BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai by Xu Ruiyan [in Library Journal]

Lost and Forgotten Languages of ShanghaiWhile Xu crafts breathtaking prose in her debut, her storytelling doesn’t yet match her formidable writing prowess. The book opens with a tantalizing premise: Li Jing – 32-year-old Shanghai finance wizard, devoted son, husband, and father – emerges from a horrific accident with Broca’s aphasia, which leaves him incapable of speaking the Chinese of his everyday life but “gurgling” the English he hasn’t used since age ten, when he emigrated from Virginia to his widowed father’s homeland. Oklahoma neurologist Rosalyn Neal spots his problem on an aphasia research discussion list, leaves her recently emptied home, and arrives hoping to heal Li Jing’s “virtuoso wound.” In a symphonic intersection of “lost and forgotten languages,” doctor and patient learn to communicate, although understanding comes with a deleterious price tag.

Verdict: Despite her writerly gifts, Xu’s convoluted relationships devolve into soap-opera predictability. The endless repetition that “everything will be fine” rings annoyingly hollow. Alternative titles about language/memory that combine superb writing and storytelling include Yoko Ogawa’s The Housekeeper and the Professor, Dai Sijie’s Once on a Moonless Night, and Chang-Rae Lee’s The Surrendered.

Review: “Fiction,” Library Journal, August 15, 2010

Readers: Adult

Published: 2010


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