Revealed in Translation

A lot of wit slips out in this tale of what might be defined as love

F

“A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers”

Author: Xiaolu Guo
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 283
Price: $13.95

for a few individuals with especially keen eyes, it doesn’t take knowledge of grammar or a fat vocabulary to tell a story. In “A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers,” Xiaolu Guo uses broken English to wittily articulate just how “cultural boundaries” smell, taste and speak.

After her parents start their own shoemaking business, narrator Zhuang (Or “Z” to those who don’t bother to pronounce her name) arrives in England to be immediately shocked at the size of a “full English breakfast” and disappointed that she cannot find the “fogs” promised by those who call London “The City of Fog.”

As her English improves, she slowly comes to understand that her Western romance is actually a strange attraction to a former “lover of men” who gets off on making pretentious sculptures and writing about a perpetual “ennui.”

Her observations are as quirky as they are profound. When she is cooking, she muses, “With hotpot, lamb is essential for the soup. It gives the form content. Otherwise hotpot is the interesting form of meaninglessness.”

When she first encounters a bar, she writes down the definition of pub and then notes “It seems a place of middle-aged man’s culture. I smell a kind of dying, although it still struggling.”

Using a variety of formats, including English dictionary definitions, charts of Chinese names for plants (“100 miles fragrant”) and even a label from a “waterproof personal massager,” Guo manages to express exactly where she sits between the two cultures.