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STORY BEHIND THE BOOK | KATE TUTTLE

Divides between mother and daughter, East and West

david wilson for the boston globe

By Kate Tuttle Globe Correspondent 

“I always feel that I am a diarist,” said Xiaolu Guo. “Even when I was in China, I wrote prose essays most of the time. But then when I came to the UK and began to write in English, 14 years ago, I somehow wrote fictions.” This year Guo, who lives in London and was designated one of Granta’s best of young British novelists in 2013, published “Nine Continents: A Memoir In and Out of China,” her account of an impoverished, often violent childhood.

Guo begins the book with an account of giving birth to her daughter, then flashes back to her own infancy, when she was given up for adoption to a childless couple, who returned her because she was so sickly. Raised in a fishing village by her grandparents, she was reunited with her parents at the age of 7, but in that move she lost an adored grandmother and gained a critical, disapproving mother. Writing about mothers and daughters, Guo said, made her think about how different her own child’s life has been.

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“My grandparents’ generation came from such a deep feudal society,” Guo said. “What is amazing is that the new generation, like my child, who grew up in both London and Berlin, has no strong nationality ideas. Whether by birth or by choice, their generation is cosmopolitan, and they will speak a few languages without much effort. We really moved on rapidly.”

Even in the modern West, Guo said, prejudice against women remains strong, including in the literary world. Men don’t read enough books by women, she said, adding that “the prize-winning novels are often written by established males,” while writing “by a woman about a woman’s interior world in her domestic setting” is often ignored. “I almost feel bitter about this.”

Guo will read 7 p.m. Thursday at Harvard Book Store.


Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.