Discussion Questions

Language and its effect on relationships

In the novel, Z struggles to find her place in her relationship with the Englishman the first time he leaves town without her. While he and she both realize she is dependent on him for support and shelter, she also realizes that much of the decision-making in their relationship is also left up to him, in large part because his grasp of the English language allows him to go wherever he would like without issue. Does a language barrier imply a dominance, or superiority over the person in the relationship who speaks the language of the place they live worse? If there is an implicit imbalance of power, how should the native speaker fix the issue not just with himself/herself, but with the people they encounter together in everyday life?


In the novel, there are many times when pronunciations, or rules of the English language that Z doesn’t understand well lead to misunderstandings with her lover. In many instances these misunderstandings lead to substantial fights between the two of them. Are misunderstandings impossible to avoid when there is a language barrier between a couple, or should they be an expectation in the relationship?

The ethical implications of culture

During Z’s first dinner with her lover she discovers that he is a vegetarian which leads her to say, “My parents beaten me if I don’t eating meat or any food on table in a meal. My parents curse me being picky and spoiled. Because others dying without any food to eat,” (Guo 64). Growing up poor, Guo was not given a choice of what she was allowed to eat, so being vegetarian was not an option. How should someone who is a vegetarian view those who don’t have the privilege to be? Also, how can people with such different diets and ethical reasons for those diets talk openly and peacefully with each other?


In one scene in the middle of the book, Z is alone at her lover’s apartment that she has recently moved into and finds her lover’s diary and begins reading. When he returns from his time away from London he discovers that she looked through all his private materials to which he is furious and Z is confused. Z states, “Why privacy is important? In China, every family live together, grandparents, parents, daughter, son and their relatives too. Eat together and share everything, talk about everything. Privacy make people lonely. Privacy make family fallen apart,” (Guo 85). Is it more important for Z to learn to live without knowing some of her lovers secrets, or for her lover to sacrifice some privacy for Z’s own comfort? How important is compromise in when two people have such different cultural views on the issue at hand?

Writing Style

Xiaolu Guo decided to write A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers in broken English which gradually improves but never becomes fully developed to mirror Z’s journey learning English. How does this style choice effect how we view each character in the book, and what effect does the style have when reading the book? Does it enhance plot points? Does it make it more enjoyable to read?


Guo decided to leave one of her main characters, Z’s lover, nameless throughout the entire novel. Considering how instrumental he is in Z’s life and to the plot of the novel, why do you think Guo decided to keep him nameless what effect do you think Guo achieved by doing this?

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John Quigley ’19


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