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The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai: A Novel Hardcover – October 12, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I'll admit that the book makes the reader think about the importance and intimacies of language, and finds a lot of ways to do this. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Sadie Forsythe
I highly recommend this book. Top 12 of my life. It made me realize the importance of communication in relationships and woke me up as to a main reason why my own mixed language... Read morePublished 21 months ago by texttwist
Quite different story line...haven't read anything else along these lines. Shows frustration of losing ability to go on w your life with certain obstacles getting in your wayPublished on June 18, 2014 by doreen
Interesting premise, but something didn't click for me. I found it hard to connect with any of the characters, and the prose was tedious. Read morePublished on March 10, 2014 by Barb Lawrence
Alas, I misjudged a book by its cover. I thought the cover was so beautiful that surely the book inside would be spectacular. Read morePublished on November 18, 2012 by M. Reynard
This book makes you think about something you probably haven't ever thought about - how much language is instrumental in relationships. Read morePublished on August 20, 2012 by Baseball Spiritualist
I found very little entertainment value in this book. Most likely from the seemingly improbable set of circumstances in which the entire storyline rests on a Chinese entrepreneur... Read morePublished on March 20, 2011 by AmazonViner
Received for review from Bookbrowse First Impressions Program.
This is a beautifully written novel exploring the intricacies and dependency humans have on language and... Read more
I have read novels using a single improbable element to produce an entire story line. This one, in which an explosion injury causes a Chinese entrepreneur to lose his native... Read morePublished on November 17, 2010 by Nom Delcorko