Xu’s writing, precise and elegant, saves a too conventional plot.

THE LOST AND FORGOTTEN LANGUAGES OF SHANGHAI

Silence—literal and figurative—is the topic of this debut novel in which an American neurologist helps a Chinese businessman regain his powers of speech.

While sharing a dinner at the Swan Hotel, Li Jing and his father are nearly killed in a gas leak explosion. Old Professor Li is weakened, but it is young Li Jing, a wealthy, charismatic businessman, who is transformed. Though he is able to understand written and spoken Chinese, he is unable to speak it himself, and instead can only mutter phrases in English, his first language. Li Jing was born and raised in America, but the widowed Professor Li moved the two to Shanghai when Li Jing was still an adolescent. Suffering from bilingual aphasia—with the irony that his “second” language is the one he has been using his whole adult life—the family offers a fellowship to American Rosalyn Neal to help rehabilitate Li Jing, in the hopes that in recovering the more accessible English, his Chinese will follow. Newly divorced Rosalyn is escaping her guilt and loneliness in Shanghai, and soon forms an attachment to the vulnerable Li Jing. Meanwhile, Li Jing’s wife Meiling must quit her job as a poetry editor and take over Li Jing’s investment business, an endeavor that keeps her away from Li Jing and creates a festering resentment between the two (though it is unclear why Li Jing can’t do his work with Meiling as his mouthpiece—a failing of the novel). The drama unfolds against the changing face of Shanghai, a place that is as mysterious to Rosalyn as it is now to Li Jing, isolated in his silence. Despite the broad sweep and the unusual circumstances, the novel turns into a story about a traditional love triangle—and they rarely turn out well.

Xu’s writing, precise and elegant, saves a too conventional plot.     

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-312-58654-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2010

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Read this for insights about writing, about losing one’s mother, about dealing with a cranky sous-chef and a difficult...

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WRITERS & LOVERS

A Boston-area waitress manages debt, grief, medical troubles, and romantic complications as she finishes her novel.

“There are so many things I can’t think about in order to write in the morning,” Casey explains at the opening of King’s (Euphoria, 2014, etc.) latest. The top three are her mother’s recent death, her crushing student loans, and the married poet she recently had a steaming-hot affair with at a writer’s colony. But having seen all but one of her writer friends give up on the dream, 31-year-old Casey is determined to stick it out. After those morning hours at her desk in her teensy garage apartment, she rides her banana bike to work at a restaurant in Harvard Square—a setting the author evokes in delicious detail, recalling Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter, though with a lighter touch. Casey has no sooner resolved to forget the infidel poet than a few more writers show up on her romantic radar. She rejects a guy at a party who reveals he’s only written 11 1/2 pages in three years—“That kind of thing is contagious”—to find herself torn between a widowed novelist with two young sons and a guy with an irresistible broken tooth from the novelist's workshop. Casey was one of the top two golfers in the country when she was 14, and the mystery of why she gave up the sport altogether is entangled with the mystery of her estrangement from her father, the latter theme familiar from King’s earlier work. In fact, with its young protagonist, its love triangle, and its focus on literary ambition, this charmingly written coming-of-age story would be an impressive debut novel. But after the originality and impact of Euphoria, it might feel a bit slight.

Read this for insights about writing, about losing one’s mother, about dealing with a cranky sous-chef and a difficult four-top.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-4853-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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