Author: Xiaolu Guo
Source: from publisher for review
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Summary: I really enjoyed the unique protagonist and multiple timelines in this gripping, well written story
Translator Iona lives a solitary, detached life and she likes it that way, but that changes when she begins translating letters and diaries written by a Chinese couple. Jian and Mu have had a challenging relationship, shaped by their differing opinions on art and activism, as well as by personal tragedies. Iona becomes absorbed in their lives. She desperately wants to know what happened to them and whether it will be possible to reunite them. This obsession draws her out into the world, but it’s not clear if this will lead to a happy ending.
Although this book is often labeled as literary on goodreads and it is beautifully written, I hesitated to apply that label. A lot of the literary fiction that I’ve read and not liked lately has been slow and experimental. This book was quite different. I found that the short sections and regular time jumps gave this a propulsive pace. All three stories – Iona’s, Jian’s, and Mu’s – interested me equally. I know this might not be for everyone, but I also liked having to pay attention to dates to piece together the story. It felt as though I was unraveling the mystery of Jian and Mu’s past along with Iona. I couldn’t wait to see how all of their stories would connect.
This book definitely deserves to be considered literary though, especially if by that label we mean well-crafted. This book is written in such a way that it reminds me of someone who, when speaking out loud, articulates every word very precisely. Every word just felt so carefully considered. Every word added to my understanding of what is happening. It wasn’t sparse to the point of lacking any description that was unnecessary to the action occurring, but every word did feel necessary to the story being told.
One last element of this book that I particularly enjoyed was getting to know Iona. Early on, there were some sex scenes that felt a little odd and superfluous to me, but eventually it became clear that these were actually showing something important about Iona’s personality. Throughout the book, I felt that these scenes, her interactions with others, and her reactions to the book all gave me a clear picture of who she was at the beginning of the novel and how she changed over time. She was a unique protagonist and her character arc was a satisfying part of this story.