Actually three and a half stars. An extremely interesting book. The question is: who does one sympathize with in this love story? I can't figure it out, and my mind kept changing throughout the text. Is the young Chinese woman (abroad for the first time in London to study English and falling in love with an older British man) to be admired for the clarity and simplicity with which she sees the world? Respected for her earnest and hard-fought struggle with a foreign culture? And empowered by her ...more
YAWN.Couldn't finish it. The female protagonist, Z, is so feeble and boring. She has some kind of love affair with some old hippy guy. Blah. Am totally bummed cuz it was really horrible and maybe I'm just not 'getting' what it is all about to be an Asian woman in modern society. This made me angry with Z's timid comformity and neediness. And I thought the boyfriend was really annoying and disgusting. Meh. Read if you must. But there have to be better things out there to spend your time on.
I'm not quite sure how feel about this book. What I liked, as many people mentioned, was the style. I thought the Chinglish felt natural and I often laughed at how Z misplaced words or made silly assumptions. I liked the progression from broken English to someone with a basic grasp of the language.

What I didn't like at all was Z herself. Her personality and her actions repulse me on many levels. I'm not sure why a country girl who immigrates to England would simply move in with a man she just m
I loved this short little book. At the start there stands the words: "Nothing in this book is true, except for the love between her and him." The depiction of her, Ms Z's, love for him is so true that the book truly shines. This is reason enough to read the book. In addition how it feels to struggle in a new country with a new language is fabulously described. That a land's culture is entwined with its language is another important aspect of the book.Finally there were interesting tidbits about ...more
Its a story told by many travelers who experience new culture after flying away from the safety of their nest. The longing for familiar and eagerly grasping it when the familiarity grazes your finger tips is a notion these people face one too many times during their early travels.

There is a passion in Z though she claims she is "serious" and "full of expectation for future". There is chaos in her methodology. She navigates through her time in London living with a man who doesn't believe in a st
When I started reading it, I disliked and disdained it. I have had my share of Amy Tan; I use English as second language; I know what it is to get to know a language for the first time. And "Z" here was an insult to all of us.

But then halfway through the book I finally realised what the writer was doing (yes! I am that dense; but then it was difficult to get past the whining, needy voice of Zhuang). In her less than competent English (and perception), Zhuang manages to question and subvert all t
Vanessa Wu
My boyfriend (who is English and reads the Guardian) gave me this book. My flatmate (who is Chinese and reads Grazia) borrowed it without asking. That's the trouble with talking to your flatmate about books. This week she's gone off to Austria with my copy of Candy (by Mian Mian) because I made the mistake of telling her how much I was enjoying it.

Back to this one by Xiaolu Guo. I avoided it for a while because it's written in bad English. My boyfriend found this cute but it's not good for me. I
Bhargavi Balachandran
Sometimes when you read a book that makes you laugh and cry all at once and you wonder what kind of a book that is- a good one, I have realized .Xiaolu's book is a poignant ,yet funny tale of a young Chinese girl who arrives in London with shiny eyes and unending reserves of curiosity to learn English.Written in the first person narrative,almost like a diary,the first 100 odd pages almost reads like a chicklit - breezy and funny. As the protagonist, Z tackles English breakfasts,the infamous" Eng ...more
Sonia Gomes
Feb 26, 2009 Sonia Gomes rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People who like to know about immigrants !
Recommended to Sonia by: Got it from British Library
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers
Author: Xiaolu Guo

When Zhuang arrives in London for her studies in English, everything is so different for her, observations of her Hostel, food and London and even her teacher, Mrs. Margaret are extremely funny, everything is strange, everything is new, not always pleasant but new, there are phrases like
‘Sorry for my English”, or ‘ Now I am studying hard on English, soon I stealing their language too’
Soon she meets an older man at a movie theate
Book #16 for 2012: I loved the unraveling, learning and embracing of language, culture and self. Xiaolu Guo is one of my favorite writers ever.

Favorite Lines/Quotes:

I say I think you beautiful, ignoring the age. I think you too beautiful for me, and I don't deserve you.

I don't feel any real love in my heart.

"To me, to live life is to live in the present." OK, live in the present, and which direction you leading then?"

If no need struggle then we don't know how to live anymore.

The speaker on th
This book sat and waited for me for a very long time. It looked good – and that it was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2007 was an excellent sign - and yet I didn’t pick it up. I thought that I knew just what it would hold, just what it would be about before I even read it.

The combined forces of my own Clearing The Decks Project and Orange January made me pick up A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers on New Years Day. And I’m very glad.

Yes, the story, the themes were very much as I
I was interested in this book as an overseas Taiwanese / ABC (American-born Chinese). The style of writing may be trying for some, but for a Chinese person it's quite easy to read (although I wasn't sure if all the words and phrases she uses really reflect how most Chinese people learning English speak or write). It starts off promisingly and I could identify with some of the cultural issues the main character was struggling with. I also recognized some aspects of her from some people I have kno ...more
Caro Márquez
What a cute-ish little story this was. A girl from China, Z, or so they call her, comes to England to improve her skills in English language. She meets a twice older man there, has a short but rather, well, interesting affair with him and through him with the western civilization itself. And then (view spoiler), haha.
I thought this to be serious first, then funny, then, finally, I got totally confused and kinda bored. I must confess I didn't buy it in the end, sham
A love-and-loss/finding-oneself story in which a young Chinese woman comes to London to perfect her English and falls into an unconventional relationship (and living arrangement) with an older bisexual man. Gently amusing in its observations, related in first person by the protagonist, with themes of cultural displacement, self-discovery and sexual awakening running throughout. But the story ultimately made me feel like a bit of a horrible person because the narrator's naivety irritated me more ...more
Craggy, life-size account of a Chinese woman's experiences when she arrives in London to learn English and falls in love with an English man.

I was a bit disappointed by the inconsistent use of 'bad' English; the conceit of learning vocabulary, grammatical rules etc doesn't work as well when, early in the book, she's using 'me' and 'I" quite well, and then lapses completely much later on when it's the focus of a chapter.
As a bilingual writer I would have expected more accuracy (not that I know a
The diary of a 24 year old Chinese woman coming to London to learn English. Written in broken English (which gradually improves) and using a word and its definition as the "hook" for each brief chapter. Some interesting insights into the differences between the two languages (no verb tenses in Chinese) as well as the two cultures, and indeed how language differences perhaps even frame the cultural differences.

See another novel of hers: Twenty Fragments of a Revenous Youth: https://www.goodreads.
Original review on Tabula Rasa.

A Chinese woman, Z, moves to England to study English, a language she greatly struggles with. Z carries around her Concise Chinese-English Dictionary wherever she goes. When Z moves in and falls in love with an older Englishman, her struggle deepens. As their relationship grows, Z blossoms from the shy peasant girl into an independent woman. Sent off by her boyfriend on a solo trip around Europe, Z begins to understand and slowly challenge her idea of love.

This is a brilliantly written book. It is the story of the coming of age of a Chinese young woman, who travels to London for a year to learn to speak English, as the way to lift herself and her family up the social ladder back home. As she sheds her naivety and inexperience, the protagonist's character comes much more fully to life, as she makes one discovery after the other about herself and her culture. The book is full of nuanced insights about the cultural differences between East and West, ...more
This is really a beautiful book with a unique story. It's a quick read, the writing is simple as it is the diary of an ESL student living in England. But within that it is surprisingly complex. The subtleties of language and culture are amplified by the protagonist who is learning the words as the book progresses. I would recommend it to anyone.
Throughout this book, in short, flash fiction-ish fragments each revolving around a single English word, you get to see Z's English evolve from this:

"What to say? I feel the sea inside me too big, too neverending to speak."

to this:

"You love the heaviness of life. You like to feel the difficulty and the roughness. I think you like to feel the weight of life. You said you hated IKEA, because furnitures from IKEA are light and smooth."

It is gently and miraculously done. And in that education, she c
This story follows “Z”, a newly arrived immigrant from China, beginning with her one year long stay in London, where she will learn English to aid her with her job.

This book conveys with precision the utter isolation and loneliness that a human can feel when in a strange place, with no easy way to communicate with another person. It has an air of bleak desperation, especially at the start. Apparently, the novel is based on Xiaolu Guo’s own experiences as a newly arrived immigrant in London, exp
Having enjoyed Rowan Simons' "Bamboo Goalposts" about an Englishman's attempts to introduce football to China, I was keen to read Xiaolu Guo's "A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers". Whilst I realised this was a work of fiction, it seemed to offer the reverse perspective; that of a Chinese woman trying to make her way in learning and living in English. It was also advertised as a rom-com style of book, which is something I quite enjoy and whilst I've not learned languages for some tim ...more
Morgan Renae
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers is the 50th book I've read this year, and it is worthy of the milestone. It had one of the most engaging, endearing, and interesting narrators that I've ever come across. Zhuang had such a refreshing point of view to read from, she thinks so differently from how I think, and it was a great experience to be in the shoes of someone so different from myself. I loved seeing her grow as an English speaker, which was a brilliant idea on Guo's part! I hav ...more
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Is the boyfriend an artist or a jerk? 9 108 May 23, 2009 11:49PM  
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Xiaolu Guo (Simplified Chinese: 郭小櫓 pinyin:guō xiǎo lǔ, born 1973) is a Chinese novelist and filmmaker. She utilizes various media, including film and writing, to tell stories of alienation, introspection and tragedy, and to explore China's past, present and future in an increasingly connected world.

Her novel A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers was nominated for the 2007 Orange Prize f
More about Xiaolu Guo...

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“It's the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance.” 144 likes
“About time, what I really learned from studying English is: time is different with timing.
I understand the difference of these two words so well. I understand falling in love with the right person in the wrong timing could be the greatest sadness in a person's entire life.”
More quotes…