The careers of Xiaolu Guo and Scott Savitt are almost mirror images of each other. Guo, a Chinese-born novelist, has lived in Britain for fifteen years, while Savitt, an American translator and journalist, spent eighteen years as a student and reporter in China. But the weight of their respective memoirs falls on different stages of their lives. By far the most interesting part of Guo’s memoir concerns her upbringing in rural China. She describes events that even Westerners who have spent years in China will find fascinating and disturbing, including her rape as a child by a man she finally names here and the abortion she was forced to undergo after a teenage affair with a teacher. Her narrative about life in the UK is less interesting, focusing on her dashed hopes of what the country would be like, her attempts to learn English while writing doggedly (and successfully), and her disappointing relations with men – until she finds the right one.
Savitt does not say much about growing up in the USA and instead concentrates on his time in China. He reveals little that is new about Chinese politics, but there is much of interest here on the close friendships he formed with young Chinese and on how his