Once Upon a Time in The East by Xiaulo Guo
Ever since Jung Chang’s Wild Swansbecame an international bestseller in the early 1990s, memoirs of exiled Chinese women and their “wrenching journeys” from East to West have been one of publishing’s “holy grails”, said Richard Lloyd Parry in The Times. The latest addition to the genre is Once upon a time in the East, novelist Xiaolu Guo’s account of her turbulent upbringing in southeast China and her later move to Britain. This, however, is no rehash of Wild Swans: Guo is a “bolder, angrier” figure than Chang, who came from a privileged Party background. Guo, by contrast, was raised mainly by her impoverished grandparents and, as an “undesired girl”, was always “the last to be fed, educated and given love”. In adolescence, she was “first groped, then raped” by a family friend, who told her: “Stop crying! Every girl has to go through this”. But, desperate to make a mark, she escaped to Beijing, where she studied film, and later to Britain, where she forged a successful writing career, publishing a well-received novel, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers, in 2007.
This “extraordinary memoir” will only enhance its author’s “burgeoning” reputation, said Ian Critchley in The Sunday Times. Though “often shocking in its descriptions of violence and deprivation”, Guo also writes with “wry humour”, particularly about her early disillusionment with Britain, which she expected – -from watching The Forsyte Saga – to be full of “fancy houses and rich people dressed in elegant costumes riding about on white horses”. Unlike many other memoirists of exile, Guo “neither romanticises her past nor glorifies her new home”, said Megan Walsh in the New Statesman. Written in an “audacious, restless” style, this is a work of “fiery, artistic defiance”.