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I Am China Paperback – August 4, 2015
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“Beautifully rendered.” —The New York Times Book Review
“A book so piercingly urgent and relevant it is as if Guo has not so much published it as pressed it into your hand the very moment after writing the final sentence.” —The Independent (London)
“A multilayered exploration of politics and culture across three continents. . . . Cultural references, from Johnny Rotten to Erik Satie, are refracted through a lens of Chinese politics.” —The Guardian (London)
“[Guo’s] dark, witty fiction examines the interface between east and west. . . . This novel has bold, refreshing things to say about art and politics.” —Financial Times
“A complex and fascinating political narrative. The lives of Jian and Mu, haunted by the turbulent history of Chinese politics (in particular, the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989), read like a eulogy for a lost vision of China.” —The Observer (London)
“Steeped in music, revolution, exile and romance, this is a story from the front lines of contemporary China.” —Houston Chronicle
“With I Am China, Xiaolu Guo has completed her metamorphosis from an exile writing about displacement in a second language to a writer who seems to occupy two worlds at once, with a discerning eye cast on each and the myriad intersections between them.” —The Toronto Star
“A compelling read. . . . Vividly captures the mixed emotions of the youths of 1980s about their home country and the impact on their lives decades after.” —The Asian Review of Books
“A harrowing glimpse into post-Tiananmen repression in China. . . . A mix of dissident rhetoric and heartbreak that turns on one couple’s story.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Guo’s bittersweet tale of love and politics with a soupçon of obsession plays out against the contrast between East and West. . . . This is truly a finely crafted novel whose characters will remain in memory long after reading the final page.” —Booklist
About the Author
Xiaolu Guo published six books in China before moving to London in 2002. The English translation of Village of Stone was shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Her first novel written in English, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, was shortlisted for the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction, and Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth, published in 2008, was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize. She is also a successful director of feature films, including She, a Chinese and UFO in Her Eyes, and documentaries; her work has premiered at the Venice Film Festival, the Toronto Film Festival, and other venues all over the world. She was named as one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists in 2013.
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the Peoples Republic of China. The rest of us must be patient. I have no doubt that their efforts
are and will be productive. The story is at once painful and inspiring.
First is Kublai Jian. He is a Chinese of Mongolian background. He is a punk rock musician who has been swept up in the political turmoil and is seeking asylum. This character is clearly modeled on Cui Jian, who is the 'father of Chinese Rock' and also had his share of differences with the People's Republic of China. Though he is modeled on him, Kublai Jian is not supposed to be him.
Neither is Deng Mu, a poet who performs under the sobriquet Sabotage Sister, supposed to be the author, Xiaolu Guo, though they also share certain aspects of their respective Curriculum Vitae. Both the fictional character and the actual author perform an Allen Ginsberg poem with the word China substituted for America.
China I've given you all and now I'm nothing.
Along with the tribulations of any couple, there is also the conflict between choosing to express your disagreements with the state metaphorically while continuing to live a semi normal life, or more direct confrontation, leading to political martyrdom. Kublai Jian has chosen the latter, and has been arrested for trying to distribute his manifesto at a huge concert, subsequently shut down by the state police. He has been exiled, and the Chinese State has hidden the fact that he ever existed behind 'the Great Firewall of China.' As Iona begins to piece together their story, she seeks to help the lovers reunite. But will her help arrive in time?
Xiaolu Guo has really written a most impressive novel, given the fact that she wrote it in English, not her native tongue of Chinese. All the characters come vividly to life, especially Kublai Jian, who Mu nicknames Peking Man. He calls her the moon faced girl, and at one point comments that her name means tree, and the Chinese character for 'tree' is a picture of a tree. Against the backdrop of star crossed lovers the book also includes a fascinating glimpse of Chinese politics, culture, and poetry, and their nexus. Hai Zi, one of the Misty Poets, is mentioned, and there are numerous quotes from Classical Chinese Poetry. Many of the Misty Poets were jailed after the 1989 demonstrations of June 4th in Tiananmen Square. A banned Russian novel, Life and Fate, by V. Grossman, also plays a pivotal role, and there is even an appearance by John Lydon, AKA Johnny Rotten, as China ushers in the new millennium. Did this meeting between the seminal punk and 'the father of Chinese Rock' actually happen? Did they party like it was 1999? Will Jian and Mu find each other? And what exactly does Jian's manifesto say? For the answers to these and other questions, read I Am China.
China why are your libraries full of tears?
That said, I recommend the book for its insights into life in China and for patches of quite powerful writing. I don't think I will quickly forget the rebellious Chinese musician Kublai Jian. The author tells his story by bouncing between translations of diaries and letters written by Jian and his lover Mu, mixed with third-person narration. But on the whole, she does manage to create a distinctive voice for him, and a fascinating past.
While not as visceral and compelling a book as the novel The Orphan Master's Son, this is still very well worth reading. And I think it would be a terrific choice for book groups.
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