Télérama / “Etonnants Voyageurs” 2007
(presented and translated by Raymond Delambre)
For a special “Etonnants Voyageurs” 2007 the magazine Télérama has an article by Olivier Pascal-Moussellard presenting “some of the Indians, Jamaicans, and Chinese, which from an imperial past or immigration have revivified English literature”.
“Etonnants Voyageurs” is a film and book festival based in the French harbour Saint-Malo. This festival invited more than 2500 authors in the last 15 years (and more than 100 films by year are projected).
Télérama referred in particular to Xiaolu Guo:
“The success over the past two months of the young Chinese novelist Xiaolu Guo confirms the continuity of the strange fusion between East and West. Xiaolu resides in London for four years only. For her, like so many immigrants, the city and tongue form a single fortress: we are hurt knocking at its doors, we get lost, we damn it before we find the key.
A concise Chinese-English Dictionary for lovers, her first London novel (Xiaolu wrote others in China), probe the extraordinary mess of sensations – anxiety, pleasures and frustrations – felt by the young foreigner dropped in the mouth of London. This introductory novel is a “roman d’apprentissage”, a story of love, sex and words, which sometimes recalls J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, one of her favourite novels.
A visit was necessary. Visiting Mrs Guo’s home, in the Hackney district (North London), we are slapped as well as the narrator, Mrs Z, when she landed on the shores of the Thames. An impression of no man’s land, depressing show windows, furtive picture of three Muslim women who are veiled from head to foot in front of a striptease, and the sign “Forbidden to spit” (in two languages) hooked to each level: a world apart really, almost third world, ten subway stations and light-years away from Buckingham Palace.
The eight dictionaries scattered in Xiaolu’s living room are not too many in order to learn how to decrypt and tell this world: “In the beginning was the Word, but the word was twisted!”… The young woman has fun with us while she offers a cup of tea. “When I arrived, I used only one tense, the present, as I did in China. Hello confusion. I knew London only through classics, translated so fanciful in my country: Oliver Twist would not be called Twist; the text is cleared of all swearwords... I had to take everything from zero.”
Hard for the immigrant, but exciting for the writer. Xiaolu has described her “London just in broken English” – shaky language, grammatically barbaric, but rich with strange glitters – so gibber all the new immigrants (and making crazy, with no doubt, the French translator of the book). In full bull’s eye: A concise Chinese-English Dictionary for lovers is selling like hotcakes…
read original article in french