An exploration of the power of language, Ruiyan Xu’s The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai also explores cultural differences between east and west.
The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai Synopsis
An explosion reverberates through the Swan Hotel in Shanghai, and it is not just shards of glass that come crashing down. Li Jing and Zhou Meiling find their marriage rocked to its foundations by the loss of the language that brought them together. For Li Jing, who is injured in the explosion, awakens from brain surgery only able to utter the unsteady phrases of English he learnt as a child – a language that Meiling and their young son Pang Pang cannot speak. When an American neurologist arrives, tasked with coaxing language back on to Li Jing’s tongue, she is as disorientated as her patient in this bewitching, bewildering city. As doctor and patient sit together, feelings neither of them anticipated begin to take hold. Feelings that Meiling, who must fight to keep both her husband’s business and her family afloat, does not need a translator to understand.
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Although ostensibly an exploration of the power of language, Ruiyan Xu’s The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai is more broadly an exploration of the cultural differences between east and west. It poses many questions for its audience.
What would you give up for passion?
What would you be willing to do in the name of honour and duty?
A love triangle has never been made to look more beautiful and poetic. Ruiyan Xu’s prose is thoroughly engrossing and as artful as a Chinese watercolour painting.
However, the plot seemed to stretch the implausible a little far at times, and I fell in and out of love with each of the main characters along the journey.
If you love language and find yourself rereading descriptive passages in admiration of beautiful imagery, then I highly recommend this novel. Based on my personal experiences having travelled in China, I think Ruiyan captures Shanghai’s vibrancy and mood very well. The juxtaposition of this vibrancy with the underlying sadness and sense of powerlessness of the characters creates a compelling tension.
With respect to the story, I think the premise of The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai in itself is a masterstroke and this set up very high expectations for me as a reader. In its execution, there were moments of brilliance but unfortunately in amongst this brilliance were moments that did not quite ring true for me.
In her debut novel The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai, Ruiyan Xu has signalled she is an author with talent that’s yet to reach her full potential. I will be watching out for her next work with keen interest.
BOOK RATING: The Story 3.5 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5 — Overall 4
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Genre: Romance, Drama, Literature
About the Author, Ruiyan Xu
The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai is Ruiyan Xu’s debut novel. She was born in Shanghai and moved to the U.S. at the age of ten, growing up in Virginia and New Jersey, and graduating from Brown University. Ruiyan Xu’s website provides further biographical information.