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A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers

3.52  ·  Rating details ·  5,519 ratings  ·  734 reviews
Shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction

Twenty-three-year-old Zhuang (or Z as she calls herself - Westerners cannot pronounce her name) arrives in London to spend a year learning English. Struggling to find her way in the city, and through the puzzles of tense, verb and adverb; she falls for an older Englishman and begins to realise that the landscape of love is an ev
Paperback, 354 pages
Published January 3rd 2008 by Vintage (first published 2007)
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Ahmad Sharabiani
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, Xiaolu Guo

Communication is proving tricky for Ziao, a young woman fresh off the plane from China. When she finds herself pitched headlong into an affair, and living with her English boyfriend, she decides to to write her very own dictionary, a Chinese-English dictionary for lovers. But will her new love survive the cultural chasms between East and West?

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز سوم ماه جولای سال 2016میلادی

عنوان: فرهنگ فشرده لغات چینی به انگلیسی برا
This is the semi-fictionalised diary of a 24 year old Chinese woman coming to London to learn English. It was published in 2007, five years after the author came to the UK on an educational scholarship awarded by The British Council. She knew little about her destination, and felt understandably lost and alien when she arrived. That sense of being adrift and uncomprehending is beautifully conveyed.

Picture: Xiaolu as a new arrival in London in 2002, outside the Houses of Parliament (from The Gua
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
Blurb: 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.

Here and there a highlight, particularly when the girl compares her own use of English with Shakespeare's and walks out the winner! (Rightly so!)
One thing, even Shakespeare write bad English. For example, he says “Where go thou?
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
Alice Lippart
Unconventional, fascinating, wonderful and slightly sad. Very, very good.
Aug 11, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2010, adult
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
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
Sep 19, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Apr 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own
First time I've read a whole book in one day in ages, this was addictive, heartbreaking and, so so interesting. Highly recommend. ...more
Mar 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites, 2008, china
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
I'm not exactly sure how to rate this one. I still feel conflicted about it.
2.5-3 stars.
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
brian tanabe
Feb 28, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
"Why do we have to study languages? Why do we have to force ourselves to communicate with people? Why is the process of communication so troubled and so painful?"

The problem with a boring main character is a boring point of view. Zhuang is the voice through which the story unfolds: she is a Chinese young woman who comes from a family of shoemakers and who's sent to England to learn English, of which she only speaks very few words (thing made clearer by the fact that the book itself starts with h
Dec 01, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 26, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Well-written coming-of-age story of a dysfunctional cross-cultural romance told with a thoroughly unique voice. Guo nails both Z's evolving language skills as well as her "stranger in a strange land" take on the realities and absurdities of living in a totally alien culture. I didn't develop any particular sympathy for Z's unnamed British lover - and not a huge amount for Z herself, for that matter - but the writing style alone held my interest more than any similar "female novel" has done in a ...more
Sep 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Did I mention it is my third Xiaolu Guo? All of them in 2019? If not, mark my words and remember this name. ;)

I don't have anything in particular to say about this book, except that the prose* flows, I read it quite quickly, like it happened with my first Xiaolu Guo as well. The thing is - I was planning on reading A ... Dictionary while on the train/bus, but apparently I coudn't let my hands of this book and here I am, wondering what I am going to read next on a train/bus etc. Big drama.

Yeah, X
Nov 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asian, rain, melon-collie
God this was so beautiful and melancholic. Loved this so much that I finished it in a day. I really felt that I was transported to London and the quiet house and it's garden. I'll definitely cherish this book 💖 ...more
Nov 14, 2017 added it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dnf
DNF at 35 pages

I'm sorry this is 100% a me thing but I cannot STAND when books are written in an accent, whether that be a southern twang, a british accent, or from a person who doesn't know English well, I simply get driven insane and can't enjoy the story. I flipped ahead a bunch and it looks like the character learns English over time in the book but I'm sorry I just will not enjoy this book because that's going to be the only thing I notice about it. I don't want to offend anyone on this bec
Vanessa Wu
Aug 04, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Biblio Curious
Whoever designed this cover should have his license revoked. Seriously.

My copy travelled the world with me because I didn't want to lose it in storage. I only brought 5 non-work related books with me and this is one of them.

The title is perfect, I saw that first at the bookstore, quickly followed by shame at the cover!! I almost didn't buy it. But the contents... unlike anything I'd ever seen in a novel!

It's a diary of a Chinese Expat learning English in London. Her entries are in dictionary f
Jan 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I absolutely adored this book.
I feel my review will not be good enough to express my feelings.
I love how simple, deep and funny it was.
It was how life is. This book is about love, it's about, growing up, it's about being a woman, it's about being a traveler and an immigrant at the same time, it's about mutual understanding in so many ways, it's about language. This book it's all about life in almost 400 pages. I highly recommend it to everyone. Wonderful. Wonderful.
Easy to read, but generally a bit disappointing . I was waiting for the moment to feel the love, but couldn't feel it between Z and the man. Couldn't feel sympathy to Z or the man either. Little garden and the details of trees and plants and also sculptures were my favorites. Worth reading from the cultural point of view. Loved the languages comparison. ...more
Nov 29, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
At time the emotions of the characters were too bourgeois for me to understand, but over all I enjoyed reading this

Full review to come later
Oct 2015.
It still bothers me that I haven't written about why I liked this book so much two and a half years ago. Among the reasons:
- The first 50 or so pages (?) were very funny and fascinating re. showing language and travel through the eyes, and words, of someone who didn't speak much English. It's kind of a shame the book didn't continue in this tightrope-walking satire, satire which was only okay, and also infinitely more interesting (when it did and did not conform to stereotypes), because
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
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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

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