Margaret River Press

These sixteen stories present characters who share much, yet are all unique. As if in a kaleidoscope, they continue to be revealed and reinterpreted in different lights and from different angles. Isabelle Li’s prose is powerful, exquisite and finely tuned, and each story draws us deeper into the complex emotional and cultural dilemmas of characters who are solitary, sensitive, perceptive and powerless, sometimes all at once. A Chinese Affair is a beautiful book, elegant and accomplished, and a triumph of the art of the short story.  Debra Adelaide

A Chinese Affair brings a new, exciting voice to the Australian literary landscape.

"'Be of service to the people.’ Chairman Mao’s command was once printed on posters, the front covers of journals, the flaps of school satchels, and I grew up believing that was to be my mission. But who are my people? Have I been of service to anyone? As if walking in a snowstorm, I look back to find that my footprints have been erased. I do not know where I am and can no longer find my way back.”

In sixteen exquisite stories, Isabelle Li explores recent Chinese migration to Australia and elsewhere. Some are explicitly connected, through common characters or incidents; in others, the threads are both allusive and elusive—intergenerational and interracial relationships, the weight of history and indebtedness, the search for meaning, and the muteness peculiar to cultural dislocation and the inexpressibility of self in a second language.  

The stories explore what it means to leave behind one’s familiar environment and establish a new life, the struggle to survive and thrive, the triumph and compromise, love and heartache, failure and resilience.

Isabelle Li’s stories surprise us with the secrets they reveal, the sensations they convey and the depth of feeling they release. Finely crafted, bitter-sweet, boldly coloured, they mark the arrival of an important presence in the creative flow between China and Australia.  Nicholas Jose

Isabelle Li grew up in China and migrated to Australia in 1999. She received her Master of Arts and Master of Creative Arts from University of Technology Sydney, and is currently studying her Doctor of Creative Arts in Western Sydney University. Her short stories have appeared in various anthologies, including The Best Australian Stories. Her poetry translation has been published by World Literature in China.

A Chinese Affair by Isabelle Li

These sixteen stories present characters who share much, yet are all unique. As if in a kaleidoscope, they continue to be revealed and reinterpreted in different lights and from different angles. Isabelle Li’s prose is powerful, exquisite and finely tuned, and each story draws us deeper into the complex emotional and cultural dilemmas of characters who are solitary, sensitive, perceptive and powerless, sometimes all at once. A Chinese Affair is a beautiful book, elegant and accomplished, and a triumph of the art of the short story.  Debra Adelaide

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Publication Year
2016
Edition
1st
Publisher
Margaret River Press
ISBN13
9780994316769
Format
Paperback (Paperback)
Category
Fiction
Tags
chinese migration, interracial relationships

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Reviews & Press

The Southerly review says, 'For a debut collection, A Chinese Affair is a sophisticated one, and I’d hazard to guess that Isabelle Li’s distinct distortions of language will be ones to watch for in future.' Download the full review here

"Li's stories will hold wide appeal for general readers but especially for those interested in the effect of trauma on memory. Millennial readers may find the protagonists' resignation and courage inspiring, particularly in stories like 'Lyrebird'. In an age of global migration Li's redemptive stories hold up a beacon of hope to those longing for a safer, happier future. The Chinese Londoner counsellor in 'Narrative of Grief' laments that 'There are many who do not want to share their stories for fear of losing them' (273). Li is not among them." Read Gay Lynch's review at Mascara Review

"Crystal is a strange and unpredictable character and her narratives tend to touch on both the thrills, and the frustrations, of self-expression across two langauges. Wherever she appears, Li's stories sing." SR for The Saturday Paper

Margaret Throsby interviews Isabelle Li. 

What does it take to master a second language, to be so skilled in that language that  you're published in it ?  Listen to Isabelle share this on Pocket Docs

A Chinese Affair deals movingly with important matters: the psychological and social implications of the mass movement of populations across the globe in the 21st century.” http://rightnow.org.au/.../moving-chinese-australian.../

“Sweet and sour is a combination synonymous with China and this collection of short stories evokes that very response. Flitting back and forth between slices of her life in both Australia and China, a woman chronicles her complex relationships in a way that opens the reader’s eyes to the challenges of living in cultural limbo.”—Café Reporter Magazine

2,2, and 2 : Isablle talks to Amanda Curtin about 'A Chinese Affair' : https://amandacurtin.com/.../2-2-and-2-isabelle-li-talks.../

The Conversation Hour with Jon Faine : http://www.abc.net.au/local/audio/2016/07/12/4499084.htm

Isabelle Li talks to Australian Writers' Centre : http://www.writerscentre.com.au/.../isabelle-li-talks-a.../

As a collection of migration stories, this collection gives an expression to problems of identity, nationality, language and expression. The world is shown as a global village with people related to each other irrespective of race and nationality. Li shows how people do not let boundaries keep them from a better life; her characters are always ready to take the plunge to escape, live, and explore. Her stories are an insight into Chinese culture and society, with its positive and negative aspects objectively discussed. A Chinese Affair is an enjoyable read. It not only takes its readers to multiple countries but also encourages them to think of the world as a boundless place where nationality or race is a matter of diversity, not division.”—Transnational Literature, Vol. 9, no.1, Nov 2016

“The stories are beautifully told. Li is expert at using telling details of situations and conversations to imply underlying tensions and cultural differences. She knows well what it is like to have, as one of the four sections of the book is titled, ‘Two tongues’, and two very different perspectives of the world.

Isabelle Li, who grew up in China and has lived in Singapore and Australia, writes well… She clearly knows and understands the feelings of her characters, and she writes sensitively of their loves, losses, failures, achievements and resilience as they deal with the complexities of moving between cultures… A most enjoyable read.”—Ann Skea, Manly Library blog

“Isabelle Li’s 16 short stories immerse our senses in the depth of feeling, rhythms, and the mysterious elusiveness of poetry, while her easy conversational style focuses on events in the lives of a number of people who have emigrated from China. Set largely in China, Australia, Singapore and also in the Philippines and London, the stories oscillate from the tropics to the temperate zones, and from the Northern to the Southern Hemisphere, where the moon in all its stages is the protagonists’ only companion. The stories reveal the emotional and cultural problems of the emigrants in a new land where they must deal with a new language… The loss of first language is significant… Crystal feels fortunate to see the world and express her feelings through two tongues.I relished the language of these stories and the daily drama of the characters who reflect on their past, present and future.”—Judith Grace, Good Reading, September 2016.

"Sydney author Isabelle Li's debut short story collection is a rich exploration of Chinese culture and language, and the dissonances and mistranslations that result through migration and cross-cultural encounters."— William Yeoman, Seven West Travel Club, The Western Australian, October 2016

Working with Words', read Isabelle's contribution to The Wheeler Centre's blog: http://www.wheelercentre.com/.../working-with-words...

"Isabelle Li, presents a suite of interconnected tales of Chinese migration to Australia and beyond. The volume offers glimpses of strong women – every one of whom subverts orientalist cliché in some way – through sensual and compressed prose."—Cameron Woodhead, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, 2 September.

“A collection of beautifully crafted short stories, each one a powerful insight into the cultural and emotional experience of Chinese immigrants in Australia.” Sunday Life Magazine, Sun Herald and Sunday Age

“Li reflects on her life in Australia and the lives of other Chinese immigrants in her first book, A Chinese Affair, a collection of stories and fascinating window to the world of newcomers to this country, although Li doesn’t claim to speak for them. Li has a unique writing style and that might be down to her influences. While she cites authors such as W. Somerset Maugham, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Anton Chekhov, her style is also informed by poetic Chinese classical literature. Li points out that poetry is an important part of Chinese culture, and Chinese poetry infuses this collection and her prose. The opening lines of the story Further South exemplify her anything but prosaic style…”—QWeekend, The Courier Mail, 23 July

Li's writing is skillful, and she deftly changes voices, tenses, points of view and even formats to experiment with what her short fiction can do. Characters often appear as the lead in one story, only to turn up in another role a few stories into the book, reinterpreted again and again from many different points of view."- Emily Paull, July

Li, who grew up in China and worked in Singapore before migrating to Australia, admits there is some element of autobiography in these 16 stories, which together form a rich exploration of Chinese culture and language and the mistranslations and dissonances that result through migration and other forms of cross-cultural encounters.  Indeed, Li's prose is sensuous and spare and if one sometimes longs for a much longer sentence to unfurl itself slowly like a scroll or a ribbon, there are exquisite mosaics such as this passage which more than compensate with their fragrant, imagistic clarity".- William Yeoman, The West Australian, July

Isabelle Li’s debut collection 'A Chinese Affair' is a strange beast – a genre mashup that showcases the Chinese-Australian experience by mixing short story and memoir. The Australian short-story narrative is currently in a strong place, with authors such as Maxine Beneba Clarke, Benjamin Law and Christos Tsiolkas all contributing to a vibrant kaleidoscope of Australian contemporary society. Li is a welcome new voice in this group, especially for readers who prefer an unusual structure and gentle tone.”
—Lyndsay Wilkins, Books + Publishing, June

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