Synopses & Reviews
A captivating coming-of-age novel in the tradition of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
During the darkest days of Cultural Revolution, a twelve-year-old boy named Love Liu wonders what life is like beyond the region of Xinjiang in China's remote northwest. Here conformity is valued above all else, and suspicion governs every exchange among neighbors, classmates, and even friends. Into this stifling atmosphere comes a tall, clean-shaven teacher from Shanghai, wearing an elegant gray wool jacket and carrying an English dictionary under his arm.
With the dictionary as his disposal, Love Liu turns to it for answers to his most pressing questions about love and life, and a whole new world opens up for him. His classmates-the bright, troubled Sunrise Huang and the rowdy, impoverished Garbage Li-also find hope in the unfamiliar and tantalizing sounds of English, but in an atmosphere of accusation and recrimination, one in which their teacher is deemed morally suspect and mere innuendo can cost someone his life, their ideals face a test more challenging than any they'll take in the classroom.
A major bestseller in China, where it was voted best novel of the year independently by the critics and the general public, English is a transcendent novel about the power of language to launch a journey of self-discovery.
"For 12-year-old Love Liu, foreign languages are a way of life: he lives in gossipy Xinjiang in far northwest China, where the sounds of Uyghur, Russian and Chinese mingle. But when Second Prize Wang, a dashing English teacher from Shanghai, arrives at his school, Love Liu wonders what use it would be to learn English. However, he's enamored of the confident and cosmopolitan teacher. Love Liu dives into his studies and soon befriends Second Prize Wang, and their unconventional friendship becomes one of the only constants in Love Liu's world as the Cultural Revolution wears away at the people of Xinjiang. Love Liu's friends are smacked with accusations, his school gets closed down for months at a time and his parents are alternately lauded and condemned. The more quotidian aspects of the novel can be repetitive Love Liu cycles endlessly through the same handful of teenage tribulations but the novel's larger portrait of Love Liu and Second Prize Wang's friendship emerges with touching clarity and provides a perfect counterbalance to the corruption and confusion of the Cultural Revolution." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
One of The Wall Street Journal's Two Best Works of Fiction of the Year about Asia
"Its story-telling and its narrative are both straightforward and clear . . . allow[ing] the drama of the story to open up naturally, unpretentiously . . . and yet also to crescendo into a tour de force of a conclusion. . . . [The translators'] English-and their English-is as fluid and conversational as Wang Gang's Chinese."
"Refreshing . . . Anyone who has dreamed for something bigger in life will relate to the story."
-Lijia Zhang, The Wall Street Journal Asia
"Equally tender and searing . . . More than any other book I've read about Communist China, English conveys a sense of the time and place with clarity, authenticity and compassion."
-Tiffany Lee-Youngren, The San Diego Union-Tribune
"Deftly explores the politics of language during those treacherous times."
-Travel + Leisure
"A fascinating and loving portrait of a painful childhood full of fond memories [that] allows us to glimpse the humanity we all have in common. For that reason, the book does what good literature should always do."
-The Quarterly Conversation
"A heart-wrenching coming-of-age story during one of the most tumultuous periods of modern history."
"A 'Catcher in the Rye in China.' . . . This book's style reminded me of Waiting, the 1999 National Book Award-winning novel by Ha Jin. . . . I truly enjoyed this book."
-Sarah Phoenix, Minnesota Reads
"This compelling coming-of-age novel . . . paints a vivid picture of what life was like during the Cultural Revolution, with paranoia, suspicion, and distrust informing every relationship, even the closest ones."
"The pure friendship between the teenage boy and his English teachers is movingly beautiful; the depiction of the intellectuals of that particular period cuts to the bone. I highly recommend it."
-Mo Yan, author of Red Sorghum
A bestseller in China, "English" is a transcendent exploration of a boy's self-discovery, a country's shame, and the transporting power of language.
"I loved this book and can't stop talking about it. . . Transcendent." -Carolyn See, The Washington Post
In the tradition of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Wang Gang's English is a captivating coming-of- age novel about the power of language to launch a journey of self- discovery. When a new teacher comes to school-a tall, elegantly dressed man from Shanghai carrying an English dictionary under his arm-twelve- year-old Love Liu turns away from Chairman Mao's little red book and toward the teacher's big blue book for answers to his most pressing questions about love and life. But as a whole new world begins to open up for him, Love Liu must face a test more challenging than any he'll take in the classroom.
About the Author
Wang Gang is a critically acclaimed novelist and screenwriter in China. English is based on his experiences growing up in western China. He lives in Beijing. Martin Merz, a native speaker of English, has a degree in Chinese language and literature from Melbourne University in Australia and is completing a master’s degree in applied translation at the Open University of Hong Kong. Jane Weizhen Pan, a native speaker of Chinese, is a professional translator as well as an interpreter in Mandarin, Cantonese, and English. She lives in Melbourne, Australia.