I Am China by Xiaolu Guo at Waterstones Piccadilly

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Waterstones hosts some of the best book events and this one, in conversation with Xiaolu Guo, has to be up there as one of the best. Author of the incredible A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, Xiaolu Guo was in Piccadilly discussing I Am China her newest book.

Friend and I were excited about this – her because she is devouring all things China and me because I really, really wanted to meet Xiaolu Guo, Granta Award winner and all round incredible novelist. The event was very informal, Xiaolu was introduced (by a member of staff who was obviously a fan which was really lovely to see), she spoke, read passages from I Am China, and then answered questions from fans.

I Am China focusses on two Chinese lovers separated by geography and ideology. Their letters land up in an English translator’s lap and she the story follows her as she translates them. When Xiaolu spoke about her book she was very candid about her writing process and the reasoning behind why she wrote this novel. More importantly (for her and for us) she explained why she chose to write in the novel in English and why her English was pigeon English. She has been living in England now for over a decade and is far more comfortable with the language then she used to be. She said how she had to make a choice about which language to use and when she decided to create another character, a translator, writing in English was the only way she could go.

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Xiaolu’s work is philosophical. She stated that as she gets bored easily plots never interest her all that much. Her stories always have a very simple plot so that she can spend more time exploring other things. In the case of this book this includes ideology, revolution, government involvement in people’s lives, and love. After university I didn’t want to study any more Philosophy (yes part of my degree was this airy-fairy of all subjects) but hearing her speak made me want to delve into that world again.

She also makes me want to read I Am China.

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