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The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai: A Novel Hardcover – October 12, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Li Jing is a Shanghai investment banker whose head injury renders him able to speak only the English of his American childhood, leaving his wife, Meiling, perplexed and uncomprehending, in Xu's ambitious debut. Diagnosed with Broca's aphasia, Li's recovery is uncertain, with hope resting on Rosalyn Neal, an American doctor who's fled problems back home in Oklahoma. Li refuses to speak at all until Rosalyn begins to reveal her own past, moving Li to recall his time in the U.S. he left at the age of 10. The two women fight for Li's life and loyalty; as Li makes progress, he grows more distant from Meiling, and her efforts to preserve their former life. Xu lovingly recreates 1999 Shanghai and skillfully shows the culture clashes among the city's native, immigrant, and ex-patriate populations, swinging gracefully between these worlds, but she gets snagged in her own intricate plotting. The characters are portrayed with empathy and care, but the suspense over Jing's fate is lost in too many narrative digressions and an ending that falls flat.
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From Booklist

A massive explosion in a Shanghai hotel leaves 32-year-old businessman Li Jing unable to utter a single word in Chinese. Instead, he is only able to speak in halting English, which he learned as a child and which he last spoke at the age of 10. His family pays to bring in American neurologist Rosalyn Neal. Li Jing’s beautiful wife, Meiling, is left to try to run his financial consulting firm and to allay the anxiety of their young son. Because Li Jing and Rosalyn Neal, who has recently divorced, are both isolated by their inability to communicate in Chinese, they soon form a bond born of mutual fear and vulnerability. And Meiling, who always took her husband’s adoration for granted, is dealt another blow by the easy camaraderie of doctor and patient, which stands in such stark contrast to the married couple’s strained attempts to connect. Set in a dense, dizzyingly urban Shanghai, Xu’s elegant first novel affectingly addresses the way identity and language intertwine and the emotional anguish of estrangement. --Joanne Wilkinson
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (October 12, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031258654X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312586546
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,698,567 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By L. Young VINE VOICE on September 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Author Ruiyan Xu was born in Shanghai. When she was ten years old her family immigrated to the US. She spoke no English and remembers the fear she felt when entering school for the first time. Eight years later she returned to China for a short visit with family and friends. Now English was the only language in which she was fluent. She could no longer read or write Chinese, and speaking was extremely difficult. Again she felt the fear of the inability to communicate.

Xu's personal experiences of the isolation imposed by the inability to communicate is at the core of this beautifully written and very memorable debut novel. The novel opens with a father and son meeting for lunch in a Shanghai Hotel. A gas explosion rips through the hotel leaving Li Jing, a successful business man, father and husband, brain damaged, unable to speak Chinese. The only words he can speak are the English he spoke as a child growing up in the US with his professor father before returning to China years ago.

Li Jing's beautiful wife Meiling enlists the aid of an American neurologist, Rosalyn Neal, a specialist in bilingual aphasia (loss of langage ability) to come to Shanghi to work with Li Jing. Arriving in Shanghai after having recently gotten divorced, Dr. Neal finds herself lost in a strange city where she too is unable to speak the language.

As the relationship between doctor and patient grows Xu explores the permutations of loss and pain engendered not only when people cannot communicate because of language differences, but when loved ones can no longer communicate on any level. The writing is luminous, and the characters are each richly depicted. I give this novel four stars instead of five for some plot turns that I found a bit manipulative and unrealistic, but clearly Ms. Xu is an author to watch, and I look forward to reading her next novel.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Wanda B. Red VINE VOICE on October 31, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The opening scene of this novel, an explosion in the Swan Hotel in Shanghai, deals a cruel brain injury to financial wizard Li Jing, cripples his father Professor Li, and changes forever the lives of his wife Meiling and their young son Pang Pang. The crack in the building, the "line splitting the cement, a body of veins crawling everywhere" foretells that this one event will leave fissures and gaps behind it that may never be repaired.

Li Jing suffers a rare form of aphasia that deprives him of the ability to speak Chinese and leaves him with only his native tongue, English, a language that he has not spoken much since leaving the USA as a child. As he slowly recovers, he finds that he can communicate with the others he loves only to varying degrees -- with his father in the English they both remember, with his son in random English words and phrases that the child picks up quickly and parrots back, but practically speaking not at all with his wife who speaks only Chinese. Enter the beautiful red-haired American doctor, recently divorced, brought over to study Li Jing's aphasia and to provide whatever therapy she can to enable him to regain his ability to speak. Vulnerable and exotic, Dr. Rosalyn Neal, whose cultural naivete is examined with compassion and understanding, radically destabilizes the situation she has come to put right.

This complex and imaginative scenario permits debut author Ruiyan Xu to explore the extent to which love and even identity are embodied in and through language and to question whether any genuine self can exist outside of words.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By G. kopshever on October 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Despite the reviewers who claim the writing is weak (a young author) , the message/plot is powerful especially for stroke survivors or those caregivers dealing with aphasia or apraxia.. The surprise ending is touching and shows what love and respect can do to find a way to handle a partner's disability...For a young writer to accomplish this is in my mind amazing. I am giving the book to family members whose Father is 16 years post stroke with major speech problems.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By atavism on February 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Lost and Forgotten Language of Shanghai is, for the most part, an innovative and entertaining novel. Set in modern-day China, the book combines a look into day-to-day life in Shanghai with an exploration of the importance of love, language, and the connection between the two. When Li Jing is injured in an explosion, he experiences a rare form of aphasia that leaves him able to understand his primary language of Chinese but unable to speak or write in it. Forced to communicate only in English, the language of his childhood, his relationship with his wife and child falters as they struggle to breach the communication gap. He also grows closer to his American doctor, who arrives in Shanghai with no knowledge of the Chinese language. Their shared language struggles forges a bond that quickly threatens Li Jing's already troubled marriage. The result is a series of emotional twists and turns for all the characters.

The book's main flaw is that the author occasionally lapses into such over-the-top, flowery prose that I actually laughed out loud. While some authors aim to make their readers laugh, I somehow doubt this was Ruiyan Xu's intention here, especially considering how these moments detract from the often tense and dramatic tones of the novel. These episodes are few, and they are somewhat understandable from such a young and largely inexperienced author. I do hope that she is able to mature a bit as she continues to write, as she certainly has talent. While The Lost and Forgotten Language of Shanghai is not perfect, it is certainly enjoyable, and I'd recommend it to those looking for a good modern novel.
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