A few weeks ago, I got an email about the longlist for the Orange Prize, and I had only heard of a couple of the books on the list. So I spent some time checking out the unfamiliar ones. When I searched for A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo, I learned that it was only available in on Amazon UK. I was so intrigued by the synopsis and the excerpt on Amazon that I decided to splurge and order the book. I have never done that before. So far, I'm glad that I splurged (of course, the book is now available in the U.S.). The shortlist for the prize was announced today, and this book is on the shortlist.
Each chapter (vignette) begins with a word and definition followed by what amounts to a journal entry related to the word/meaning of the word.
In a chapter that begins with "chinese cabbage + english slug" (both cabbage and slug are defined), the narrator Z, a young Chinese immigrant, asks her lover, a much older bi-sexual Englishman, to name his favorite words:
'What your favourite words? Give me ten,' I say when we are sitting in the garden. I want to learn most beautiful English words because you are beautiful. I even not care whether if useful.
A piece of blank paper, a pen.
You writing it down, one by one.
'Sea, breath, sun, body, seeds, bumble bee, insects.' You stop: 'How many are there now?'
'Seven,' I say.
'Hm...blood...' you continue.
'Why you like blood?'
'I don't know. I feel blood is beautiful.'
'Really? But blood violence, and pain.'
'No. Not always. Blood gives you life. It makes you strong.' You speaking with surely voice.
You see things from such different perspective from me. I wonder if we change perspective one day.
'And why breath, then?'
'Because that's where everything is from and how everything starts.'
You are right.
'So, what else? Last favourite word?' I say.
'Suddenly! Why you like suddenly? Suddenly not even noun.' You strange brain, I think.
'Well, I just like it,' you say. 'So what are your favourite ten words?'
I write down one by one:
'Fear, belief, heart, root, challenge, fight, peace, misery, future, solitude...'
'Because a song from Louis Armstrong calling "Solitude". It is so beautiful.' I hear song in my ear now.
'Where did you hear that song?' you ask.
'On your shelfs. A CD, from Louis Armstrong.'
'Really? I didn't even know I had that CD.' You frown.
'Yes, is covering the dust, and look very old.'
'So, you've been through all my CDs?'
'Of course,' I say. 'I read your letters and diaries as well.'
'And looked your photo.'
'What? You've looked through all my stuff?' You seeming like suddenly hear the alien from Mars attack the Earth.
'Not all. Parts that diary are make me sad. I can't sleep at night,' I say.
I love how she uses his word suddenly at the end there. This book is very much about language and the power of words (god, I hate it when all I can think of is something trite, but it works here and it's late).
Since I read this chapter late last night, I have been trying to select my 10 favorite/most beautiful words.
rain, solitude, darkness, exacerbate, freedom, sublime, haunting, silence, enigma--that's 9. I think I have to go to bed now, but I'll ponder the 10th word and update this post tomorrow.