Book Review: I Am China by Xiaolu Guo

A beguiling tale of love and exile offers an indictment of China’s past, and present: The Independent, UK

Xiaolu GuoXiaolu Guo has already established herself as a leading young talent today. Born in a south Chinese fishing village and now resident in Hackney, seven novels before her 40th birthday secured her a place on Granta’s list of the 20 most promising British writers last year.

If all of that was merely promise, then her new novel, I Am China feels like promise fulfilled: a book so piercingly urgent and relevant it is as if Guo has not so much published it as pressed it into your hand the very moment after writing the final sentence.

The story follows a young translator living in London, Iona, who is presented with a pile of Chinese diary entries and letters by a publisher, with little explanation as to their importance. They belong to a pair of lovers: Kublai Jian, a Chinese rock star and would-be revolutionary with a mysterious past, and Deng Mu, a “moon-faced girl” born to a peasant family in southern China, who meet at university in Beijing in the 1990s, shortly after Jian has spent the day of the Tianenmen Square massacre “in his empty dormitory listening to the Sex Pistols”.

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