Ruiyan Xu, The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai

The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai The Story Behind the Book

About the Book | Praise | Excerpt | Behind the Book


Dear Reader,

I was born in Shanghai, China, and grew up immersed in books. When I immigrated to the United States in 1989, I was ten years old and did not speak any English. The day before starting fifth grade at my new school, I remember pleading with my mother to let me stay home; I was scared to not understand, and not be understood.

Eight years later, when I returned to Shanghai for a short visit, English had become the only language I was fluent in. I could no longer read or write in Chinese, and I was afraid of saying the wrong thing or not being understood all over again. I didn't remember the names of my childhood friends, because their names were in Chinese; my conversations with my grandparents and cousins were shallow—it seemed impossible to get to the heart of the matter without the right words... Those experiences made me interested in how absence in a language can isolate people and inspired me to write this novel. I wanted to write about the impossibility of communicating, even among those who love each other, and our perpetual and desperate desire to communicate, through language, despite all its difficulties.

Thank you for reading.    — Ruiyan Xu