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Xiaolu Guo – I Am China

Book Cover

When politics force people apart.

Publisher: Chatto & Windus (Random House)
Pages: 369
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-0-701-18819-1
First Published: 5th June 2014
Date Reviewed: 8th February 2016
Rating: 1/5

Iona is tasked with translating a set of letters and diary entries handed to a publisher by a Chinese woman. The publisher has a mind to release the work but first they have to know what it’s all about.

I Am China is a semi-literary novel about personal/political problems in China. It promises much but delivers little.

There are major issues with the book, namely the way the story is told. The set up is all very convenient, contrived; the story of Jian and Mu is told through the letters but it would’ve been much better had we heard directly from the characters themselves. The translator, Iona, is nothing but a plot device inserted to allow the story to come to fruition, as are the other few characters – the publisher, for instance. The problem becomes two-fold when Guo starts to try and make more of Iona. Guo is all about telling, never showing, and it’s far too obvious that she’s trying to insert some meaning into Iona’s own story – you can practically see the thought process as the author realises her readers are going to see through Iona as nothing but a device and she doesn’t want you to see her as a device.

Amongst all this telling, then, is repetition and a distinct lack of emotion and character development beyond Iona. Guo is relating a very important subject but that subject never becomes important because of the lack of anything to pull the reader in and make them care. The author tacks on various statements about Iona’s emotional state whilst reading these letters but it never rings true. And a publisher planning to publish work without any idea what it’s about or permission from the owner of the text… one of those, possibly, but both?

Unfortunately the writing itself is also problematic. English is Guo’s second language so it’s understandable there would be errors but it seems the author was left completely alone when it came to the copy-editing stages.

I Am China is a fair idea gone horribly wrong. Look elsewhere for books on the aftermath of Mao.

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Literary Feline

February 8, 2016, 7:01 pm

Your thoughts on this book are the complete opposite of another blogger friend of mine. She loved it. Makes me even more curious which camp I will fall into if I read it.


February 26, 2016, 3:28 pm

Literary Feline: Interesting! Yes, that’s definitely something to think about, and you’d be reading it in a different (better, too, I think) mindset.



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