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Xiaolu Guo is one of the most acclaimed Chinese-born writers of her generation, an iconoclastic and completely contemporary voice. Her vivid, poignant memoir, Nine Continents is the story of a curious mind coming of age in an inhospitable country, and her determination to seek a life beyond the limits of its borders. Xiaolu Guo has traveled further than most to become who s Xiaolu Guo is one of the most acclaimed Chinese-born writers of her generation, an iconoclastic and completely contemporary voice. Her vivid, poignant memoir, Nine Continents is the story of a curious mind coming of age in an inhospitable country, and her determination to seek a life beyond the limits of its borders. Xiaolu Guo has traveled further than most to become who she needed to be. Now, as she experiences the birth of her daughter in a London maternity ward surrounded by women from all over the world, she looks back on that journey. It begins in the fishing village shack on the East China Sea where her illiterate grandparents raised her, and brings her to a rapidly changing Beijing, full of contradictions: a thriving underground art scene amid mass censorship, curious Westerners who held out affection only to disappear back home. Eventually Xiaolu determined to see the world beyond China for herself, and now, after fifteen years in Europe, her words resonate with the insight of someone both an outsider and at home, in a world far beyond the country of her birth. Nine Continents presents a fascinating portrait of China in the eighties and nineties, how the Cultural Revolution shaped families, and how the country's economic ambitions gave rise to great change. It is also a moving testament to the birth of a creative spirit, and of a new generation being raised to become citizens of the world. It confirms Xiaolu Guo as one of world literature's most urgent voices.


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Xiaolu Guo is one of the most acclaimed Chinese-born writers of her generation, an iconoclastic and completely contemporary voice. Her vivid, poignant memoir, Nine Continents is the story of a curious mind coming of age in an inhospitable country, and her determination to seek a life beyond the limits of its borders. Xiaolu Guo has traveled further than most to become who s Xiaolu Guo is one of the most acclaimed Chinese-born writers of her generation, an iconoclastic and completely contemporary voice. Her vivid, poignant memoir, Nine Continents is the story of a curious mind coming of age in an inhospitable country, and her determination to seek a life beyond the limits of its borders. Xiaolu Guo has traveled further than most to become who she needed to be. Now, as she experiences the birth of her daughter in a London maternity ward surrounded by women from all over the world, she looks back on that journey. It begins in the fishing village shack on the East China Sea where her illiterate grandparents raised her, and brings her to a rapidly changing Beijing, full of contradictions: a thriving underground art scene amid mass censorship, curious Westerners who held out affection only to disappear back home. Eventually Xiaolu determined to see the world beyond China for herself, and now, after fifteen years in Europe, her words resonate with the insight of someone both an outsider and at home, in a world far beyond the country of her birth. Nine Continents presents a fascinating portrait of China in the eighties and nineties, how the Cultural Revolution shaped families, and how the country's economic ambitions gave rise to great change. It is also a moving testament to the birth of a creative spirit, and of a new generation being raised to become citizens of the world. It confirms Xiaolu Guo as one of world literature's most urgent voices.

30 review for Nine Continents: A Memoir in and Out of China

  1. 4 out of 5

    Petra-X is getting covered in Soufriere ash

    If you were a woman in China, Communism was good for you. Not very good, it wasn't going to stop the sexual abuse that no one cared about it, it wasn't going to stop the murder of girl babies, it wasn't going to get you fed if there was a brother to feed first, but it was going to get you a name. This is what stuck with me most from the book. The local Communist council went to all houses to register the people living there preparatory to the one-child policy. The author's grandmother was the adu If you were a woman in China, Communism was good for you. Not very good, it wasn't going to stop the sexual abuse that no one cared about it, it wasn't going to stop the murder of girl babies, it wasn't going to get you fed if there was a brother to feed first, but it was going to get you a name. This is what stuck with me most from the book. The local Communist council went to all houses to register the people living there preparatory to the one-child policy. The author's grandmother was the adult in the home when they came. She said she didn't have a name. Just 'wife of' and when she had been a girl, 'second sister'. She, as a person, was so irrelevant to her parents, to her father, she hadn't even given her a name. The officials were appalled yet again, but not surprised nor that she didn't know her birth date. With her bound feet she was almost a tethered animal, just there to cook, clean and be bred from. Communists also got girls into education. They did a great deal of good for the country moving it from a feudal system to one where opportunity was at least possible. But the immense corruption that led to Mao's starvation of millions Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962 and the appalling, needless brutality of the Cultural Revolution have dropped the scales with a heavy clang on the side of an evil regime. But without it, women might still not even have names. The book moves from a baby being fed only mashed leaves, through dire poverty and violence against all women by all men as an acceptable part of home life, through her early years in school, her years in a prestigious college in Beijing to London. In all that time the only man who had loved her and supported her was her father. All others abused her in one way or another. She didn't fare much better with women. Her grandmother loved her but could do nothing for her, she and her mother didn't even like each other, an animosity that continued until the mother's death. She went to London on a scholarship and that became her home. In the book she contrasts the bustle and aromas and cheerfulness of China against the UK, but really she is imagining a happiness she never felt, pulling from her home country and culture only the good things, background to her life. Otherwise she would have returned. It took her until she was nearly 40 to find happiness. Xiaolu Guo had major success from her writing and and eventually a home, a man who loved her and their baby, a girl whom they gave the lovely name of "Moon". __________ Why 4 stars? The real-life story was interwoven with a long folk tale of a monkey, it might have been relevant philosophically and even historically, but it was boring. Otherwise it would have been a 5 star book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jenna

    Nine Continents is a must-read if you enjoy memoirs!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

    Absolutely wonderful memoir by a woman beyond impressive. She talks about alienation and perseverance, about loss and art, about growing up and finding herself, and everything in-between. Xiaolu Guo's life sounds like something out of a movie: born to an intellectual who had spent time in a labour camp and a mother who was part of the Red Guard (yes, her parents met in prison), given away at birth, and then given back to her grandparents (both analphabets; her grandmother of a generation where h Absolutely wonderful memoir by a woman beyond impressive. She talks about alienation and perseverance, about loss and art, about growing up and finding herself, and everything in-between. Xiaolu Guo's life sounds like something out of a movie: born to an intellectual who had spent time in a labour camp and a mother who was part of the Red Guard (yes, her parents met in prison), given away at birth, and then given back to her grandparents (both analphabets; her grandmother of a generation where having your feet bound was normal; their relationship scarily abusive), ripped away again to go and live with her parents, she manages to attend an elite university for film-making and then to win a scholarship to study in the UK - a country that became her home. Her book is a piece of art itself. I adored the way she plays with language; her not writing in her mother-tongue (as she has been doing for a while now) just adds to the immediacy and the sense of alienation. The further back in time she goes, the more fragmented her language becomes. When she comes closer to finding her place in the world and the person she can be, the sentences get longer, more assured. I adored this. At the centre of her memoir are her relationships: with her artist father who influences her in a myriad of ways but cannot (or will not) protect her from her mother's harshness and her brother's scorn. But also her complicated relationship with China and how it influences her art and what she can and cannot write about. She writes about censorship - both external and internal and how this made it impossible for her to be the writer she knows in her heart she can be. She also writes about not fitting in anywhere and how she puts this into pieces of art. This is what makes this book both personal and universal - underneath all the cultural differences there is this common human theme of wanting to be true to yourself and of experiences of alienation but also homecoming in a foreign country. I appreciated this. First sentence: "So many times I've seen England from the sky." ____ I received an arc of this book curtesy of Netgalley and Grove Altantic in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for that!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08crt5x Description: Xiaolu Guo's autobiography tells her remarkable story from adoption at birth through to her career as a writer and film-maker based in the UK. This abridgement deals with her formative years, living in China in times of transition. Xiaolu Guo is a novelist, essayist, screenwriter and film maker. She was born in south-eastern China in 1973 . Her novel, in English translation, Village of Stone, was shortlisted for the 2005 Independent Foreign Fic http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08crt5x Description: Xiaolu Guo's autobiography tells her remarkable story from adoption at birth through to her career as a writer and film-maker based in the UK. This abridgement deals with her formative years, living in China in times of transition. Xiaolu Guo is a novelist, essayist, screenwriter and film maker. She was born in south-eastern China in 1973 . Her novel, in English translation, Village of Stone, was shortlisted for the 2005 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the 2006 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. It was followed by her first novel written in English,'A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, which was shortlisted for the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction. In April 2013, she was named one of the Best of Young British Novelists by Granta Magazine. Her award-winning films include She, a Chinese (2009, Golden Leopard Award in Locarno Film Festival) and UFO In Her Eyes (2011), adapted as a screenplay from her novel. Her documentaries include Once upon a time Proletarian (2009), We Went to Wonderland (2008), How Is Your Fish Today? (2006) and The Concrete Revolution (2004), which was awarded the Grand Prix in the 2005 International Human Rights Film Festival. Episode 1: For the young Xiaolu, her first home was the fishing village of Shitang where she lived with her grandparents. Episode 2: Xiaolu's grandfather's struggle to provide for his family has tragic consequences. Episode 3: The young Xiaolu has a new home in Wenling, where she is reunited with her parents. Episode 4: Xiaolu is encouraged by her father to become a poet. Episode 5: Xiaolu determines upon a new career path.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alice Lippart

    Raw, honest and fascinating.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    From BBC Radio 4 - book of the week: Xiaolu Guo's autobiography tells her remarkable story from adoption at birth through to her career as a writer and film-maker based in the UK. This abridgement deals with her formative years, living in China in times of transition. Episode 1: For the young Xiaolu, her first home was the fishing village of Shitang where she lived with her grandparents. Xiaolu Guo is a novelist, essayist, screenwriter and film maker. She was born in south-eastern China in 1973 . He From BBC Radio 4 - book of the week: Xiaolu Guo's autobiography tells her remarkable story from adoption at birth through to her career as a writer and film-maker based in the UK. This abridgement deals with her formative years, living in China in times of transition. Episode 1: For the young Xiaolu, her first home was the fishing village of Shitang where she lived with her grandparents. Xiaolu Guo is a novelist, essayist, screenwriter and film maker. She was born in south-eastern China in 1973 . Her novel, in English translation, Village of Stone, was shortlisted for the 2005 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the 2006 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. It was followed by her first novel written in English,'A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, which was shortlisted for the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction. In April 2013, she was named one of the Best of Young British Novelists by Granta Magazine. Her award-winning films include She, a Chinese (2009, Golden Leopard Award in Locarno Film Festival) and UFO In Her Eyes (2011), adapted as a screenplay from her novel. Her documentaries include Once upon a time Proletarian (2009), We Went to Wonderland (2008), How Is Your Fish Today? (2006) and The Concrete Revolution (2004), which was awarded the Grand Prix in the 2005 International Human Rights Film Festival. Writer: Xiaolu Guo Abridger Pete Nichols Reader: Chipo Chung Producer: Karen Rose A Sweet Talk production for BBC Radio 4. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08crt5x

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    I listened to the unabridged audio version of Nine Continents: A Memoir In and Out of China written by Xiaolu Guo and narrated by Emily Woo Zeller. I feel that Emily Woo Zeller was a wonderful narrator changing her voice for the different characters. Listening to this memoir has been eye- opening for me. Xiaolu's grandmother did not have a name (she was female) and as a young girl she was sold to be the wife of an older man the family did not know. Girls were sexually abused and no one cared. It I listened to the unabridged audio version of Nine Continents: A Memoir In and Out of China written by Xiaolu Guo and narrated by Emily Woo Zeller. I feel that Emily Woo Zeller was a wonderful narrator changing her voice for the different characters. Listening to this memoir has been eye- opening for me. Xiaolu's grandmother did not have a name (she was female) and as a young girl she was sold to be the wife of an older man the family did not know. Girls were sexually abused and no one cared. It was to be expected. Females did not eat until the males in the family had their fill. "Xiaolu Guo has travelled further than most to become who she needed to be. Now, as she experiences the birth of her daughter in a London maternity ward surrounded by women from all over the world, she looks back on that journey. It begins in the fishing village shack on the East China Sea where her illiterate grandparents raised her, and brings her to a rapidly changing Beijing, full of contradictions: a thriving underground art scene amid mass censorship, curious Westerners who held out affection only to disappear back home. Eventually Xiaolu Guo determined to see the world beyond China for herself, and now, after fifteen years in Europe, her words resonate with the insight of someone both an outsider and at home, in a world far beyond the country of her birth. Nine Continents presents a fascinating portrait of China in the eighties and nineties, how the cultural revolution shaped families, and how the country's economic ambitions gave rise to great change. It is also a moving testament to the birth of a creative spirit, and of a new generation being raised to become citizens of the world. It confirms Xiaolu Guo as one of the world literature's most urgent voices." - Quote from Cd case Xiaolu Guo was born in South China. She studied film at the Beijing Film Academy and published six books in China before she moved to London in 2002.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    This was a pretty unpleasant read. The author had a very hard childhood, a hard student and young-adult life, and was lonely and unhappy when she moved to the UK, on a film-school scholarship that turned into a permanent move. The book does end on a more positive note. I skimmed much of the most unpleasant material, and I wouldn't advise reading the memoir when you are feeling low. It's shocking how poorly girls and women are treated in China, if the author's experience is typical. It is well-wri This was a pretty unpleasant read. The author had a very hard childhood, a hard student and young-adult life, and was lonely and unhappy when she moved to the UK, on a film-school scholarship that turned into a permanent move. The book does end on a more positive note. I skimmed much of the most unpleasant material, and I wouldn't advise reading the memoir when you are feeling low. It's shocking how poorly girls and women are treated in China, if the author's experience is typical. It is well-written. Here's the review that led me to read it: https://www.wsj.com/articles/speaking... Excerpts (may be paywalled): On New Year’s Eve, she was at a party with film-school friends [in Beijing] listening to a Rolling Stones song. “It was our new propaganda slogan,” she writes, wryly. “I can’t get no satisfaction, but I try and I try and I try.” China had modernized rapidly as a result of “reform and opening up,” as the Party catchphrase had it, but dissatisfaction and yearning were everywhere. This unease animates “Nine Continents.” China is now the world’s second-largest economy and a global power, but the lived experiences of the countless individuals whose lives changed alongside their country remain difficult to comprehend. Ms. Guo’s memoir offers a haunting account of how China’s rapid shift from Maoist ideology to market-driven growth has simultaneously created extraordinary opportunities for the Chinese people and intensified their craving for meaning and purpose in the face of continuing authoritarian controls. ... ... Given up as a baby amid the chaos of the late Mao period, Ms. Guo spent the first six years of her life with her illiterate grandparents in the fishing village of Shitang, until her parents returned to claim her. Ms. Guo admired her father, but her mother was frequently abusive and inscrutable: A Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution, she refused to talk in detail about her experiences or feelings. “I would never know exactly what she did in those years,” Ms. Guo reflects. “It had already become a kind of myth to my generation.” Such myths are numerous in contemporary China, where official history is carefully policed and recounting “problematic” episodes is discouraged. The result is a widespread suppression of memories, whether because of fear of political consequences or a personal desire to forget. Ms. Guo challenges this tendency by powerfully articulating her own memories. ... ... She is especially vivid—and funny—in describing the moments when her childhood intersected with high politics. She recalls watching as an 8-year-old the televised trial of Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, who was prosecuted after her husband’s death for abuses during the Cultural Revolution. Ms. Guo writes, “I asked my father: ‘Is she really the Chairman’s wife?’ ” Yes, her father said. “But how come? She looks just like a man!” Ms. Guo exclaimed. “She’s very ugly, and kind of spooky!” And yet the trial also awakened Ms. Guo to the pervasive sexism of Chinese society. Her mother dismissed Jiang as a “manipulating wife.” Later she calls Ms. Guo herself a “useless girl” and a “food bucket.” Worse, beginning when she was 12, Ms. Guo was sexually abused by a colleague of her father’s. “Stop crying! Every girl has to go through this!” he would tell her. [end excerpt] Ugh, ugh, ugh.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tara

    It's strange, I don't have any particular intellectual or aesthetic pull toward China but I have been a fan of Xiao Guo's writing ever since I was enticed by her novels that I was shelving while working at the Norwich Millennium Library. I read everything they had at the time, which was in 2009. I was excited to find an extract of this autobiography in the Guardian to promote its imminent release which left me jaw on-the-floor. This book is completely transporting, and I got through it in a few It's strange, I don't have any particular intellectual or aesthetic pull toward China but I have been a fan of Xiao Guo's writing ever since I was enticed by her novels that I was shelving while working at the Norwich Millennium Library. I read everything they had at the time, which was in 2009. I was excited to find an extract of this autobiography in the Guardian to promote its imminent release which left me jaw on-the-floor. This book is completely transporting, and I got through it in a few short days despite being under a general "readers' block" again (which I know is silly and I AM Looking forward to reading other great things by you-know-who-you-are!) I suppose partly what is all absorbing is the frank and completely transparent way she talks about her upbringing in Communist China - with that mix of being the heroine with a (fairly brutal) unique life story but also telling of the general wider situation, something that I haven't ever studied formally (hello gaps in education?) it's a world just so different from mine that it was absorbing to learn about through this lens of a particular personal experience. It was also interesting to me to hear about her 'peasant' parents visiting her many years later in England and the irreconcilable meeting of worlds that happens despite its impossibility, which speaks to several layers of my experience.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Louise

    Through Xiaolu Guo's memoir you glimpse the life of the rural Chinese after the Cultural Revolution, but before the one child policy. Then you glimpse the changes in China as trips to Beijing (by bus) are possible and then at the end, air travel to Europe and the availability of medical treatment. Her family was poor and they gave her away. The poor people she is given to realize that they, also, cannot feed her, so at 2 years old she is taken to her grandparents in a fishing village, later to be Through Xiaolu Guo's memoir you glimpse the life of the rural Chinese after the Cultural Revolution, but before the one child policy. Then you glimpse the changes in China as trips to Beijing (by bus) are possible and then at the end, air travel to Europe and the availability of medical treatment. Her family was poor and they gave her away. The poor people she is given to realize that they, also, cannot feed her, so at 2 years old she is taken to her grandparents in a fishing village, later to be retrieved at age 7 by her parents who live in a Communist controlled city. Her life is surely representative of thousands of girls in China. What is unique about this story is the Xiaolu survived and broke the chains and is able to tell the story. Through her story you see the risk to girls is extreme. You see how the scarce resources of families are given to boys who use their superior position to torment their sisters with parental compliance. Domestic violence is rife; women and girls suffer from both husbands and mothers. Men, seeing vulnerability of young women, abuse them sexually: whom would/could they tell? There is no refuge. No wonder Xiaolu seeks solace (or at least acceptance) with a kindly teacher. Fortunately, for Xiaolu, her father comes through to help her compete with thousands of students for one of 11 slots at the Film School in Beijung. The road to acceptance and then finally in school is not easy. There is hard work and loneliness. The Beijing experience shows the situation of China’s youth of the time. You see a roommate who defends Xiaolu against a child abuser attempt suicide over a man who seemed sensitive in interpreting poetry but was cold to the emotional needs of others. You see some very avant guarde artists drop out of state channels (where censors to hamper creativity all but requiring self censorship) with daring work. Xiaolu brings a fresh perspective to life in the west as she experiences it in England. She shuns the English suburbs for a neighborhood with ethnic diversity. She has no feeling for the hippies who choose to live like the peasants in China. Her parents’ reaction to Europe was also different in unexpected ways but this could be a response to a very different, intimidating, environment. You cannot help but wonder if the writing that pulls you along is the work the editors she credits in the Acknowledgements or of an unnamed translator. However it was produced, it is an important documentation of this place and time in history. I highly recommended this book for those who are interested in daily life in this period in China, in particular, a women’s experience.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Victoria Sadler

    I absolutely loved this book, I really did. Any publisher that markets a new book as “the next Wild Swans” (or indeed “the next [insert title of any great book here]”) always runs a gauntlet. Sure, you’re grabbing that established audience and immediately conveying the subject and tone of the book but, oh, you’re playing with fire. That’s a huge pressure to place on any writer and so I approached Once Upon a Time in the East by Xiaolu Guo with both excitement and a little trepidation. I needn’t h I absolutely loved this book, I really did. Any publisher that markets a new book as “the next Wild Swans” (or indeed “the next [insert title of any great book here]”) always runs a gauntlet. Sure, you’re grabbing that established audience and immediately conveying the subject and tone of the book but, oh, you’re playing with fire. That’s a huge pressure to place on any writer and so I approached Once Upon a Time in the East by Xiaolu Guo with both excitement and a little trepidation. I needn’t have feared though as I enjoyed every single minute reading this fantastic memoir. Like Jung Chang, Xiaolu’s writing of her life in Communist China covers her grandmother and her mother, as well as herself. However, this is a shorter book and it focuses only on Xiaolu’s own experiences – her mother too closed and distant to share her memories of the trauma of the Mao years, and her grandmother too poor to have any idea of her ancestry and her literacy non-existent, making any historical analysis of Imperial China impossible. Yet what this book brings instead is an invigorated contemporary take on the experiences of, and challenges facing, a modern Chinese woman – China a country where women have often been less than second-class citizens, where endemic sexual abuse and domestic violence belies Communist portrayals of equality, and where a woman must fight for love and freedom in a society that seeks to crush individuality and promote censorship. An insightful and fascinating read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ella

    I finished the last page and shut the book. Somewhere below my stomach, a tinge of nausea was rising up. It reached my chest and sat there. It just sat there, the nausea with a weight growing by the minute. Kids were shouting from the back seat. It’s a dry winter afternoon. Dull but dry. We just finished a family walk in the woods. I let a breath out. I was disturbed. The depressing end of the book was creeping up on me. Not the nice kind of depressing. Yes, for me, there’s a nice kind of depres I finished the last page and shut the book. Somewhere below my stomach, a tinge of nausea was rising up. It reached my chest and sat there. It just sat there, the nausea with a weight growing by the minute. Kids were shouting from the back seat. It’s a dry winter afternoon. Dull but dry. We just finished a family walk in the woods. I let a breath out. I was disturbed. The depressing end of the book was creeping up on me. Not the nice kind of depressing. Yes, for me, there’s a nice kind of depression, familiar and comfortable, almost soothing. But not this one. Not from the last bit of this book. I think it’s the stone cold tone and emotion throughout, from beginning to end that disturbs me. It’s the part with her mother, the complete lack of any chance of reconciliation, the unwillingness from both parties to try at least once to emphasise, to look into each other’s eyes and just hold for a second, for the sake of a decent goodbye maybe. I find it hard to like that kind of book and what it preaches. I find it hard to like that kind of human spirit - all about survival, about self making, about paying back coldness with coldness. It reduces humanity to something less than it could have been. Now I know you can’t judge someone’s life. Life just is. They are not for me to like or dislike. I am very clear about the fact I’m in no position to judge her, since I wasn’t born with the same set of genes she was and I didn’t go through what she’d been through. But as a reader, I think I’m entitled to say that I personally wish to keep certain distance from stories of individuals’ survival strength. Stories that are about hard core spiritual and survival battles that involve little tenderness of love. It saddens me. It sends a misleading message. It misses the greatest power of humanity. In some parts of the book, she makes quite a few self-comments that seemingly aim to impress westerners. I find those slightly manipulative and alienating - alienating because it’s as if Chinese readers like me weren’t in her targeted group of fans. I also find her memories of early childhood (up to age 6) almost too detailed to be believable. The writing of the book is good. It’s good craft that keeps you focused on the story line. And she is an achiever. I am impressed by her unyielding spirit and her ability to have come so far in life. She makes people like me look bad, as I’ve spoken ok English for a decade and still haven’t made much tangible progress in the sense of personal development. I think in a practical sense, I satisfied my needs of wanting to see where the bar is set regarding memoirs like this - about Chinese women living in the west. My husband bought this as a gentle nudge towards my own plan to write. And I believe it did serve that purpose.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    An introspective view of the author's life in China. I cannot imagine growing up as she had - starting in a poor fishing village living with her grandparents, then moving with her parents to a town where her life wasn't much better. While the book is a memoir, it does have quite a bit of history of China and its people. All around an excellent book if you are particularly interested in this time period of China. An introspective view of the author's life in China. I cannot imagine growing up as she had - starting in a poor fishing village living with her grandparents, then moving with her parents to a town where her life wasn't much better. While the book is a memoir, it does have quite a bit of history of China and its people. All around an excellent book if you are particularly interested in this time period of China.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This was a quick, fascinating read, the life story of an author I’ve been intrigued by since reading her first novel written in English, “A Concise English-Chinese Dictionary for Lovers.” I’ve read all her books except for one. I would say she is the person I expected her to be after reading her novels; much of her story - the abuse, deprivation, cynicism - doesn’t come as a surprise. But, like the author herself might have, there were many times I struggled to make sense of her life narrative, This was a quick, fascinating read, the life story of an author I’ve been intrigued by since reading her first novel written in English, “A Concise English-Chinese Dictionary for Lovers.” I’ve read all her books except for one. I would say she is the person I expected her to be after reading her novels; much of her story - the abuse, deprivation, cynicism - doesn’t come as a surprise. But, like the author herself might have, there were many times I struggled to make sense of her life narrative, the contradictions. She repeats in the second half of her memoir that after her traumatic experiences with Chinese men - her grandfather, who she watched beat her grandmother; her brother, who hated her and hit her; a man in her father’s office, who molested and raped her for years starting when she was 12; a teacher, who accepted her willingness to be his lover and impregnated her, resulting in an abortion at 15; a college boyfriend, who beat her as his parents looked on and did nothing - she will never date a Chinese man again. It’s nothing new, stories of women angry at manifestations of toxic masculinity in their traditional cultures, women who seek to escape painful histories by escaping the men - but unlike many of those women, Guo had a good relationship with her father, and I would think that to be the most important male influence. She says many times that he is the only one in her immediate family she loves, the only one who encouraged her artistic dreams and took her to Beijing to sit the exams for film school - the person who put her on the road to her career and freedom, essentially. So it was tricky to reconcile her refusal to be with a man from her culture and this love for her father. Perhaps her father was a good man, but weak. He wasn’t there for Guo in other ways - for god’s sake, his colleague raped his daughter for years and he was oblivious, and he did nothing when his wife and son tormented her. But in the end, I think her terrible upbringing in an unstable family resulted in low self-confidence and poor judgement, and left her extremely vulnerable to predatory personalities regardless of culture. She had no examples of healthy relationships growing up, and the Western men she dated tended to be self-absorbed users and losers as well, albeit in a non-physically violent way. She needed time, and she met her current partner when she was 38 or 39, presumably a more stable point in her life. I was also unimpressed by how she presents herself as an extremely ignorant person, repeating that she didn’t read news and wasn’t aware of world affairs, etc. She claims she applied for - and won! - a Chevening scholarship without knowing what it was. It’s possible to sit through “many stressful exams” for a prestigious award and not know the details of it? Maybe things were different back then and you didn’t have to answer questions like “Why are you applying for this award?” and “What do you hope to achieve with it?” I can’t decide what I feel for her - sympathy, envy, annoyance? On one hand, a miserable childhood in rural China in the 70s; on the other, so many opportunities despite being naive and ignorant (if true). She makes sure to point out how many people she, a peasant girl, competed with to secure those opportunities - she beat 7000 others to gain one of eleven spots at the Beijing Film Academy, and 500 candidates to win one of three spots for the Chevening. The odds are certainly with her. Then, supposedly barely fluent in English, she lands a top UK literary agent and doesn’t even realize, when she attends a meeting at a major publishing house, that they’ve already made an offer for her book. Lady, you are both supremely cursed and fantastically blessed. Those issues aside, I was absorbed in the memoir despite never warming to Guo. She has a lot of demons to exorcise, and I truly hope she does feel more peace now that her mother is gone and she has her own daughter. She is a remarkable person who has worked hard (despite painting herself as an ignoramus with dumb luck) to get where she is, and I look forward to her future novels.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Marks54

    Sometimes to appreciate a book it is important to recognize what I do not know and what about an author’s situation and life I lack access to. Xiaolu Guo was born and raised in peasant conditions in China in 1973. She is now a successful writer and film maker in England. To get to where she is now she had to escape from her provincial background, with a cherished and highly competitive slot at a national film school, win a fellowship to England to study advanced film making and then learn to cra Sometimes to appreciate a book it is important to recognize what I do not know and what about an author’s situation and life I lack access to. Xiaolu Guo was born and raised in peasant conditions in China in 1973. She is now a successful writer and film maker in England. To get to where she is now she had to escape from her provincial background, with a cherished and highly competitive slot at a national film school, win a fellowship to England to study advanced film making and then learn to craft substantial and engaging books in a second language that she basically taught herself. Her life story was unfolding during a time of unbelievable change in Chinese society and in Chinese economic life, following the death of Mao, the ascent of Deng, and the working out of political conflicts as China moved from a backward nation to what will soon be the largest and fastest growing economy in the world. This period of change is marked by the greatest movement of people out of poverty in world history and some of the greatest mass migrations anywhere, involving more people than did all of the waves of emigration to North America in the entire 19th century. The largest country on earth was nearly totally transformed in the course of 40 years. To put this in context, most Americans would have trouble comprehending the lives of their grandparents while for the Chinese, the scale of change was much larger than that in the US since WW2 with sensitivities to the pass further dulled by the controversies of the Cultural Revolution, during which many of the records necessary to understand these societal changes were destroyed, along with many lives in the process. Ms. Guo is a gifted writer with a clear, honest, and self-critical style. Her education and growth as a writer during this time of change, however, began from a position of near illiteracy and she spent a good portion of her early education and training trying to catch up and undo her slow start. I will also add that this education was developing in the context of a society that regularly denigrated and sexually abused women. Ms. Guo’s discussions of the repressive environment and her sexual abuse are some of the strongest parts of the book. I suspect that the book will not suffer in its popularity due to its timing right in the unfolding scandals of the sexual abuse of women in the west. Her discussion of Chinese family life and its hostile attitudes towards women also further clarifies to me how little I know about the extended family structures that are still important in Chinese society. Ms. Guo is also marvelous in how she discusses the arts, movies, and writing as crafts and careers and in making clear how she chose her projects and worked to succeed. The are occasional references to the political context of life in China as reforms unfolded, but they are not central to the story about Ms. Guo and her family. The discussion of her mixed and bittersweet relations with her extended family, including their trip to visit her in London, is another strong point of the book. Finally, Xiaolu Guo’s book is very smart and she clearly has proven herself proficient at adapting to the stresses and strains of growing up in modern China and learning to prosper while going abroad and thus “visiting the nine continents”. I will be reading more of Xiaolu Guo’s fiction and was very impressed by her fine memoir.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Melinda

    Upon the birth of her daughter in England, writer and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo reflects on her life up to this point: her early years raised by her grandparents in a Chinese fishing village by the sea, her school years with her parents in an industrial town, her delve into film studies in a rapidly changing Beijing. It's a fascinating life story, with sharp commentary on misogyny and art. I hadn't realized Guo was the author of A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, a book I'd picked up for Upon the birth of her daughter in England, writer and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo reflects on her life up to this point: her early years raised by her grandparents in a Chinese fishing village by the sea, her school years with her parents in an industrial town, her delve into film studies in a rapidly changing Beijing. It's a fascinating life story, with sharp commentary on misogyny and art. I hadn't realized Guo was the author of A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, a book I'd picked up for its intriguing title, but never gotten around to reading. I'll definitely check out her other books. Note: I received an advance readers copy from the phblisher through NetGalley.

  17. 4 out of 5

    David

    I find it sad such a China 101 book continues to find fans in the West. It speaks to the general ignorance and misconceptions about China in the West, but also the willingness of authors to exploit a kind of exoticism. Xiaolu Guo has ONE literary device - pretend naïveté followed by feigned surprise. The thoughts in this book are quite shallow and clichéd. Even the name she gave her daughter - Moon - feels like a cliché. It really is a shame such a book can exist alongside Madeleine Thien’s Do N I find it sad such a China 101 book continues to find fans in the West. It speaks to the general ignorance and misconceptions about China in the West, but also the willingness of authors to exploit a kind of exoticism. Xiaolu Guo has ONE literary device - pretend naïveté followed by feigned surprise. The thoughts in this book are quite shallow and clichéd. Even the name she gave her daughter - Moon - feels like a cliché. It really is a shame such a book can exist alongside Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing. I really need to find a good book to erase the last couple days of my constant “How the heck did this book get published?” ramblings.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mandy

    This totally absorbing and compelling memoir is an object lesson in how to write autobiography; clear, concise, honest, and with a narrative pace that keeps the reader eager to continue with the story. And it’s a remarkable life story, from poor beginnings in a remote fishing village in China to film-school in Beijing and a successful career in Britain. Thoroughly enjoyable and illuminating.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Reads & Rambles

    4.5 stars. A wonderful, deep, soul bearing memoir.

  20. 5 out of 5

    N

    Uninspired and over-generalized.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    This is a fascinating memoir detailing Xialuo Guo's upbringing in communist China, and her complex relationship with her family. I have read one of her previous books "20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth", but went into this book with almost no knowledge of her life. All I knew about her was that she grew up in China and moved to the U.K. Her life story is incredible, I was amazed that from such a hopeless, brutal upbringing she has gone on to achieve so much. -Summary, contains spoilers- Xiaolu's p This is a fascinating memoir detailing Xialuo Guo's upbringing in communist China, and her complex relationship with her family. I have read one of her previous books "20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth", but went into this book with almost no knowledge of her life. All I knew about her was that she grew up in China and moved to the U.K. Her life story is incredible, I was amazed that from such a hopeless, brutal upbringing she has gone on to achieve so much. -Summary, contains spoilers- Xiaolu's parents gave her to a poor childless couple in a mountain village when she was a baby. At age 2, her adoptive parents could not afford to feed her anymore and handed her back to her grandparents, whom she lived with until she turned 7. Her early childhood experiences in the poor fishing village were sad and hard to read. Her nameless grandmother (who was simply called "wife" by villagers out of convenience) was regularly beaten by her grandfather, and they lived in fear of him until he committed suicide. Age 6, Xialuo was inspired to become an artist after meeting a group of art students who visited the village. She immediately felt a connection to them and watched them draw the sea, and decided she would leave the village and pursue art. At age 18, she traveled to Beijing to compete against 6000 students for a place to study film. Later, feeling stifled by the strict rules towards art in China, she started looking for opportunities to move to another country and applied for a scholarship to study film in the U.K. Her experiences in London were particularly interesting to me as someone who grew up in the U.K. and felt alienated there. Before moving, the image she had of the U.K. was of the wealthy areas; boarding schools, neatly trimmed rose gardens and luxurious houses. After arriving, she realized her romantic ideas of the U.K. were completely inaccurate and she knew nothing about the country. She discovered that the reality of everyday life in London was different from what she had read about in books and seen in films. CCTV cameras everywhere, prison-like council housing, "graffiti-smeared streets and piss-drenched alleyways", angry teenagers screaming at her in the street. When I was reading this book I thought a lot about experiences of the city being shaped by how much money one has. She envisioned a better life in the U.K. because all she knew of the country was media portraying the rich. Still, life in the U.K gave her the freedom to write without censorship, which is what she was seeking.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Frederico

    I just finished this book and I must say, in the excitement of the moment, that it's one of my favorite books from now on. It obviously has to do with the many similarities between Guo's life and mine. I'm from Brazil, have lived in the UK and in the Germany, spent 15 years in NYC, and I'm now living in Shanghai. I wasn't, however, abandoned by my parents as an infant. But forget all that. Guo's prose is sharp, her honesty is brave, her story is amazing. Raw ambition, drive to survive, craving t I just finished this book and I must say, in the excitement of the moment, that it's one of my favorite books from now on. It obviously has to do with the many similarities between Guo's life and mine. I'm from Brazil, have lived in the UK and in the Germany, spent 15 years in NYC, and I'm now living in Shanghai. I wasn't, however, abandoned by my parents as an infant. But forget all that. Guo's prose is sharp, her honesty is brave, her story is amazing. Raw ambition, drive to survive, craving to live out loud. I'm feeling very inspired right now. She has a very Chinese thirst for life that I love here in Shanghai. Thank you, Xiaolu!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Wsclai

    I have been a fan of Guo and this memoir doesn't disappoint me. On one hand, it is modern Chinese history told from a personal perspective. Guo's story reveals the absurdities of the communist regime and unfairness of a dominant patriarchal society to a girls/women. On the other hand, it is Guo's life journey which is full of touching moments. Her distant yet intimate relationship with her grandmother has moved me to tears many times. The plight of her grandmother is indeed tragically common in r I have been a fan of Guo and this memoir doesn't disappoint me. On one hand, it is modern Chinese history told from a personal perspective. Guo's story reveals the absurdities of the communist regime and unfairness of a dominant patriarchal society to a girls/women. On the other hand, it is Guo's life journey which is full of touching moments. Her distant yet intimate relationship with her grandmother has moved me to tears many times. The plight of her grandmother is indeed tragically common in rural China until today. I am glad that Guo has seized her chance to go to Britain and became a writer. China would never give her the freedom to do what she aspires to. I am deeply impressed by her will, which transformed her from a Chinese who knew little English to an author of English novels. That certainly is a tremendous achievement. Below are several of my favourite quotes from the book. 1. [On Confucius] "So he was just another desperate long-term unemployed man. Since no one took him on, he had to inflict his knowledge on the young, amassing his 72 disciples. It seems his main concern was to exercise authority over others. In that respect he was like all the other power-seekers. Seen in this light, it's pretty obvious why Confucianism has been so favoured by the emperors of China, including leaders of the Communist Party." 2. [On film-making in China] "We in China had undergone a proletarian revolution under Mao, and yet there was barely a free thought allowed in our heads. The layers of self-censorship we had to engage in before the official censorship came to get us had already strangled any creative work. In China, creativity meant compromise. Creativity no longer bore its original and intended meaning. Creativity under a Communist regime requires the struggle to survive under such rigid rules, and for all creative thoughts to be kept to oneself." 3. [On relationship with her mother] "Silence was the way we communicated, a family tradition carried down to my brother and me from my parents and their parents. My father's silence after his throat cancer operation was just another version. Silence was common in Chinese culture, it served a purpose. Never mention the tragedies, and never question them. Move on, get on with life, since you couldn't change the fact of your birth." It is a quick read and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Flavia

    I have loved and found Xiaolu Guo’s fiction so fresh and original since ‘A Concise Chinese – English Dictionary for Lovers’. I was thrilled when I discovered that she had written a memoir and ‘Nine Continents’ didn’t disappoint. At all. Far from it, I found this book absorbing, inspiring and beautifully rendered. This memoir is the story of an artist; it’s also an essay on ambition, determination and the transformative aspect of creativity. Near the beginning of the book Guo relates an encounter I have loved and found Xiaolu Guo’s fiction so fresh and original since ‘A Concise Chinese – English Dictionary for Lovers’. I was thrilled when I discovered that she had written a memoir and ‘Nine Continents’ didn’t disappoint. At all. Far from it, I found this book absorbing, inspiring and beautifully rendered. This memoir is the story of an artist; it’s also an essay on ambition, determination and the transformative aspect of creativity. Near the beginning of the book Guo relates an encounter with a group of art students on the beach of her home town when she is just a child. This has such an enormous impact on her that her ambition and vision has hinged itself upon it. She writes of one of the students paintings: “I was suddenly captivated by the girl’s imaginative act: that one could reshape a drab and colourless reality into a luminous world.” This is also a story about China (1970s – 2000) and it has been totally engrossing to read and learn about the way she lived in Communist China, although this is not a political memoir, just brutally honest and gritty (she mentions the extreme censorship rules that dampens and oppresses artists in China and hence her need to leave). Guo depicts her life in such perfect detail at every stage of the way, the storyline reads so smoothly and the pieces fit together so snugly it felt like I was reading fiction. She maintains throughout an extremely matter-of-fact tone about her experiences (including the more brutal ones, such as her abandonment as a baby, her grandfather’s suicide, sexual abuse, her room mate’s attempted suicide, her violent lover). She doesn’t mope, whine, accuse or blame; this is not the tone or aim of the book although she does question her ability to recognise and feel love. She also captures the multi-layered nature of immigration – the need to leave, the desire to get on, to embody more cultures (international artistic visions) but the places we go to will never be able to erase those vivid images and experiences that shaped us elsewhere. In writing this memoir and in all her creative endeavours, it seems to me, that Guo toys with silence/being silenced to find the most appropriate and accurate language, that in turn, infuses reality with colour and profound significance.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Carol Douglas

    Xialu Guo's memoir takes us back to a tiny fishing village in China. Her parents couldn't care for her when she was a baby, so her mother gave her to another poor couple to raise. By the time the couple found her grandparents and took her to them, she was starving to death. Her grandmother managed to revive her. Life in the fishing village was hard. Her grandfather had loved to fish along the coast, but fishing was collectivized. He had to fish as one of many on a large boat, and he hated it. He Xialu Guo's memoir takes us back to a tiny fishing village in China. Her parents couldn't care for her when she was a baby, so her mother gave her to another poor couple to raise. By the time the couple found her grandparents and took her to them, she was starving to death. Her grandmother managed to revive her. Life in the fishing village was hard. Her grandfather had loved to fish along the coast, but fishing was collectivized. He had to fish as one of many on a large boat, and he hated it. He became a beachcomber, combing the town for ways to feed his family. Xiaolu's grandmother took her to a fortuneteller who said she would travel to "the Nine Continents," meaning the world. Xiaolu's parents reclaimed her, and she learned to read and write. Her father loved her but her mother, a former Red Guard, didn't seem to. A man who abused her in her childhood made it difficult for her to connect sex and love. Xiaolu managed to get to college and ultimately to become a writer. She experienced China's far-out pop culture in the early '90s. Xiaolu obtained a fellowship to study in England. She learned to write in English though it was painful not to be able to write in Chinese. But Chinese publishers wouldn't publish the kind of books she wanted to write. She writes well, and her story is moving.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jacqueline

    I don't usually enjoy memoirs, but the premise of this one sounded interesting because it mixed personal history with a historical background on China after the Cultural Revolution. I felt a lot of ..feelings while I read this (I know, I'm so articulate). This is one of those books I would describe as truly exemplifying why I love to read: to connect with someone, real or fictional, and finding connection and meaning in their story, despite different experiences. I don't usually enjoy memoirs, but the premise of this one sounded interesting because it mixed personal history with a historical background on China after the Cultural Revolution. I felt a lot of ..feelings while I read this (I know, I'm so articulate). This is one of those books I would describe as truly exemplifying why I love to read: to connect with someone, real or fictional, and finding connection and meaning in their story, despite different experiences.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Viki Cheung

    An immensely powerful, personal memoir - highly recommended.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Juliana

    My review: https://theblankgarden.com/2017/09/14... My review: https://theblankgarden.com/2017/09/14...

  29. 5 out of 5

    Indu

    really interesting insight into another culture & it's impact on us humans. enjoyed very much. recommend. really interesting insight into another culture & it's impact on us humans. enjoyed very much. recommend.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Enchanted Prose

    The remarkable journey of an artist (Shitang, Wenling, Beijing, China to London; 1970s – 2016): Starving is the first word that comes to mind reflecting on the vitality and accomplishments of an artist growing up under the Communist regime of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution and its aftermath. For it seems Xiaolu Guo has been starving much of her life. Starved for food, family, freedoms, affection, love, individuality, dignity. Calling herself a “peasant warrior,” Guo poignantly traces in vignett The remarkable journey of an artist (Shitang, Wenling, Beijing, China to London; 1970s – 2016): Starving is the first word that comes to mind reflecting on the vitality and accomplishments of an artist growing up under the Communist regime of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution and its aftermath. For it seems Xiaolu Guo has been starving much of her life. Starved for food, family, freedoms, affection, love, individuality, dignity. Calling herself a “peasant warrior,” Guo poignantly traces in vignettes of memories her forty years living under abominable conditions. Her perseverance, blossoming, eloquence, and the productivity and diversity of her works is all the more remarkable given the unrelenting cycle of abuse she endured – sexual, physical, emotional, intellectual. A life she says that didn’t even start until she was twenty-one, when she penned her first novel. Even when the memoirist left China for London at thirty, she describes her next ten years as a “cultural orphan.” “Westerners will never understand the Chinese unless they go through the misery and poverty we did,” says Guo, whose hunger for Western literature and Western films sustained her when “desolation came and swallowed me.” Named one of the Best Young British Novelists in 2013, Guo is part of what’s called the “Sixth Generation” of Chinese filmmakers, who came after the tragic events at Tiananmen Square in Beijing 1989. Drawn to the angry young artists of her generation who went underground to pursue their art since the State censored or jailed those who did not conform to it’s endorsement of art: propaganda. There can a time, though, when the writer-filmmaker recognized the only route for artistic freedom and creativity was to leave China, the homeland that shaped and traumatized her. That trauma is what makes her art profoundly essential to her being. Recipient of numerous awards for her novels, films, poetry, short stories, and screenplays – a body of work considered autobiographical, speaking to themes echoing an impoverished, unhappy life marked by “ice-cold loneliness.” The artist recalls “one of the happiest moments in my life” at six, when she met art students who painted out the bleakness into something magical. Other good things you can pinpoint: a couple of breaks that led to her artistic development, though she earned those with feverish dedication amidst fierce competition, and bonding with her biological father, whom she first met at fourteen. Also stunning is Guo wrote her memoir before the Me Too Movement. The China she writes of – in the seventies, eighties, and nineties – chillingly devalued women. Her parents gave her away (because they had a son? her father was imprisoned in a labor camp?, she’ll never really know) to a couple who lived in a mountain village raising yams and goats. Severely malnourished, they then gave her away to her grandparents who lived in an isolated “typhoon drenched” fishing village, Shitang, surrounded by the East China Sea – “always brown, churning the refuse and rubbish the villagers dumped in it every day.” By age two, she’d been orphaned twice. Her grandmother, “the most humble person I have ever known,” was subjected to feudal Chinese customs: illiterate, with her feet tightly bound causing her great difficulty walking, her body bent over. Her grandfather was a “bitter, failed fisherman” after his boat was seized under the 1970 Fish Farming Collective, eventually committing suicide. He repeatedly beat her “voiceless” and “nameless” grandmother, who derived strength praying to the Goddess of Mercy, who “bestowed her compassion on all those grief-stricken wives and unlucky daughters.” Nine Continents opens with an epilogue as Guo is now forty, having just given birth to a baby girl in London. Motherhood cannot be an easy feat for a woman who first met her biological mother in adolescence, leaving behind her grandmother to attend school in her parents’ compound in Wenling. A mother with a “heart of stone” who ignored and beat her. Even more disturbing is physical violence on girls and women was apparently the norm in rural China in the seventies. “Where I grew up, every man beats his wife and children.” So too she depicts of the raping of girls. “No wonder Chinese ghost stories know only weeping women looking for justice in the afterlife.” The author’s benevolent father brightened days when home. A painter for the State yet his artistic soul was tied to the sea, having also grown up in Shitang. People did what they had to do to survive; Guo hungered for more. Wenling was a different type of village. “This was the China of the early eighties: town and nature, with no real separation of the two.” Rice patties, bamboo trees, residential compounds, and factories (shoes, plastic, silk) all together. “Every adult belonged to a work unit, run by the state.” Wenling is where filmmaking took root as Guo gathered around a lone television in the compound watching glamorous American and British life. Here is also where she began writing “misty poetry” – “historically free” poems about the “land, the cloud-covered mountains, the foggy sea, ethereal love.” The memoirist’s father influenced her environmentalism aesthetically and because of the devastating impact of China’s pollution, as he lost his ability to speak due to throat cancer; so many factory workers she knew were also cancer victims. “China has recorded the highest number of deaths due to pollution;” today, the country is working on solutions to this crisis. Literature offered salvation, comfort, inspiration. Walt Whitman’s “you must travel it [the road] by yourself” was a message that stuck. American and French writers, poets, and film directors are paid tribute throughout. Around twenty, the author earned one of eleven coveted spots at the Film and Literature Department of the Beijing Film Academy. Dorm life was still regimented like a “military camp” but at long last the author makes a friend, Mengmeng, her roommate, with whom the two open up about their sexual abuse “in the darkness of the girls’ dormitory.” Film school lasted six years, more years of barely sleeping and striving, working intensely by candlelight. The opportunity to study films didn’t turn out the way the filmmaker hoped for. “In China, creativity meant compromise.” So she applied and won a Chevening scholarship to study documentary filmmaking at Britain’s National Film and Television School in London, where new challenges arose. Learning English when your native language is visual imagery, coping with the dreary weather, and still very disaffected and terribly lonely, she found London a “hard place to love.” Now writing in English, she “wasn’t sure which was better; being read by thousands in the West but still feeling misunderstood, or being read by very few in a country that understood me perfectly.” Xiaolu Guo may have felt anonymous for a good deal of her life but when one of her art films was screened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York “with a full house and then toured hundreds of thousands of international film festivals,” she’d clearly become someone known. Chinese traditions, sacred writings, superstitions, and folklore appear throughout the telling. The memoir begins with excerpts from one of China’s most beloved pieces of classical literature,  Journey to the West . This Taoist and Buddhist legend written in the 16th century introduces each of the five parts of the memoir. While I don’t purport to fully understand the spiritual message, the Monkey King’s struggles seem to foretell Guo’s. Yet for all the “deadness at the centre of my emotional life,” Xiaolu Guo has written a life-affirming book. A timeless and universal plea cherishing human rights for all. Lorraine (EnchantedProse.com)

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