David Tan is a literary genius. He has written two novels that have won major literary prizes. He is Chinese but writes in English prose too beautiful for words. He is married to Laura, a go-getter woman who prizes her career highly and they live in the United States of America. It all sounds idyllic doesn’t it? Except it’s not. David and Laura’s marriage is rocky to say the least and David’s new job as a lecturer of Literature at the fancy university is creating a huge amount of stress for him because whilst he might be profound with the written word, he is far from proficient in the English language, which leads to all manner of confusion and frustration both personally and professionally.
This is a simple read, not too long at 215 pages and easy to get through. The frustration that David experiences in his inability to physically express what he is mentally thinking and feeling is very real as he grapples with the language. The linguistic style is stilted and halting, very much like a new language speaker is. The way the relationship between Laura and David is described I’m sure meant to be a light hearted expression of a marriage falling apart, but at times it was difficult to read because it was so abusive. David is walking on eggshells around his wife, doing everything he can to win her affection and she is, even though I’m sure the author meant her to be sympathetic, in a word, a bitch.
The story has a nice cylindrical feel to it starting as it ends, making it a clever twist from the author. The characters are not all likable and you do feel strongly sympathy for David and the challenges before him. There is a nice group of background characters who become David’s friends and support network. A fair proportion of the story is given over to Laura’s working experience and the challenges set before her with a nice twist that plays into the whole story.
Looking at the difficulty of enveloping oneself into a foreign culture, what it takes to make a relationship work and how difficult life is in the academic world with student evaluations and self-righteous behaviour are all explored here. It is an easy story and provided some entertainment on a summer’s day.