Nine Continents
Xiaolu Guo is one of the most acclaimed Chinese-born writers of her generation, an iconoclastic and completely contemporary voice. Her vivid, poignant memoir, Nine Continents is the story of a curious mind coming of age in an inhospitable country, and her determination to seek a life beyond the limits of its borders.Xiaolu Guo has traveled further than most to become who she needed to be. Now, as she experiences the birth of her daughter in a London maternity ward surrounded by women from all over the world, she looks back on that journey. It begins in the fishing village shack on the East China Sea where her illiterate grandparents raised her, and brings her to a rapidly changing Beijing, full of contradictions: a thriving underground art scene amid mass censorship, curious Westerners who held out affection only to disappear back home. Eventually Xiaolu determined to see the world beyond China for herself, and now, after fifteen years in Europe, her words resonate with the insight of someone both an outsider and at home, in a world far beyond the country of her birth.Nine Continents presents a fascinating portrait of China in the eighties and nineties, how the Cultural Revolution shaped families, and how the country's economic ambitions gave rise to great change. It is also a moving testament to the birth of a creative spirit, and of a new generation being raised to become citizens of the world. It confirms Xiaolu Guo as one of world literature's most urgent voices.

Nine Continents Details

TitleNine Continents
Author
ReleaseOct 3rd, 2017
PublisherGrove Press
ISBN-139780802127136
Rating
GenreAutobiography, Memoir, Nonfiction, Cultural, China, Biography

Nine Continents Review

  • Hannah
    January 1, 1970
    Absolutely wonderful memoir by a woman beyond impressive. She talks about alienation and perseverance, about loss and art, about growing up and finding herself, and everything in-between. Xiaolu Guo's life sounds like something out of a movie: born to an intellectual who had spent time in a labour camp and a mother who was part of the Red Guard (yes, her parents met in prison), given away at birth, and then given back to her grandparents (both analphabets; her grandmother of a generation where h Absolutely wonderful memoir by a woman beyond impressive. She talks about alienation and perseverance, about loss and art, about growing up and finding herself, and everything in-between. Xiaolu Guo's life sounds like something out of a movie: born to an intellectual who had spent time in a labour camp and a mother who was part of the Red Guard (yes, her parents met in prison), given away at birth, and then given back to her grandparents (both analphabets; her grandmother of a generation where having your feet bound was normal; their relationship scarily abusive), ripped away again to go and live with her parents, she manages to attend an elite university for film-making and then to win a scholarship to study in the UK - a country that became her home. Her book is a piece of art itself. I adored the way she plays with language; her not writing in her mother-tongue (as she has been doing for a while now) just adds to the immediacy and the sense of alienation. The further back in time she goes, the more fragmented her language becomes. When she comes closer to finding her place in the world and the person she can be, the sentences get longer, more assured. I adored this.At the centre of her memoir are her relationships: with her artist father who influences her in a myriad of ways but cannot (or will not) protect her from her mother's harshness and her brother's scorn. But also her complicated relationship with China and how it influences her art and what she can and cannot write about. She writes about censorship - both external and internal and how this made it impossible for her to be the writer she knows in her heart she can be. She also writes about not fitting in anywhere and how she puts this into pieces of art. This is what makes this book both personal and universal - underneath all the cultural differences there is this common human theme of wanting to be true to yourself and of experiences of alienation but also homecoming in a foreign country. I appreciated this.First sentence: "So many times I've seen England from the sky."____I received an arc of this book curtesy of Netgalley and Grove Altantic in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for that!
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  • Laura
    January 1, 1970
    An introspective view of the author's life in China. I cannot imagine growing up as she had - starting in a poor fishing village living with her grandparents, then moving with her parents to a town where her life wasn't much better. While the book is a memoir, it does have quite a bit of history of China and its people. All around an excellent book if you are particularly interested in this time period of China.
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  • Melinda
    January 1, 1970
    Upon the birth of her daughter in England, writer and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo reflects on her life up to this point: her early years raised by her grandparents in a Chinese fishing village by the sea, her school years with her parents in an industrial town, her delve into film studies in a rapidly changing Beijing.It's a fascinating life story, with sharp commentary on misogyny and art. I hadn't realized Guo was the author of A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, a book I'd picked up for Upon the birth of her daughter in England, writer and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo reflects on her life up to this point: her early years raised by her grandparents in a Chinese fishing village by the sea, her school years with her parents in an industrial town, her delve into film studies in a rapidly changing Beijing.It's a fascinating life story, with sharp commentary on misogyny and art. I hadn't realized Guo was the author of A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, a book I'd picked up for its intriguing title, but never gotten around to reading. I'll definitely check out her other books.Note: I received an advance readers copy from the phblisher through NetGalley.
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  • Carol Douglas
    January 1, 1970
    Xialu Guo's memoir takes us back to a tiny fishing village in China. Her parents couldn't care for her when she was a baby, so her mother gave her to another poor couple to raise. By the time the couple found her grandparents and took her to them, she was starving to death. Her grandmother managed to revive her.Life in the fishing village was hard. Her grandfather had loved to fish along the coast, but fishing was collectivized. He had to fish as one of many on a large boat, and he hated it. He Xialu Guo's memoir takes us back to a tiny fishing village in China. Her parents couldn't care for her when she was a baby, so her mother gave her to another poor couple to raise. By the time the couple found her grandparents and took her to them, she was starving to death. Her grandmother managed to revive her.Life in the fishing village was hard. Her grandfather had loved to fish along the coast, but fishing was collectivized. He had to fish as one of many on a large boat, and he hated it. He became a beachcomber, combing the town for ways to feed his family.Xiaolu's grandmother took her to a fortuneteller who said she would travel to "the Nine Continents," meaning the world. Xiaolu's parents reclaimed her, and she learned to read and write. Her father loved her but her mother, a former Red Guard, didn't seem to.A man who abused her in her childhood made it difficult for her to connect sex and love. Xiaolu managed to get to college and ultimately to become a writer. She experienced China's far-out pop culture in the early '90s. Xiaolu obtained a fellowship to study in England. She learned to write in English though it was painful not to be able to write in Chinese. But Chinese publishers wouldn't publish the kind of books she wanted to write.She writes well, and her story is moving.
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  • Juliana
    January 1, 1970
    My review: https://theblankgarden.com/2017/09/14...
  • Rhonda Lomazow
    January 1, 1970
    An open real raw look into a world few of us know.Xiaolu shares with us her childhood her raising by her grandparents in their very primitive world her grandmother had bound feet,Her parents finally coming to get her bringing her into their world the world of commune living communist sharing rules life style.Finally her life outside of China .Living in London publishing books&the biggest surprise to her having a baby with her western partner,Fascinating look at her amazing life experiences.T An open real raw look into a world few of us know.Xiaolu shares with us her childhood her raising by her grandparents in their very primitive world her grandmother had bound feet,Her parents finally coming to get her bringing her into their world the world of commune living communist sharing rules life style.Finally her life outside of China .Living in London publishing books&the biggest surprise to her having a baby with her western partner,Fascinating look at her amazing life experiences.Thanks to Net Galley and Grove Atlantic for advance copy for an honest review.
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  • Flavia
    January 1, 1970
    I have loved and found Xiaolu Guo’s fiction so fresh and original since ‘A Concise Chinese – English Dictionary for Lovers’. I was thrilled when I discovered that she had written a memoir and ‘Nine Continents’ didn’t disappoint. At all. Far from it, I found this book absorbing, inspiring and beautifully rendered. This memoir is the story of an artist; it’s also an essay on ambition, determination and the transformative aspect of creativity. Near the beginning of the book Guo relates an encounter I have loved and found Xiaolu Guo’s fiction so fresh and original since ‘A Concise Chinese – English Dictionary for Lovers’. I was thrilled when I discovered that she had written a memoir and ‘Nine Continents’ didn’t disappoint. At all. Far from it, I found this book absorbing, inspiring and beautifully rendered. This memoir is the story of an artist; it’s also an essay on ambition, determination and the transformative aspect of creativity. Near the beginning of the book Guo relates an encounter with a group of art students on the beach of her home town when she is just a child. This has such an enormous impact on her that her ambition and vision has hinged itself upon it. She writes of one of the students paintings: “I was suddenly captivated by the girl’s imaginative act: that one could reshape a drab and colourless reality into a luminous world.” This is also a story about China (1970s – 2000) and it has been totally engrossing to read and learn about the way she lived in Communist China, although this is not a political memoir, just brutally honest and gritty (she mentions the extreme censorship rules that dampens and oppresses artists in China and hence her need to leave). Guo depicts her life in such perfect detail at every stage of the way, the storyline reads so smoothly and the pieces fit together so snugly it felt like I was reading fiction. She maintains throughout an extremely matter-of-fact tone about her experiences (including the more brutal ones, such as her abandonment as a baby, her grandfather’s suicide, sexual abuse, her room mate’s attempted suicide, her violent lover). She doesn’t mope, whine, accuse or blame; this is not the tone or aim of the book although she does question her ability to recognise and feel love. She also captures the multi-layered nature of immigration – the need to leave, the desire to get on, to embody more cultures (international artistic visions) but the places we go to will never be able to erase those vivid images and experiences that shaped us elsewhere. In writing this memoir and in all her creative endeavours, it seems to me, that Guo toys with silence/being silenced to find the most appropriate and accurate language, that in turn, infuses reality with colour and profound significance.
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  • Elainedav
    January 1, 1970
    I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.I like to read memoirs and especially those where the author is writing about something which really holds your interest. This is one of those books. I found the description of the author's childhood totally absorbing. Her life in a small fishing village, living with her grandparents, was so totally different to my own childhood in the UK. And then suddenly her parents appear from nowhere and she is taken away to live in a I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.I like to read memoirs and especially those where the author is writing about something which really holds your interest. This is one of those books. I found the description of the author's childhood totally absorbing. Her life in a small fishing village, living with her grandparents, was so totally different to my own childhood in the UK. And then suddenly her parents appear from nowhere and she is taken away to live in a city and her life changes significantly.This is a fascinating read. The transition from childhood to independent adulthood and from rural China to the world beyond China is so well described. There are some shocking parts, not least the reflections on identity and the effect of dual citizenship.
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  • Brenda
    January 1, 1970
    Excellent memoir. It is an eye opening experience to read about growing up female in communist China. Xiaolu was given away as a small child, only to be returned to her grandparents when her adoptive family couldn't afford to feed her. She spends her childhood growing up in a small fishing village with her abusive grandfather and sweet grandmother. She is later reunited with her parents. Her mother and dislikes her and makes it clear she's not welcome. Because she is the female of the family, fo Excellent memoir. It is an eye opening experience to read about growing up female in communist China. Xiaolu was given away as a small child, only to be returned to her grandparents when her adoptive family couldn't afford to feed her. She spends her childhood growing up in a small fishing village with her abusive grandfather and sweet grandmother. She is later reunited with her parents. Her mother and dislikes her and makes it clear she's not welcome. Because she is the female of the family, food is first for the men, her father and brother. As a result, she is always hungry and searching for food and any form of nourishment she can get until she resorts to drinking pigs blood to gain strength.The memoir continues on through her adult years. She experiences sexual abuses, love type relationships, exceptional awards and scholarships where she is accepted into film school and finally where she has a child of her own and leaves China.The reason I rated this book 4 stars rather than 5 is for two reasons. 1...because of the lengthy drawing out of the names of the film directors and ancient movies she studied in school. They were irrelevant to the story, the average person who is not an art or film major has no clue who they are, and she goes on and on about them and references them in several places. The other thing that didn't seem to fit were the small two page insets throughout the story about the mythical monkey. I read and reread these entries and just couldn't get the point of putting them in the book. If someone got that, please enlighten me.Great read. Highly recommend.
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  • Jill Dobbe
    January 1, 1970
    The shocking revelations of a young Chinese woman who grew up in poverty stricken China. From a young age, Xialou, rebelled against the plight of Chinese women, and the old fashioned ways of the proletariat. An artist, poet, filmmaker, and writer, the author eventually found her way out of China and embarked on the life she wanted for herself.I highly recommend this book for readers who are interested in China's history and growth. Thank you Netgalley and Grove Press.
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  • Kelly Mason
    January 1, 1970
    A fantastic insight into Chinese lifestyle and traditions and evolution for the women of China. A truthful and thought provoking read that offers fantastic descriptions, visualisation and honesty into a very difficult time.
  • Breakaway Reviewers
    January 1, 1970
    Autobiography of a fighter and survivor“The girl is a peasant warrior”, the old monk announced. “She will cross the sea and travel to the Nine Continents.” So said the Daoshi, a Taoist monk, to whom the very young Xiaolu was once taken by her deeply religious grandmother. These prophetic words laid down the pattern for Xiaolu’s life. As a tiny baby, she was taken by her parents to be fostered by a simple peasant couple living in the hill country of south-eastern China, but times were hard and th Autobiography of a fighter and survivor“The girl is a peasant warrior”, the old monk announced. “She will cross the sea and travel to the Nine Continents.” So said the Daoshi, a Taoist monk, to whom the very young Xiaolu was once taken by her deeply religious grandmother. These prophetic words laid down the pattern for Xiaolu’s life. As a tiny baby, she was taken by her parents to be fostered by a simple peasant couple living in the hill country of south-eastern China, but times were hard and the food was scarce. The baby girl, then two years old but starving and sick, was handed over to her paternal grandparents in the fishing village of Shitang on the coast. Her grandfather was a fisherman who regularly and viciously beat his tiny hunch-backed foot-bound wife, who suffered in silence - as was the fate of most voiceless, downtrodden Chinese women at the time.At the onset of the Cultural Revolution, the fishing boats were all taken by the state, and the fishermen were forced to work in a fishing collective. The grandfather, always fiercely independent, did not last long under the new dispensation, and he tried to eke out a meagre living by beach combing and selling whatever he could find. Most of the money he earned was spent on rotgut alcohol, and he became even more violent in his drunkenness. Xiaolu was a solitary child, but one day, at the age of six, she saw a group of university art students from a nearby town, who were out on a field trip to sketch and paint by the sea. Watching them create colour, light and movement out of what she had always seen and accepted as a flat, featureless seascape opened her eyes to the possibility of a different future and a wonderful new world and the seed of determination to reach out to this world was shown. This was a pivotal moment in her life.When she was seven years old, and not long after her grandfather committed suicide, Xiaolu’s parents came to take her to live with them in Wenling, an industrial inland town. Virtually ignored by her mother and her newly-discovered older brother, she was much closer to her artist father who encouraged her to think, to read and to write poetry. He was a pillar of strength throughout her school life and her subsequent years at the Beijing Film Academy, and she was eventually awarded a scholarship to study at the National Film and TV School in the UK. She settled in London, became a successful published author – in English – and after one or two rather unhappy relationships she met Steve, an Australian with whom she fell in love, eventually giving birth to a baby girl they called Moon.Shortly after Moon’s birth, Xiaolu’s father died of throat cancer and her mother, who never had a good word to say to her, died a few years later of stomach cancer. It was only after her mother’s death that she finally shrugged off a lifetime of being disapproved of and being put down, realising, at last, the full worth of her achievements and successes in spite of seemingly impossible odds. The peasant warrior had lived up to her name and her calling. This is a searingly honest, beautifully written autobiography. It makes for compulsive reading, and I have no hesitation in awarding it five stars. Bennie BookwormBreakaway Reviewers received a copy of the book to review.
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  • Melody
    January 1, 1970
    This part coming-of-age, part memoir chronicles Chinese-born writer, Xiaolu Guo's journey from her homeland in Shitang (a fishing village where her grandparents reside) to the West. For those who aren't familiar with Xiaolu Guo, she is the author of A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers (her first novel written in English and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction) and her latest release, I Am China, which I adored (one of my top reads in 2015.) There are a few other titles w This part coming-of-age, part memoir chronicles Chinese-born writer, Xiaolu Guo's journey from her homeland in Shitang (a fishing village where her grandparents reside) to the West. For those who aren't familiar with Xiaolu Guo, she is the author of A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers (her first novel written in English and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction) and her latest release, I Am China, which I adored (one of my top reads in 2015.) There are a few other titles which I didn't list here.Xiaolu Guo has learned the hard life since young when she witnessed her grandparents' depression and poverty back then. She left for Beijing to study in 1993 and vowed never to return to that stifling backwater again. It is also through this determination and her curious mind to seek a life beyond the borders limits to where she is today.Filled with many snippets of memories, nostalgia and what influenced Xiaolu Guo, this book is her personal record of the journey she has travelled and the things she has experienced which allow her readers to learn and to understand more about her.Reading this book also gave me a glimpse of China between the 80s and 90s. (I'd only visited Guangzhou and Shenzhen and that was about ten years ago.) It was interesting to see how the Cultural Revolution shaped the Chinese, and how their economy has changed throughout the years. Although I rarely read nonfiction or memoir, I found myself enjoying this book and that I've learned so much more about Xiaolu Guo.
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  • Mainlinebooker
    January 1, 1970
    In this raw poignant memoir,Xiaolu explores her life as a young child through her adulthood, from the impoverished village of Shitang, China to the cosmopolitan world of London. We first learn that she was given away to another family but then returned to her grandparents at age 2 due to their inability to feed her and her resultant malnutrition. Growing up she experienced unexpressed love from her grandmother but a mute response from her grandfather who would eat by himself and beat his wife fr In this raw poignant memoir,Xiaolu explores her life as a young child through her adulthood, from the impoverished village of Shitang, China to the cosmopolitan world of London. We first learn that she was given away to another family but then returned to her grandparents at age 2 due to their inability to feed her and her resultant malnutrition. Growing up she experienced unexpressed love from her grandmother but a mute response from her grandfather who would eat by himself and beat his wife frequently. Eventually she was reunited with her parents and moved to another city, where she had to cope with a brother who resented her,a practical harsh mother with an inability to show love,and an artistic father who opened her eyes to the creative process. As the years progress we are introduced to the treatment of women, sexual abuse,the effects of the Cultural Revolution, film school and censorship that diminishes ingenuity.and Xiaolu's desperate ambition to make something of herself and leave her stifling confinement . I particularly loved learning the historical context and social mores that influenced her difficult life.Not only was this an individual's heartfelt story but it is an important contribution assisting the Western world to understand and appreciate the China of yesteryear.
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  • Diane Payne
    January 1, 1970
    In some ways, this memoir was more about the author and her mother than living in America, England or China. I wish there had been conversations about the sexual and physical abuse with her parents, her mother in particular, since she felt so relieved to share the details of being assaulted as a young teen with her dorm mates when she went to college. Unlike most Chinese who grew up in rural areas, Guo not only escaped the poverty, but readers learn how she earned a coveted position in film scho In some ways, this memoir was more about the author and her mother than living in America, England or China. I wish there had been conversations about the sexual and physical abuse with her parents, her mother in particular, since she felt so relieved to share the details of being assaulted as a young teen with her dorm mates when she went to college. Unlike most Chinese who grew up in rural areas, Guo not only escaped the poverty, but readers learn how she earned a coveted position in film school, after her second attempt, competing with about seven thousand other people for 12 positions. After Guo has a child at 40, her mother dies a few years after her father had died, and she feels free on her bond(age) to China. Her final chapter is brutally honest. She doesn't return for her mother's funeral. Instead, she feels a sense of relief, as many people do who had painful relationships with their parents. Oddly enough, one thing I kept thinking about was how her grandmother, the woman who raised her as a young girl, had bound feet in 1970. The grandmother on her mother's side never endured bound feet because so much oppression comes from political belief more than from a sense of humanity. I appreciated the honesty in this memoir.
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  • Janilyn Kocher
    January 1, 1970
    Nine Continents was a sad story to read. The author was abandoned by two sets of parents before spending her formative years with her grandparents who barely scraped by. Then she went to live with her biological parents and suffered. She found solace in her father but was never close to her mother. She seemed to just drift thorough life, waiting. Finally, she earned a place at cinema school in Beijing and then moved to England. This book is an engrossing read. Thanks to NetGalley for the advanc Nine Continents was a sad story to read. The author was abandoned by two sets of parents before spending her formative years with her grandparents who barely scraped by. Then she went to live with her biological parents and suffered. She found solace in her father but was never close to her mother. She seemed to just drift thorough life, waiting. Finally, she earned a place at cinema school in Beijing and then moved to England. This book is an engrossing read. Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy.
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  • Katherine
    January 1, 1970
    I really enjoyed reading this memoir. If you like Wild Swans by Jung Chang, this is slightly more contemporary. While Jung’s family was higher class, Xiaolu grew up a peasant. Both found their own way out of China. Xiaolu’s writing is stunning and her story is remarkable. The audiobook is A+.
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  • Beverly
    January 1, 1970
    Thoughts coming shortly
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