Academic journal article Transnational Literature

A Chinese Affair

Academic journal article Transnational Literature

A Chinese Affair

Article excerpt

Isabelle Li, A Chinese Affair (Margaret River Press, 2016)

A Chinese Affair, by Isabelle Li, is a collection of short stories about migration divided into four segments, each narrating four tales. Some of the stories are connected through the characters and sentiments, which provides a heightened emotional expression. This connection results in the reader gaining a better understanding of the character's suffering. The yearning for familiarity and homeliness does not need to be discussed each time anew. The subtle connection between characters not only gives a context to the events; it suggests a universality of emotions and experiences. A family death, nostalgia, or homesickness becomes a shared experience.

Nostalgia is also heightened by the use of Chinese aphorisms and phrases in narration, and the absence of these phrases from the characters' lives. In a foreign environment, the characters fail to express themselves, resulting in a solitary remembrance of the past. This failure not only heightens their loneliness but gives hope of a better, satisfactory life for which the characters only need to find a better expression of their sentiments.

The first segment of the book narrates stories connected through the longing for an expression and homesickness in a foreign land. The characters change their names in a desire to fit in in the new country and to have a fresh start. Li signifies this as the cause of the characters' suffering as she says: 'it is important to know the correct names of anything, because language is all we have - words are symbols, and when symbols do not represent reality, they lose meaning, and we lose our ability to think' (33).

In the second segment, Li tells stories set in China. These talk about dual nature of personalities and the need for characters to find a space of their own. They have secrets that they guard with smiles and silences.

The third segment of the book is about love, loss, and land. Li pictures love as an unattainable desire. In these stories, characters compromise love for the sake of their families or even because of their past, which they do not want revealed. Readers not only come to know of the lives of characters in these particular stories but also end up adding to an understanding of the previous ones. Although a melancholic read, the stories are not dark, and end with hope for happiness and contentment for the characters. …

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