November 18, 2012

The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai by Ruiyan Xu

Alas, I misjudged a book by its cover. I thought the cover was so beautiful that surely the book inside would be spectacular. Instead, I only felt luke-warm to it, and even a little disappointed.

Li-Jing, after having been in an accident, has aphasia. But his aphasia is special, it has rendered his speaking of Chinese completely useless, and instead, only the limited English he learned as a child is his only means of communication. With a stoic wife and young son, things become rough on his family as he struggles to communicate. So Dr. Neal is brought in and he can finally feel at ease with someone he can communicate with. A specialist in aphasia, she is there to try to help him regain his lost language.

I couldn't really find any of these characters compelling. They were all kind of selfish and superficial. I know the author was probably trying to show the difference is culture, but surprisingly I found all the characters the same. They put themselves first. Sure Meiling is taking care of her family in the best way that she knows how, but she doesn't even try to show some warmth or understanding of her husband's predicament. Li-Jing, while struggling with his language issues is certainly somewhat sympathetic in that regard, but otherwise as a person I found him lazy and insincere. And Dr. Neal, I don't even know where to start with her. She was the typical not so great American that seems to screw things up. I'm not insulted by this portrayal of Americans, even though several others in the book were not so kindly describe either, but rather saddened that this is the image of us.

The plot was kind of slow moving. I was intrigued by the language aspects of the book and the presentation of the aphasia, but since this book was more about its characters than that, my curiosity wasn't entirely satisfied. I can't say I enjoyed the interactions between the characters, they were somewhat painful to watch unfold. But in a way they were brilliantly written as someone describing some non-perfect people with drama in their lives. I could certainly envision this scenario playing out in real life to some extent. I just couldn't get myself fully immersed in the book though to really take anything from it.

This book just wasn't for me. Someone who likes characters (but not necessarily development towards bettering themselves) might enjoy it a bit better than I did. I won't avoid Xu's books from this point on, but I won't make a habit of seeking them out either.

The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai
Copyright 2010
340 pages

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