Chenxi and the Foreigner
Annick Press, 2008.
Anna has joined her father in Shanghai to study art. Her father, a rich man, tries to associate with only westerners and has not opened himself to the Chinese culture. Anna, however, wants to learn as much about China as possible, yet cannot understand why she cannot fit in and is continually called a wai guo ren (outside country person). Anna develops a crush on Chenxi, a fellow student who is hired to help her in art school. Although he fights the attraction, they eventually develop a relationship. This relationship is tested as Anna learns more about his revolutionary actions and his family past. Through her relationship with Chenxi, Anna learns more about the past in China and why, even with the country open to foreigners, it is still a closed country in search of revolution. Anna eventually departs from China, leaving with more then she arrives with and with a better understanding of why she is an object of interest for the people of the country.
This novel is based loosely on the experiences of the author in China during 1989-1992. That period in China was full of fear and terror - many students were afraid to speak to her about the recent incidents in the country due to the governmental control throughout the country. While the novel takes place just before the Tiananmen Square massacre, it is full of the young people who gained worldwide attention during the June Fourth Incident in 1989. It shows the struggle of the westerner trying to understand the world of China, a metaphor for what was happening during that time. The novel takes a few extreme twists and Anna is not always a sympathetic character, however, for readers who have an understanding of the time period Rippin is writing of, the tension of the time is evident through the novel.
This novel would be a useful supplement for students who are interested in Chinese history and learning more about modern history. Knowing the author has a personal connection to the topic makes the story more authentic. There are mature incidents and episodes, making this novel more appropriate for older students.
Thematic Links: China - History - Tiananmen Square Incident, 1989
Vol.14, number 5
E - Excellent, enduring, everyone should see it!
G - Good, even great at times, generally useful!
A - Average, all right, has its applications.
P - Problematic, puzzling, poorly presented.