Starred Kirkus Review, 1 August 2020


"A fiercely intelligent book whose exploration of the philosophy of identity is trenchant and moving."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Two lovers merge their lives, but not their identities, across boundaries of culture, nationality, and ideology.
The unnamed narrator of this novel in epistolary fragments is a young woman from a rural town in Southern China who has come to London to pursue a Ph.D. in visual anthropology in the winter of 2015, just prior to the Brexit referendum. Both her parents have recently died, and she doesn't know whether to attribute her loneliness to her identity as a foreigner in Britain, to her newly orphaned status, or to another more essential part of her nature she comes to understand as "distance pain, an ache or a lust for a place where you want to belong." Her desolation is somewhat ameliorated when she meets the you to whom these fragments are addressed—a landscape architect she meets picking elderflowers on a picnic organized by mutual friends. "The elderflower picker," as she terms him, turns out to be another culturally displaced person, the child of an Englishwoman and a German man who grew up on the east coast of Australia before moving to Germany in his late teens and to England as an adult. Their relationship quickly develops from this chance meeting to a full-blown love affair, co-habitation on a houseboat in the London canals, parenthood, and travel to German farmland, Australian tourist towns, and an enclave of tradesmen in Southern China whose job is to reproduce great works of art for sale on the open market. Modeled after Roland Barthes' structuralist masterpiece, also titled A Lover's Discourse, Guo's latest meditation on the nature of belonging asks many of the same questions as her earlier works—Can language create identity? Can love create a home? Are the differences between cultures, genders, nationalities, and personal ideologies what pull us apart, or are lifelong conversations, even arguments, about these things what help us understand what it means to truly be together?
A fiercely intelligent book whose exploration of the philosophy of identity is trenchant and moving.


Review Date: August 1, 2020
Publisher: Grove Pages: 288
ISBN ( Hardcover ): 978-0-8021-4952-7


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  © Xiaolu Guo