This essay investigates how the Chinese-British author and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo’s A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers (2007) engages in the rewriting of what Yasemin Yildiz termed the “monolingual linguistic family romance” (2012). Written in a learner’s English, which improves throughout its fictional diary pages, the novel describes and enacts the labor of love that language learning always connotes, and thus questions the unique affective investment in the mother tongue. Xiaolu Guo’s decision to harness the very process of a protagonist’s self-translation as the focus of her first novel in English creates an experimental text that stages the inequity between her character’s slowly improving English and a perception of her unwritten dialect and official Mandarin Chinese as equally oppressive, between the hegemony of global English and the imposition of Mandarin Chinese as the language of her education, between Western capitalism and Chinese communism. Using Pascale Casanova’s insights into the unequal linguistic exchanges both in translation and the literary world, I argue that as it presents a writer’s alienation from either stepmother’s or lover’s tongue in literary endeavor, Dictionary for Lovers investigates and destabilizes both affective relationships in order to put in relief the asymmetry of globalized exchanges at their basis.


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pp. 444-461
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