Deana's Reviews > The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai: A Novel

The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai by Ruiyan Xu
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's review
Jul 30, 11

really liked it
bookshelves: read-library, linguistics, 2011, 4-5stars
Recommended for: language nerds
Read from July 20 to 30, 2011 , read count: 1

I won't lie -- I chose this book merely because it was the only book in the fiction sections of any of the THREE libraries I visit whose author's surname begins with X. There are probably non-fiction books out there, but with today's computerized library card systems you can't FIND them. They don't let you run a search with just a single letter. So there -is- a use for the physical card systems! Anyway, in one of the groups I am we have a challenge to read one book for every letter of the alphabet for the author's family names. So here's my X book.

But I was pleasantly surprised! I -will- immediately say, though, that I think I am probably somewhat unique in this. Not that it's a bad book -- it isn't! But, especially at the beginning, it gets kind of scientific sounding with all the terms related to his bilingual aphasia, Broca's area, computational models, etc, etc. And it JUST so happens that these are all things I've had to study during the course of my PhD! So I was fascinated by the thought of the affliction this poor man had. I was really excited by how much work the author had done to learn about these things and how much research she must have done and how many times she must have re-written this to make it seem realistic. Sometimes I think authors have the most difficult job in the world. They have to have degrees in EVERYTHING!

That said, I found the story beautiful even though I didn't really care for most of the characters. I had very strong reactions to them. I found them all very realistic seeming and believable, though unlikeable (but that's realistic!). The wife was horribly self-centered and bitchy. (view spoiler) The kid didn't seem very smart and kind of annoyed me, going around muttering all the time (though I felt AWFUL for him -- what a horrible situation for a boy under 10 to have to go through with his family). Dr. Neal was the worst of all. I understand that she was still hurt and upset from the divorce with her husband (speaking of assholes, wow!) but her behavior was terribly unprofessional. And she treated Danny like crap (one of the few characters I actually liked) as well as making things bad for Li Jing and his wife. And I couldn't BELIEVE she was willing to (view spoiler).

I did like Professor Li. And I mostly liked Li Jing. I completely felt his frustration through the author's writing and understood why he made some of the decisions that he did and even didn't so much mind him smashing the laptop or putting his fist through the wall, having wanted to do those things myself on occasion even while still having full control of my speech!

Overall a really interesting read.

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Quotes Deana Liked

“Two months in Shanghai, and what does she have to show for herself? She had been full of plans on the plane ride over, had studied her phrase book as if cramming for an exam, had been determined to refine her computational model with a new set of data, expecting insights and breakthroughs, plotting notes for a new article. Only the time has trickled away so quickly. She has meandered through the days chatting with James instead of gathering data. At night, she has gone out to dinners and bars. [James'] Chinese has not improved; her computational model has barely been touched. She does not know what she has been doing with herself, and now an airplane six days away is waiting for her.”
Ruiyan Xu, The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai: A Novel
tags: life, time, work

Reading Progress

07/20/2011 page 22
07/28/2011 page 269
76.0% "Library book due tomorrow, going to try to finish it up so I don't have to renew."
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