Book Review: 'Forgotten Languages Of Shanghai' The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai, by Ruiyan Xu, tells the story of a Chinese businessman who, after a traumatic accident, loses the ability to speak Chinese.
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Book Review: 'Forgotten Languages Of Shanghai'

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Book Review: 'Forgotten Languages Of Shanghai'

Book Review: 'Forgotten Languages Of Shanghai'

Book Review: 'Forgotten Languages Of Shanghai'

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The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai, by Ruiyan Xu, tells the story of a Chinese businessman who, after a traumatic accident, loses the ability to speak Chinese.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

What if, through an accident, you lost your ability to express yourself in your native language and if all your communication depended on speaking and understanding a foreign tongue?

That is the scenario in a debut novel by the Chinese-American writer Ruiyan Xu. Alan Cheuse has this review of "The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai."

ALAN CHEUSE: Theres a kind of useful symmetry at the outset of Xus appealing first novel. At the beginning of the book, Li Jing, a Charlottesville-born Chinese stock trader, survives a gas explosion in a restaurant but because of trauma from the accident, he loses his ability to speak Chinese.

His old professor-father and his wife, Meiling, a book editor, are understandably distressed. Chinese has become to Li Jing, well, Greek to him. For example, he can hear the differences in tone that make meaning clear in Chinese but, as Xu writes, he finds it impossible to enunciate the four variations.

For him, its like hearing a piece of music and then looking down at the black and white keys of a piano, not knowing how each note corresponds to the identical-looking keys before you.

Wife and father make a plan with the local hospital to fly in Rosalyn Neal, an Oklahoma City doctor whos an expert in aphasia. Dr. Neal has her own problems, mainly having just suffered the explosion of her failed marriage, and the exotic sights and sounds of Shanghai only add to her confusion.

She works with Li Jing in English to help restore his Chinese, but the main thing that happens - they fall in love, with upsetting results for the family.

Novelist Ruiyan Xu writes in English, so she doesnt enunciate the four tonal variations of Chinese. The tone of her story about love in modern Shanghai seems just right.

BLOCK: The novel from Ruiyan Xu is called "The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

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